Norma Jean is back with a vengeance. Out for blood, the Georgia quintet recently released The Anti Mother, a characteristic raging masterpiece that screams for the scene respect that this band deserves and usually gets.
Since Josh Scogin left the band to form the Chariot, a lot of unfounded talk bustled across the scene that Norma Jean wasn't up to 2002's Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child level, that O God, the Aftermath (2005) wasn't quite on par with the band's previous work. Still, some people were impressed with the offering. Personally, I wasn't exactly impressed, but it wasn't a terrible album. It never really made a significant spot in my rotation, but it was good for a stray listen every so often.
Cory Brandan, Scogin's successor, powered the band back to hardcore splendor with 2006's Redeemer, which ironically enough seemed to redeem the band's status as scene pioneers. It was pretty clear to me at the time that if you weren't ready to move on with the band away from its roots, then there was always the Chariot, which essentially picked up where BTMAKTC left off.
To me, Redeemer had a sonic quality that could be felt more than heard; the band's typical dissonant style was still there, but poppy hooks bled through the noise and formulated strong tunes, supported by an evenly unpredictable drum pattern that wasn't too "out there," as much I cannot say for the previous recording. (Pop in OGTA and you'll see what I'm talking about.) I like experimental music, but I felt like OGTA wasn't really working for them. I think the band felt that too, as Redeemer is such a drastic countermeasure (and was released only a year after the previous recording).
Stepping in the dominant footprints of Redeemer, The Anti Mother is a tantalizing and catchy journey through the evolution of the band that loses no edge or momentum from earlier work, capturing a raw earnestness that pumps through unfamiliar riffs laced with surprisingly strong hooks, bolstered by the characteristic heaviness and dissonance that only Norma Jean can seem to capture.
Norma Jean appears to have finally found a niche in the realm of melodic metalcore, solidifying their position as pioneers of the scene. If you're not happy with it, then go listen to the Chariot. I can't offer refunds -- only peace of mind.
"I guess a liar's heart is still true even if her lips are not."
- Cory Brandan, "Birth of the Anti Mother"