Saturday, December 23, 2017

Norma Jean Polar Similar (2016) Review

Norma Jean "Polar Similar" (2016) LP Cover
We are going modern for today’s review. Going back to September 9, 2016, we turn the tables onto Solid State Records famed band of metalcore with Norma Jean’s seventh studio album. The band has gone through some changes in their career as a band, and this record brings forth another line up change. This was the first release through Solid State since 2008, as they previously were signed to other record labels, and released a record in 2013. For the 2016 release, they picked up a new guitarist, Phillip Farris, and they went to the studio to record another metalcore release of epic proportions. Norma Jean “Polar Similar” brings familiar elements to the table, but also drops a ton of new creative processes and it works on a lot of different levels.

Heavy Is The Crown

Norma Jean has been putting out heavy music for a long time. I saw them play Cornerstone 2002 and they rocked the tents with extremes. Their former singer came on stage and wrestled the new singer to the ground as the two were screaming all the way down. I knew even back then that this band was a big deal. With the release of “Polar Similar”, I expected another heavy record, with a lot of basic elements that made them good in the past, but was surprised by the subtle changes. There’s a better production value on the record, with a focus on guitars and drums more than anything else. There’s a big push on the distortion of the guitars, and a little less bass guitar throughout. In place of the bass guitar sound you’d expect, you get a better vocal range, even though there are moments where the bass guitar is left alone to focus in on the melodies that come through, this is a very chaotic guitar fueled record.

Lyrically Complex

There was a time when Norma Jean was a “Christian” band, but honestly, that’s not the way the band has gone forward. Yes, there are Christians in the band, and if you want to label them as such, you can, but the band itself has a much more lyrical complexity than to be considered just a religious act. In fact, you’ll find that there is cussing on this record, and there is a focus on violence, life in general, abusive relationships, and much more. Cory Brandan Putman’s vocals works so well to introduce you to topics that are close to the chest, and bleed through the pages of his lyrics. Meanwhile, Jeff Hickey and Phillip Hickey put on an incredible showcase of heavy guitar work, to the point where John Finnegan’s bass guitar is lost at times. That’s fine, because Clayton Holyoak’s drumming is absolutely stunning. From simple fills here and there to constant start, stop, to break downs, Holyoak’s drumming is a stellar element of what Norma Jean put on tape for this record. I was impressed from the opening signs of “I. The Planet” to the ending riffs of the final track. If you love drums, you’ll love the presentation on this record, as it’s stellar, and absolutely riveting at times.

A Creative Wall of Heavy Music

In my own personal opinion, “Polar Similar” has the treble up too high. I would have loved to hear more bass on the record, but other than that, the tracks all seem to flow together nicely, including some very incredible nods to post-metal, and even mathcore at times. I was surprised by the mix that the band put into this release. It’s definitely a heavy record, but not without melody, and focus on longer progressive elements, and scaled back notation, as well as better overall mixing. The stand out tracks on this record include, “Everyone Talking Over Everyone Else”, “1,000,000 Watts”, “Synthetic Sun”, “A Thousand Years a Minute”, “IV. The Nexus”, and of course the rest of the 50 some odd minute record.

I give Norma Jean “Polar Similar” a 4 out of 5.

It’s not perfect. What can I say? I love what Norma Jean was able to do for this record, and am delighted to see that Solid State Records has the money to put on some incredible metal and hardcore after all of these years of putting great albums out. However, the fault I have for this record is in the bass guitar, and the high treble on certain tracks. Besides that minor complaint, the drumming overcomes everything else, and I’m fascinated by the way that it dives into the melody section, amidst chaotic dueling guitars, and stand out vocal ranges from top to bottom. Norma Jean puts out an eclectic hardcore, and metal record with touches of melody that you’d find with Deftones, and others.

You can purchase “Polar Similar” by clicking here, and stream it if you’d like in other avenues.

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