Review || Norma Jean - "All Hail"

Post hardcore pioneers Norma Jean release their 8th studio album, "All Hail", on October 25th 2019 via Solid State records. Even though I received the promo invitation several days prior to the release, it took me a while before I was fully able to transform my notes into an actual text. Truth is, I was eagerly anticipating the album and I wasn't immediately able to fully comprehend all that went into the creation of "All Hail" and the darkness that seems to surround it as I was drawn into it. 

Containing 14 tracks, it is one of the most intricate yet refined works the band has produced so far. We were given a good taste of the idea behind it with the release of three singles, but those alone would unlikely be able to unveil the entire spectrum that "All Hail" covers and most importantly, how deeply personal it feels. 

The gripping "Orphan Twin" introduces the album and in a way sets the tone for what's to follow. The heavy distortion in the guitar is followed by a chanting, before hell breaks loose. As we move on, the single "[Mind Over Mind]" showcases the band's technical abilities. Similarly, "Safety Last" holds an experimental, almost primitive approach which seems to accentuate in the heartbreaking interpretation of the screams. Passing the filler "Volunteer Tooth Filler", we are met with "Landslide Defeater". It kicks off with an almost punk rock nuance and as it unfolds, it presents a beautiful quieter moment. The disassociation of the screams from the beat allows the vexation in Cory Brandan's voice to be strongly articulated but before you cherish it, it's gone. The fury of the final part of the song smoothly transitions into "Full Circle In Under A Minute". If I'm being honest, it's probably the only track on "All Hail" that didn't win me over despite its thunderous nature. 

We enter the second half of the album with "/with_errors", where we see hints of melody -in the way that Norma Jean apprehends melody, anyway- over a solid instrumental base. "Trace Levels Of Dystopia" is an absolute fucking banger of a song and I can't wait to listen to it live. The changes in the song are phenomenal, evoking emotions as the listener is crushed under the soaring guitar work. "Translational" unexpectedly slows down. Here, the predominant bass is painting the canvas; the clean vocals are gradually seconded by screams eventually overtaking the spotlight and, with an impactful "Deliver Me!", the scenery darkens. Then the full band appears, solid and on point. After another filler, "If [Loss] Then [Leader]" follows. The clean vocals are at the forefront once more, and even when distortion is added, they still dominate the rather terse instrumentation. The final three songs of the album paint a very similar picture. "Careen" and "Anna" are characterized by their length, as they both exceed five minutes in duration. The former is heavily emotive, borderline touching modern melodic hardcore. The song reaches peaks until the chagrined expression of the lyrics transforms them into a big crescendo. The latter, however, strays from this norm. Holding a middle ground between "Careen" and the ferocity of the previous tracks, it pays homage to a late fan-made-friend and also sees a certain Garrett Russell of Silent Planet coloring the eloquent hurt. Finally, "The Mirror And the Second Veil" is the acoustic outro of the album concluding the array of feelings we have experienced so far.

Overall, heaviness is the common denominator in all the tracks of this album. There's touches of melody that complement the collective impact of the songs but not to the point of overpowering them. What I immediately loved on "All Hail" is the production; it's raw, with many rough edges, giving a particular dynamic to the record, which it would lack had the production been polished and sterile. I can already hear oldschool fans complaining that "it sounds nothing like the old Norma Jean" but they are not quite right. "All Hail" is structurally as idiosyncratic as the band's entire discography, a natural progression from 2016's "Polar Similar" and an evolution of the fundamental core of the music that nurtured the entire post hardcore scene in the 00's. I honestly think it's one of the best works of the band to date.
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