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Album Review: Norma Jean ‘Polar Similar’


American metalcore quintet Norma Jean have released their highly-anticipated seventh studio album ‘Polar Similar’, the band’s follow-up to their 2013 effort ‘Wrongdoers’. In a genre that has often been derided for its homogeneity and conformity to trends, Norma Jean have never been afraid to be different. Their 2002 debut album ‘Bless The Martyr And Kiss the Child’ gained the band instant attention for its unique blend of metal, hardcore and noise.

The band have continued this trend throughout their career, constantly bucking trends and creating their own unique brand of music. ‘Polar Similar’ continues this pattern and sees Norma Jean creating a darkly unique collection of music.

The three singles released from the album, 1,000,000 Watts, Forever Hurtling Towards Andromeda, and Synthetic Sun collectively work together to embody the feel of the album as a whole. Each song is unique in its own way, while working together in the context of the album to create an extremely cohesive whole.

1,000,000 Watts was the first single released from ‘Polar Similar’ and really exemplifies both the differences and similarities between ‘Polar Similar’ and it’s predecessors. Rather than the frantic and chaotic sound that has come to exemplify Norma Jean, 1,000,000 Watts slows things down a little. Rather than being a disappointment, the change in songwriting style allows Norma Jean to show off their talent while still writing something that’s undeniably their own.

‘Polar Similar’ is a fantastic addition to Norma Jean’s already formidable discography, and arguably their most ambitious album to date!

The track’s disconcerting opening chords quickly morph into the slow and ominous riffing that dominates the song, lending the track a dark and brooding atmosphere. The slower pace of the track allows the main guitar riff present throughout the song to be worked on and evolve as the song progresses. The slower pace of the song also allows vocalist Cory Brandan to showcase his impressive vocal ability, switching from scream to clean singing within one vocal phrase.

Of the three singles released, Forever Hurtling Towards Andromeda could be considered the most  ‘typical’ Norma Jean. With fast, angular riffs and a healthy dose of dissonant chords, this track really embodies that signature Norma Jean sound. Despite this stylistic continuation the band still manages to explore new musical ground. Rather than being an all-out audio assault the song ebbs and flows, alternating between heavier riffing and more melodic lead lines, which the working together of these two juxtaposing styles a testament to the band’s musical ability.

Synthetic Sun is another kettle of fish altogether. A bit of a curve ball on the band’s half, this track substitutes heaviness for technicality and musicality. With a more technical guitar work, with some parts being played with fingers rather than picks, this song really showcases Nora Jean’s musicianship. Also featured on the track is a guest appearance from Sean Ingram, vocalist of metalcore band Coalesce. Ingram’s presence brings an interesting flavour to this already left-of-centre song, proving that despite their lengthy career Norma Jean are still capable of surprises.

On the whole, ‘Polar Similar’ is an almost perfect continuation of Norma Jean’s sonic evolution, exploring new and darker musical directions while still containing the aggression and chaos that has defined the band’s sound. ‘Polar Similar’ is a fantastic addition to Norma Jean’s already formidable discography, and arguably their most ambitious album to date!

Album Rating: 4.5