Originally written by Ramar Pittance
I saved a small place in the back of my mind for the anticipation of Norma Jean’s Oh God, the Aftermath. 2003’s Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child was a promising album that matched mosh-heavy and acerbic hardcore with the spacious approach to songwriting of Neurosis and Isis. Over all, Martyr was caustic, overwrought and a bit too over ambitious. But it was heavy, and at the time, it wasn’t a terribly typical album for a hardcore band to make. It’s two years later and the sludge movement is approaching terminal velocity. Many, many bands are playing this music and each with a certain distinctive flare and respectable degree of talent. It’s tougher to get by. I was interested in seeing how they measured up. Ironically, the question has been rendered moot as the band has run a complete end around the current sludge movement and created a mostly straight forward, groove-laden hardcore album that only hints at their former sound.
Name dropping is tougher now, but Every Time I Die comes directly to mind. Norma Jean have streamlined their sound. Churning breakdowns laced with bleating pinched harmonic squeals have been replaced by more accessible southern grooves and rock based structures. The lead single, “Bayonectwork,” is also the bands finest example of their new direction. It’s a rock tune with a dreadfully catchy hook that showcases the band’s capability to pen memorable tunes, and the gravelly clean vocals of new singer Corey. “Liarsenic” fits into a similar mold, and proves that Norma Jean are in fact a talented group of guys who can rely on smart songwriting, and not just mosh-core indulgences. The problem is, the rest of Oh God, The Aftermath rarely touches on the successes of the aforementioned tracks. The occasionally too simple riffwork that was overlooked in deference to the mammoth heaviness of Martyr is a little harder to appreciate on tracks like “Vertebraille” and “Coffinspire.” The energy is there, but matched with such unimaginative riffing, it’s hard to share in the bands vigor.
“Disconnecktie” would fit comfortably next to Martyr‘s monolithic dirges “Pretty soon, I Don’t Know When, But Something Is Going to Happen,” and “Organized Beyond Recognition.” On the one hand, it’s frustrating to hear the band display their otherwise largely rejected sense of subtle melody and deliberate pacing. However, placed as it is in the album, it serves as a suitable interlude to the mostly upbeat rockers that surround it. It’s also a display of artistic moderation rare in the current sludge/hardcore scene.
So Norma Jean are trying something new, for them at least. I can respect that, and at times they do it quite well. The results are never bad, merely forgettable. It seems that Norma Jean might be one of those bands whose ambitions slightly outweigh their talent, which usually results in well intentioned but mostly inconsistent albums. Oh God, The Aftermath is not an exception.