Published Sep 07, 2016Polar Similar — a play on "polar opposites" — is an almost ironic title, because the band that created it is so far from the one that once blessed martyrs and kissed children. The best bands are those that evolved so steadily their latest would be unrecognizable to someone who hasn't kept up since the debut, yet you can trace a line through their growth; if you skip from A-to-Z it may seem impossible, but follow A through Z and suddenly it all makes sense. Norma Jean are one of those bands.
The controlled post-metal-esque dirge that kicks off their latest album is a far cry from the frenetic chaos that defined their early sound, and the vitriolic "I hope you burn" that follows feels fresh from the same hell from which the cavernous and thunderous guitar tones bellow.
The slow and low "The Close and Discontent" could be an Eyehategod song with its bluesy sludge, but "III. The Nebula" takes that a step too far, removing all instruments but the guitar for a three-minute sludgy blues-terlude. It and predecessor "II. The People," which samples the creepy shortwave numbers station "The Lincolnshire Poacher," provide breaks that the band's deftly melodic songs don't require.
While their earlier, more frenetic side does come out here — usually in parts but occasionally, as on "Death Is a Living Partner," for full songs — it's no longer the band's focal point but just one of the many weapons in their arsenal, including Cory Brandan's powerful vocals. Throughout, they skirt metalcore's oft-maligned pretty vocals in favour of gruffer melodies that claw their way to the top, rather than depending on sugary wings to soar.
On Polar Similar, Norma Jean prove themselves to be metalcore's answer to post-hardcore's Thrice — specifically, the Fire portion of their The Alchemy Index collection. The possibility of them following that band's path and creating a Water, Earth and Air of their own is enough to elicit eager anticipation. (Solid State)