There should probably be a new "Godwin's Law" for any conversation about Norma Jean. Eventually, one of two things will be brought up. In an effort to one-up everyone else, someone will mention Botch, much like how other people never shut up about Exhorder every time Pantera comes up. And yes, someone will default to Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child as their best album. At this point, the whole Botch rip-off accusation is just unfair and redundant (::BREAKING NEWS: Bands are Influenced by Other Bands::).
For stupid sentimental reasons, I'm still partial to the first three albums, especially BTMKTC, but that doesn't mean Norma Jean hasn't made worthwhile music since then. The two albums that came after Redeemer saw Norma Jean expand on their sound and incorporate new elements and arrangements, with mixed results. For the last few albums, multiple critics have declared "this is where Norma Jean returns to form" or "reclaims their place", which have mostly been exaggerations. But with Wrongdoers, I can happily say that this time it's for real: Norma Jean have made a truly exciting, barn
burner detonator of an album. Along with the highlights mentioned below, the album flows very well as a cohesive whole, bringing forth the bands best work in years. Most of the songs on Wrongdoers fit into the band's two specialties: post-hardcore influenced hard rock; and fist-through-the-wall metallic hardcore.
Along with many of their mid-2000's contemporaries, Norma Jean have always had a slice of post-hardcore finesse to add to their sound. Many of the songs on O God, the Aftermath began to introduce this and it was even more apparent on Redeemer. Much of that is evident here as well, especially on the title track and the fantastic "Sword in Mouth, Fire Eyes". These two songs together contain some of the best melodies the band has ever recorded.
I know some critics like to fault vocalist Corey Putman for using clean vocals, something I've never understood. Corey's clean vocals would be well-placed in many indie and post-hardcore acts, but to me this is more of a strength than a weakness. He also has a very unique voice that makes him easy to identify and gives Norma Jean an extra trademark to separate them from the rest of the 2004 wave they came up with.
And while they manage to explore different moods and styles the songs are still reeled in enough to keep them memorable and accessible. These songs also have some great riffs to go along with them, provided by founding member Chris Day and newcomer Jeff Hickey. From what I can tell, the band sounds almost refreshed and re-energized with the new members as well. In a way, Wrongdoers achieves what the band claimed to do on Meridional: take several elements from their previous albums, mix them together and push them forward.
But for those of you who just want to hear Norma Jean blow the lid off, I suggest you go for songs like "If You Got It At Five, You Got It At Fifty", "Potter has No Hands", and "Neck in the Hemp", all of them bursting with dissonant guitar screeching, breakdowns, and lines of lyrics repeated over and over again in really awesome ways (You know, Norma Jean stuff!). Apparently the band surprised a lot of people with their awesome live performance at this year's SXSW, and I'm sure these new songs will only be an asset to them in the future. From the setlists I've seen, they've only included "If You Got it at Five, You Got It At Fifty" so far.
From listening to this album, I'd have to say that Norma Jean had it in 2003, and they definitely have it in 2013.
For a long time, the band has gotten a bad rap from several corners of the loud-rock universe, which is unnecessary and unfortunate. If you're one of those music fans who've always written Norma Jean off as some sideways haircut Christian band to avoid, lest your more "sophisticated" true-metal friends find out, now is as good a time as any to stop worrying and learn to love the band's blistering, unique sound for what it is! (it's ok, I won't tell)
Favorite Songs: "If You Got It At Five, You Got It It At Fifty", "Wrongdoers", "Potter has No Hands", "Sword in Mouth, Fire Eyes", "Neck in the Hemp"
PS- Also check out the B-side not included on the album itself, Family Bike Wreck!
When he's not infuriating people with his album reviews, Drew Zalucky is busy writing for his political website, For the Sake of Argument