With a band like Norma Jean, you get the impression that they’ll always be around and they’ll always be good. It’s the same case with the likes of Cancer Bats or Every Time I Die, bands that just seem to be established parts of the rock furniture but never succumb to complacency or laziness in a way that would be all too tempting given their longevity and established catalogue. Norma Jean mightn’t be quite as big as either of those bands, but the point still stands on the whole; they’ve been a consistently distinct and growing force within modern metalcore and mathcore, burning through concept albums and trilogies of releases while keeping the quality high and the execution sharp. They’ve never crossed over to the same legend status as the aforementioned bands (which isn’t something that can really be explained, in all honesty), but the fact they’re now eight albums in and don’t look to be slowing down says a lot about how deep their creative well is.
It’s not like All Hail is much different either, except it’s more of a case of the existing sound being explored further than really built on to any huge degree. That’s not a problem either – there’s still a breathing core to Norma Jean that’s so recognisable as theirs and theirs alone – but in nailing down what could be seen as essential pieces of work in a catalogue that’s continuously growing, All Hail doesn’t quite hit that high watermark. Again, it’s really not something to complain too much about, especially when the results still have real, genuine power that permeates across basically every track, but the fact that it’s not quite their best means that it doesn’t necessarily come out unscathed against the stiff competition it faces.
Of course, that still leaves all of the features that typically make a Norma Jean album great perfectly intact. Cory Brandan remains a fantastic vocalist who’s able to bring the perfect balance between tension and fluidity in his transitions between clean singing and screams on a track like If [Loss] Then [Leader], and that lends a naturally human sense of frustration and pain to lyrics that root themselves in typical arrays of deep, dark subject matter, particularly the dedication to a friend who took her own life on Anna that constantly contorts itself in ways that embody the grief and emptiness within. There’s a suitable amount of darkness in the instrumentation too, coming in the forms of the more destructive pivots towards angularity while still having the right amount of melody on Landslide Defeater, or the more enclosed, low-slung riffage of -with_errors- that’s pulling on grotty southern metal in its sense of propulsiveness. It’s all topped off by fittingly heavy production that’s able to weave in a great sense of expanse when needed, something that a lot of bands tapping into discordance in a similar way are unable to really muster. Though, all of that could be used to describe virtually any Norma Jean album, particularly among their latter-day work, and so the whole thing doesn’t quite hit as hard or with as much greatness because of that. It’s slightly unfair, sure, but when their material is so clustered towards one end of the spectrum of quality, just another entry among them all feels less impressive on the whole, regardless of how good it is. Thus, All Hail is, in no uncertain terms, just another Norma Jean album, even if it’s good enough to be that great album had it been released by another band.
It’s why there’s not a whole lot to say about it in this particular context; it’s another fine entry in the discography of a band who’ve never had a problem at dealing them out, though expecting much more than that usual benchmark of quality might be overreaching considering what All Hail is following up. It’s still definitely worth a listen, just like all of Norma Jean’s work, but that’s provided that expectations aren’t kept unassailably high to where disappointment can be allowed to set in. This most certainly isn’t a disappointment – it’s yet another link in an as-of-yet unbroken chain of quality – but it doesn’t feel like one of Norma Jean’s essential albums, and while that’s not an issue, it can cause All Hail to feel somewhat overshadowed.
For fans of: Every Time I Die, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Cancer Bats
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘All Hail’ by Norma Jean is released on 25th October on Solid State Records.