Normandie – ‘White Flag’

By Gem Rogers

Giving up. It’s something we’ve all done, whether we’d like to admit it or not – giving up on a relationship, a job, a dream, or just on all hope of ever getting a USB the right way up on the first attempt. So when Normandie announced that their sophomore album would be named ‘White Flag’, it was clear they’d be tapping into some familiar emotions; what was less certain, though, was where the band would venture musically.

Once upon a time the Swedish foursome were a six-piece metalcore group, before the loss of two band members forced a rapid evolution in sound and led to the distinctive alt-rock of 2016’s ‘Inguz’. Poppier and dancier, but with a heavy influence still rippling through, the band spent the following two years touring the UK and Europe – including a major support slot on Yellowcard’s farewell tour. Being able to completely reinvent themselves in such a short space of time was no mean feat, so with a whole two years to play with and suggestions that they would continue to move away from the harsher tones of metalcore, what would ‘White Flag’ sound like?

The answer is good. Very, very good. First and foremost, these twelve songs still sound overwhelmingly like the Normandie their fans have come to love – the first three singles line up at the start to set the tone with thundering riffs and soaring, powerful choruses, but this isn’t just ‘Inguz’ reincarnated. ‘White Flag’ is a huge leap forward in their evolution, and each track has a distinct, unique personality; from the distorted vocals and rage-filled chorus of single ‘Enough’, to the catchy riffs and summery vibes of ‘Keep Fucking It Up’, the band effortlessly intertwine electronic effects with heavy alt-rock, irresistible hooks and earworm pop.

A predominantly upbeat collection of songs, sixth track ‘The Bell’ stands out for a number of reasons – it’s the first breather from the fast pace, for starters, but it’s also the first time the band have used their native language in a song. The atmospheric vocal layering is hauntingly beautiful, and though it may be a slower track, it’s driven forward with a metronome beat that reflects the sense of urgency in the (not entirely Swedish) lyrics – “I’m not going to hesitate / I’m gonna bend and break / to see what I’m made of”.

As ‘The Bell’ gives way to another album highlight in the form of the hard-hitting ‘Moth’, it’s a great example of the versatility of Philip Strand’s distinctive vocals – and as he covers an insane range with incredible ease, it’s also easy to forget just how high some of these notes are. Until you try to sing along, that is (RIP vocal chords, don’t try this at home).

Normandie have always been a lyrically strong band and ‘White Flag’ doesn’t disappoint on this front. Loosely following the theme of giving up, Strand is a master of weaving images with words in a manner that is clever without being pretentious, understandable without being generic – with a hefty dose of relatability for good measure (“I’m a mess sometimes / but at least I try”). It’s not all seriousness, either; there’s a swirl of fun and energy through so much that Normandie do, and the guitar-chugging, funky ‘Maniacs’ is gloriously smile inducing.

It may be possible to draw comparisons to other bands, but Normandie – much like each track on this album – have an identity that is very much their own. With ‘White Flag’, they have successfully built on their debut to cement their sound and ultimately create an album that is exciting, refreshing and, frankly, utterly brilliant. There may be a lot going on but it never feels overwhelming; this is a work of love, finely tuned and crafted to perfection, and with a broad appeal that should push the band ever closer to the success they deserve. It’s all too easy to go for the repeat all button and forget that any other album has been released this year – and that’s fine by us.

GEM ROGERS

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