NORMA JEAN- Polar Similar

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Norma Jean change. It might be the band’s shifting line-up (there are no original members at work here) or just the unstable nature of the music they play, but since the release of their ferocious debut the Atlanta outfit have never settled on a sound, and, for better or worse, rarely repeated themselves

Sometimes that’s a good thing. The airless intensity of 2005’s ‘O God, the Aftermath’ was certainly better off left behind. But they seem to move on from critical and commercial high points with equal speed. Oh, what I would give for another album like ‘Redeemer’, a near perfect mix of melody and monstrous power. It all means you never quite know which Norma Jean you’re going to get.

‘Polar Similar’ is more of the same. Which is to say there’s very little of ‘the same’ here at all. Like an animal shedding its skin to reveal a new form beneath, Norma Jean have sandblasted their sound this time out, peeling away some of the prickliness of before and showing their softest side yet. There are nods to Deftones, of course, but stoner rock, grunge and the blues too. As Norma Jean have progressed, like Poison the Well or Coalese before them, they’ve clearly soaked up influences from anywhere, everywhere, not just metal, and their end product is that much more interesting because of it.

Don’t panic. That’s not to say there is no aggression here, not at all, it’s just a finer balance than the band has ever struck. If Norma Jean’s last record was solid, notable without ever being remarkable, ‘Polar Similar’ is a serpentine standout, pitted with peaks and treats and quality. ‘The Planet’ is a fiery opener pivoting around the repeated cutting lyric “what you’re feeling is the loneliness of god”, ‘Forever Hurtling Towards Andromeda’ is the best song Every Time I Die never wrote (Side note: Sean Ingram should sing way more), and ‘1,000,000 Watts’ is an incredible thing, a hissing, spitting rager that blooms to reveal a huge but suitably grimy chorus.

Elsewhere there is shapeshifting metal (‘Death Is a Living Partner’), apocalyptic rock (‘Reaction’, ‘The Close and the Discontent’) and perhaps frontman Cory Brandan’s best ever performance in the twisting, fantastically-titled ‘Everyone Talking Over Everyone Else’. And if you still have Norma Jean pegged as an ordinary metalcore band then ‘IV: The Nexus’, an intricate 10-minute, almost-orchestral closer that shifts from firestorm fury past space rock bliss into ominous darkness, is destined to change your mind. Ambition and output like this is rare anywhere but almost nonexistent in bands releasing their seventh album. I’d ask for more of the same but I’m sure Norma Jean have no intention of repeating themselves.

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