Norma Jean Polar Similar2016 Solid State Records
Watching their world burn.
Since their inception in the late 90’s as Luti-Kriss, Norma Jean have endured a near perpetual state of volatility. With a fluid lineup that currently features no founding members, there’s been a persistent induction of new talent over the years and guitarist Phillip Farris is the latest to be welcomed to the fold. For some bands it’d be a death knell to continually swap out players, but somehow Norma Jean have mostly thrived off of it.
Whether spurred by Farris‘ input, the return to Solid State Records or just simply liberated by age and confidence, “Polar Similar” finds Norma Jean indulging in a theme—the full extent of which seems a bit guarded and vague. Thematic motivation side, it is an exceptionally dark foray for the outfit that finds them operating at a creative high. Shifting from the more brutish antagonism of their past Botch, Coalesce, etc. obsession, this album also intersects high points of Poison The Well, He Is Legend and Failure, among others.
It’s a viper pit of a record packed with confrontation and incendiary firepower, but it excels in a newfound commitment to atmosphere and experimentation. Given the outright crush of the first few tracks, you may find it surprising that there’s also engaging segues—such as the bluesy reverb found on “III. The Nebula“. Self discovery and stepping outside comfort zones are key elements to be sure, but this effort still pays homage to those which came before it. Look no further than Coalesce frontman Sean Ingram‘s guest appearance on “Forever Hurtling Towards Andromeda” for proof of that.
As respectful as they are of what they’ve done in the past though, there’s a staggering amount of personal diversity exhibited on “Polar Similar“. “1,000,000 Watts” is a prickly mix of Blindside‘s reluctant melodicism and Every Time I Die‘s rebel rousing. “The Close And The Discontent” clambers aboard a neo stoner rock groove you’d expect from the likes of Red Fang.
The outright combustibility of standout track “Reaction” finds the band confidently mounting an avalanche of percussion and slide guitars as a clever use of effects and impulsiveness dictate the terms. Meanwhile, album closer “IV. The Nexus” ascends through the veil of the stratosphere space rock gods Failure inhabit—a particularly fitting nod given that this very album was recorded at the same studio as the aforementioned outfit’s “Comfort“.
With “Polar Similar” Norma Jean sound like they’ve finally come to terms with the Norma Jean of now. Like they’ve truly been able to cast off the expectations of a past that the current roster ostensibly had little to do with. There’s a palpable sense of reinvigoration on display here from the ambitiousness of the writing to the ferociousness of the playing. Even frontman Cory Brandan feels exceptionally vulnerable and raw, adding considerable weight to his performance.
Aside from the annoyance of the “II. The People” derailing the momentum after a mere four tracks in, “Polar Similar” is an album that may have just signaled a new path for the band. In fact, it’s a creative left turn that history may just single out as their magnum opus.