When I say Norma Jean, I'm not referring to Marilyn Monroe by her birth name, but the five-piece Christian hardcore/metalcore band from Atlanta, GA. However, like Monroe in 1950s pop culture, most everyone who has listened to this style of music has listened to Norma Jean at least once. With five successful albums, it's difficult to have not stumbled on to at least one of Norma Jean's many songs. Despite various lineup changes during the band's lengthy 16-year lifespan, Norma Jean is back to release its sixth studio album, Wrongdoers, under Razor & Tie Records on August 6.
To begin, the first track, "Hive Minds," is a bit unimpressive. For the most part, it is bland and failed to hold my attention. The vocals and the tempo of this track clash and it results in an ugly mess. Aside from a few entertaining instrumental pieces in "Hive Mind," which included a groovy bass riff, the vast majority of the song is not what I would call a good introduction to Wrongdoers. Luckily, the second track, "If You Got it at Five, You Got it at Fifty," really picks it up with a drastic change in tempo and sound. This track is a huge step up and also a huge relief from the disaster that I had heard before it. This track leans more toward a chaotic hardcore sound that reminds me of bands like The Chariot or Converge. The production and tone of this album is phenomenal, but by the sixth album, I should expect the band to know what it's doing. The drumming is fast paced, superb and fits with the music nicely. The guitars have solid-sounding crunch to them that can get a person's adrenaline racing with just a few strums.
Something new that is introduced to Wrongdoers in the third track, which is titled "Wrongdoers," is clean vocals. Whether this is a merit or demerit is up to discretion of the listener, but the clean vocals sound similar to something that you would hear on any standard rock radio station (ex: Three Days Grace, Theory of a Dead Man). Personally, I think that the clean vocals should be eradicated, but fortunately for anyone that doesn't enjoy them, they are not used on every track. With that being said, I can say that they do add a lot more variety to Wrongdoers. In smaller doses, the clean vocals would have been more tolerable, but in the instances that they are used, they are heavily abused. That brings us to the fifth track, "Sword in Mouth, Fire Eyes." This track is comprised entirely of clean vocals and sounds more like a song on the radio than a song that would come from a hardcore band's album. Luckily, there is only one of these "only clean" tracks on the album.
The tracks following this one return to Norma Jean's original heavy roots and don't utilize the clean vocals. This raw style is Norma Jean's strength and is what the band should really stick with. By the ninth and tenth tracks, titled "Triffids" and "Funeral Singer" respectively, the clean vocals have returned and brought both of these otherwise fantastic songs down a peg. "Funeral Singer" does feature one of the best portions of the album, though, with a melodic guitar riff accompanied by thrashing vocals at the end. The last song, "Sun Dies, Blood Moon," is very much like the introduction song in its format. The slow tempo with a mix of heavy and clean vocals doesn't do it for me. The six-minute looping guitar and drum outro is incredibly annoying as well and it's something that I tend to skip on every listen.
While most of Wrongdoers is a decent album, there are a lot of things that didn't sit well with me. The overuse of clean "radio" vocals, the abrupt endings to many of the songs and the horrors that were the first and last songs were just a few of these things. The songs to listen to are "Potter Has No Hands," "The Lash Whistled Like a Singing Wind" and "Neck in the Hemp." I don't know if Norma Jean has lost its touch, or whether the members are just trying new things, but I hope things can get sorted out before the band's seventh album.