After the lukewarm reception to The Anti-Mother, Norma Jean released Meridional to wide acclaim and kept themselves on the metalcore map. The album returned to a heavier sound while mixing in a more traditional hard rock vibe and adding clean vocals. Wrongdoers not only surpasses Meridional in terms of overall musicianship, but the songs are heavier, more experimental and downright insane. The album is the result of several years of songwriting, member switchups, scrapping and rewriting, bur Wrongdoers absolutely delivers.
Opener "Hive Minds" begins with a lengthy distorted intro, the first glimpse of Wrongdoers' progressive sound. It's bass heavy, with an interlude that could have been ripped directly from Bless The Martyr and Kiss The Child. The song is delicately executed, with more technical elements becoming apparent over the course the course of nearly seven minutes. The Botch influences are definitely at the forefront just as much as on their sophomore record, O God, The Aftermath.
Wrongdoers is fierce and fast, which is exemplified by the first single "If You Got It At Five, You Got It It At Fifty." New drummer Clayton "Goose" Holyoak completely destroys his kit as guitarists Jeff Hickley and Chris Day wield a dramatic balance between destructive riffage and melodic distortion. It demonstrates the furious chaos that comes out of their tumultuous songwriting journey, recalling the rawness on their first two releases."The Lash Whistled Like A Singing Wind" is another mind crusher that clocks in just over a minute long. Punk and hardcore meld to create the true essence of metalcore, garnished with squealing guitars as the song ends with the resonating, "You've made your own damn mistakes!"
When Norma Jean isn't blasting through technical heart pumping assaults, they're turning to their melodic side. Title track "Wrongdoers" features one of the best choruses of the band's career with Corey Brandan's clean vocals acting as a hallmark over a staccato intervention of double-bass pedals. "Sword In Mouth, Fire Eyes" may be the best song on the album, also showcasing Brandan's dramatic and emotional vocals that are definitely the best of his career. Building up with a minute-long bass line from new member John Finnegan, the song drops into a Deftones/2000s alt-rock hybrid that must be heard to fully-appreciate.
The punk influences show on songs like "Funeral Singer" that leverage melody in the form of driving guitar lines woven with poetic drum beats. Brandan's wail during the chorus is another album highlight that is sure to melt faces live. The buzzing guitars in "Neck In The Hemp" rip into a hardcore jam as a small dissonant riff breaks up the brutal attack. "The Potter Has No Hands" uses similar techniques and is memorable for its spacey siren that brings the out-of-this-world album art to mind. "Triffids" cues in more sludgy alternative grunge metal that, compounded by the love-related lyrics, leads into one of the best song endings of Norma Jean's life. The epic "Sun Dies, Blood Moon" reeks of a gritty sepia-toned western. It's heavy, it's slow, it's fast, but it's still characteristically Norma Jean. The song closes the album with a somber bitcrushed drum beat and bass that Botch fans could mistake for being part of "Man The Ramparts." That said, it's a banger.
The only hiccup in the mold is "Afterhour Animals," a quirky interlude that sounds like a psychoanalysis on acid. It's not particularly bad, it's just not particularly necessary. Fans listening to the album the first time will expect the chaotic onslaught of "The Lash Whistled…" after hearing this odd, preceding blip. It may have been a better choice to drop it and add in b-side "Family Bike Wreck" somewhere into the track list, but "Afterhour Animals" is nonetheless entertaining although entirely nonessential.
After a lineup change that resulted in the replacement of three members, some fans wondered if Norma Jean would be able to release a record that comes close to Meridional. Wrongdoers doesn't trump it, but crushes it into a pulp. It features the band's heaviest and most chaotic material since O, God…, but also some of the mot memorable and melodic parts as well. Guitarist Chris Day is the only member that stands the test of time since their debut, but Wrongdoers proves he still has it. Corey Brandan's vocals have never been better, and his songwriting and lyrics are a whole new frontier for the matured band. The new members have breathed new life into the Norma Jean, invigoration that's much needed and just what the metal scene needs. Give Wrongdoers a listen, and you'll love it. Give it a couple more, and it may become your favorite Norma Jean album to date. Rock it, buy it, love it.
Stream the first single, "If You Got It At Five, You Got It At Fifty" here.
Merch & Physical Preorder
1. Hive Minds
2. If You Got It At Five, You Got It At Fifty
4. The Potter Has No Hands
5. Sword In Mouth, Fire Eyes
6. Afterhour Animals
7. The Lash Whistled Like A Singing Wind
8. Neck In The Hemp
10. Funeral Singer
11. Sun Dies, Blood Moon