Five years ago, it was impossible to name-drop Norma Jean amongst the metalcore community and not receive immediate comparisons to acts like Botch and Oh, Sleeper. They were lumped into the Solid State roster and growled away with their gritty metal on a few albums. For most of their career, they sounded like a coffee grinder playing a record backwards. Now, the band has matured but hasn’t grown out of their roots. Wrongdoers isn’t classic Norma Jean, but it’s possibly their strongest release yet.
In what might be a nod (or middle finger) to former labelmates To Speak Of Wolves, “Hive Minds” opens the record with out-of-tune ferocity that could be interpreted as industrially heavy or just bad (the latter has the upper hand). Cory Brandan’s vocal have gotten exponentially better, morphing from a guttural roar to a static scream. This helps eschew the “none-more-metal” vibe the band’s 2005 release O God, the Aftermath oozed with. Still, the band rage on in typical form. Often, this means pounding rhythms overlaid with dissonant shrieks of guitar––a combination that has gotten old since Aftermath. Brandan favors screamed vocals over cleans, but when he sings, he delivers a gritty tone reminiscent of Emery. The title track is exceptional, opening with a more indie-flavored riff and moving into sections of melody with an absolutely pounding chorus.
Lyrically, it’s uncomfortably convicting with Brandan yelping “we make love to the same mistakes.” Even though the band are unabashedly Christian, it’s easy to tell that this album has the ability to speak to everyone in some capacity. The oddball “Afterhour Animals” features a robotic female voice telling the listener to relax, placing a truly heartfelt sentiment in the midst of the chaos. It nicely sets up the next track, “The Lash Whistled Like A Singing Wind” (which is, of course, a minute-long thrasher). To close the band’s most artistic outing yet, we have the 14-minute long “Sun Dies, Blood Moon”, a strong but experimental performance. Hearing more clean vocals mixed in is refreshing and causes the screams to stand out more powerfully. As with most 14-minute-long songs, there are moments of almost silent ambience and instrumental sections that might produce incredible energy live, but recorded they drag on into oblivion.
It’s inevitable that Wrongdoers will split the band’s fanbase into two sections: those who hate the “new sound” and those who love it. In reality, the album shows the band’s potential to move on from their trademark sludge-core sound and emerge as experienced musicians, but their classic elements are still there. The album is perfect for heavier background music, but at the end of the day, it’s nothing outstanding.