When vocalist Josh Scogin announced he was leaving Atlantan noiseniks Norma Jean just as they were becoming underground heroes after the release of Bless The Martyr And Kiss The Child, the only people more bemused than Norma Jean’s burgeoning fanbase appeared to be the other band members.
Scogin would later mention something about “musical direction”. Given that Bless The Martyr was a candidate for heaviest album in the world ever and that, if anything, the debut album by Scogin’s new band The Chariot took the chaotic metalcore blueprint to a new, even more extreme level, this did make one wonder what Norma Jean would re-emerge as. Were they about to turn into a pop band, or worse, a melodic hardcore, emo-schmeemo-screamo, “safe” one?
Er, no. O God The Aftermath is still raw, heavy and angular enough to have most people running for their earplugs. However, with the introduction of more structure and focus, there’s no questioning that it is also considerably more accessible than Bless The Martyr.
Frankly this is a good thing. Short of going down the “modern studio technology is anathema to us” route of Scogin’s crew, Norma Jean were always unlikely to be able to out-brutalise the unbridled attack of Bless The Martyr. Far better for it to be forever categorised as a seminal album that marked a line in the developmental sand of heavy music, leaving Norma Jean free to build new castles elsewhere.
And what fine pieces of musical architecture they have assembled. Highlights include the revolving riffs of Vertebraille; the cool, razor-sharp rhythm with accompanying guitars and vocals in Coffinspire; the metallic guitar chugging in Absentimental; and the buzzsaw tone achieved by Charactarantula.
As with Bless The Martyr, however, it is the presence of a 10-minute centrepiece track that truly demonstrates Norma Jean’s versatility and musical intelligence. Disconnecktie swims through compelling passages; one aggressive but pensive; the next more so with twiddles of guitar noise and distant, monk-like vocals; and the last intense with layers of heavy metal riffs to finish.
Cory Brandan Putman (formerly of Eso-Charis and Living Sacrifice) does a sterling job of making the mic his own. His canine, apoplectic screams in the likes of Murderotica perfectly fit the paroxysmal nature of the music, while he (controversially) lends punkier, almost-don’t-need-a-lyric-sheet vocals to sections of Bayonetwork, Liarsenic and Pretendeavour. Don’t get worried – he ain’t singing – and far from making Norma Jean “commercial” or “sell-outs”, these sections simply add texture and prevent stagnancy.
Norma Jean seems to be a band that people can’t be apathetic about. The haters will find plenty to complain about, whether it’s the song titles (you’ll have noticed they are all two words spliced together) or that Norma Jean are influenced by Botch and Converge but are selling a heckuva lot more albums.
For others who think that “Scientifiction” is actually quite a clever term, don’t care about such trivia, or believe that Norma Jean have taken the music of their forebears to higher peaks, they will simply enjoy O God The Aftermath for what it is – a stimulating, quality piece of extreme music.