O God the Aftermath
Norma Jean's lineup shifted again between Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child and 2005's O God, The Aftermath — the Georgia metalcore unit got a new bassist in Jake Schultz, and replaced vocalist Josh Scrogin with former Eso Charis shouter Cory Brandan. Still, there's no rage or passion lost. Brandan is comparably distraught on the microphone, and he matches wits ably with the pummel of Norma Jean's twin guitars. "This world is damned to hell and it's a revelation," he spits over the manic, jagged rhythms of "'Coffinspire." "I'll set myself on fire/Come on, watch me burn." Later, in "Pretendeavor," Brandan speaks directly and with force. "Oh my God, hand us down our ribbons/You death defier you/Far from fear, we are." It's an important tactic in the Norma Jean arsenal, this balance between pain and religious fervor, between hate and hope. Hardcore, metal, whatever — heavy music pierces the soul. And with O God, The Aftermath, it's clear Norma Jean has entwined its faith so tightly around its amplifiers that there's no separating the two without destruction of one. Isis and Mastodon producer Matt Bayles helps with this stance, removing any reverb (maybe even any overdubs?) to reveal Norma Jean's gristle. Revealing the truth he leaves to the band. "Murderotica," "Vertebraille" (?) These songs are relentless. Their gaps, stops, starts, and interplay of single and dual guitars push the listener toward the meaning with a dynamic volatility. "Bayonetwork"'s rabid pace cuts out for an almost melody, and Brandan delivers the payoff: "This is between me and this blade/And my heart." "Disconnecktie" (these word-jumble titles are a little trying) is a ten-minute powerhouse of swirling distortion chum and ambient metal driftwood — it sketches more of the ship and sea imagery that drifts throughout the album. "Scientifiction" is another album highlight. It's the record's last song, but after 45 minutes Norma Jean is still screaming mad, intensely passionate, and seemingly incapable of coming up with a riff that doesn't rip through bone and sinew, right to the heart of the matter.