By the time The Anti Mother came out in 2008, a not-unsubstantial portion of fans found themselves unable to come to grips with the more accessible and, yes, catchy sound Norma Jean had taken on. It’s hard to blame them for being cynical or even angry about it. After all, the Georgia metalcore act followed the Botch-esque mathcore masterpiece O God, the Aftermath with two Ross Robinson produced records which, each having its own merits, had veered them into much safer waters. Not content to live in the shadows of Tacoma, Washington’s cult heroes, Norma Jean dreamt bigger and built an even larger following over the years. But the past was clearly on their minds, as made evident by the 2009 tour where the group played Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child — a record that only two remaining members had even played on — in its entirety. Through press releases and public tweets, Norma Jean declared their next album to be a return to the group’s roots. So then, is Meridional a fan-friendly rehash of the old days, another broken promise, or something else altogether?

That this thrilling new album features the exact same lineup as The Anti Mother is a testament to the musical greatness that had shone through only intermittently on that otherwise quite good 2008 release. Meridional is the inverse of that state, with near continuous thrills of songcraft and performance peppered with satisfying moments of poppy familiarity. The record draws from all aspects of Norma Jean’s body of work and adds plenty of newness to the mix. Ditching Robinson in favor of relative unknown Jeremy Griffith (City of Ships, Saosin) was a good call, but the material here exudes such strength that even Timbaland couldn’t muck this one up. Opener “Leaderless And Self Enlisted” starts with dueling feedback before hitting full force with a frenzied guitar attack and frontman Cory Brandan’s mix of distraught screeching and earnest singing. Vacillating between hooky anthemic moments and more complex mathy ones, “The People That Surround You On A Regular Basis” has an almost Eastern vibe flowing through it, though it never feels like a novelty. “Deathbed Atheist” churns with a deep and crunchy NIN-like murkiness while “A Media Friendly Turn For The Worse” cracks the sky and towers above with an unfairly peppy metalcore chorus. Norma Jean haven’t forgotten what made The Anti Mother so enjoyable, but they’ve managed to meld that with a complexity that makes Meridional such a compelling listen.

The undisputed highlight of Meridional is “The Anthem of the Angry Brides,” and I don’t think I’m being hyperbolic in calling it the greatest Norma Jean song ever recorded. The track sends actual (not metaphorical) chills through my body. Honestly, the first time I hear that refrain (“You’re not getting under my skin!”) live at a Norma Jean show, I will repeatedly mash my fists against the floor until they are hideous husks of bone sodden with blood and the remnants of tissue. When all is said and done, I may have to utilize voice recognition software to compose future writings, but it will have been worth it. Then again, why would I need to write about anything else when Meridional is obviously my favorite album of 2010?

(5 out of 5 horns)


Metal Sucks Greatest Hits