(Solid State Records)
A band that just won’t call it quits. That’s because when the essence that is Norma Jean decides to record an album, they consciously make sure their blood is put into the record, spitting with visceral outbursts of anguish and riding a train of urgency that makes people go “is this really Norma Jean?” Possessing no original members, the group has been a revolving door of musicians until right before the recording Wrongdoers. That lineup put out a pure, wall punching record. With Polar Similar, Norma Jean break the fucking walls.
With Polar Similar, Norma Jean take their standard recipe and boil it to an eruption. The opening track “I. The Planet” sets the tone with Cory Brandan’s vocals pulling the entire earth apart, silencing himself only to let a melodic vocal line ride through the chorus. Other than that, it’s a track that sets the pace for the rest of the record, distinguishing an instinctively furious tone that shatters any previous expectations people had for Norma Jean in 2016. There’s a guttural anger in every delivery from Brandan, letting it known that there is something to be said here. Polar Similar deals with all forms of abuse, and Brandan had to go dig up the darkness and expel it in the only way known to the singer, a massive detonation of energy.
Norma Jean hone their powerful ability to make winding riffs explode between open notes, finding an innate ability to pace each riff perfectly, being helped by the incredible rhythm section that teams up to keep everything in line. When they need to fasten their own seat belts in a fit of speed, crash through the nexus. When they pull back to let a moment soar with a more syncopated assault, they fly beyond grasps of people. This allows the frantic chaos that swirls in a song like “Forever Hurling Towards Andromeda” and “Death Is A Living Partner” to blow the listener away in a solar storm. Polar Similar rarely allows anyone a breath, save for the interludes. One could go as far as saying the interludes are there for the listener to step back, take a breath and try to process the fracturing world around them; the abuse extending through the darkest corners of the universe. That seems to be why the ‘prettiest’ songs (if you’d call them that) are right before said interludes. “1,000,000 Watts,” “A Thousand Years A Minute” and “Reaction” are anthemic with bulging choruses. They find Brandan’s singing voice on the edge, quickly escalating only to make a stomp heavy chorus pulse around the singer, watching the world fall apart around him. The former has a dark, smart ending, reeling back on the blistering guitar lines for Brandan to finish the record to the haunting piano chords, like crashing in the middle of an adrenaline rush. After these two songs are instrumentals that separate the album’s movements, allowing for it to have moments of reconciliation — to let the world lick its wounds.
The difference with “A Thousand Years A Minute” is the song spirals off into dizzying feedback with a recorded message, leading to the album’s closing number, “IV: The Nexus.” As with Wrongdoers, Norma Jean create a lengthy epic to put to rest all the tension, abuse and destructive forces that make up Polar Similar. It’s a track that hurls the band in the middle of their boiling pot of what makes Norma Jean the band they are. There’s twisting guitar riffs, alternating vocal approaches and a reflective tone spread throughout the tune. To be completely honest, the final two minutes of feedback/near silence/ambience that close the record capture the moment, but it still feels a bit cheap. It’s standing there in awe of the destruction of the past 51 minutes, but I don’t want to stand in awe any longer, I want to be along for the ride until I am the source of it all. But that’s beside the point.
Polar Similar heaves a mighty toss at ranking on the high end of Norma Jean’s discography. This is the anger that was identified in The Anti-Mother amplified to the sonic presence that the record should have been.