With their fifth full length studio disc and first for Razor & Tie, Atlanta's post- hardcore giants Norma Jean have delivered what many will come to regard as the heavy music album of 2010. Building on the sonic bedlam that has already earned the group an ever- swelling and tremendously loyal global following, Meridional is the aggressive, artful follow up to 2008's widely acclaimed studio effort The Anti Mother. Launched by the walloping opening track and advance digital single "Leaderless and Self- Enlisted," Meridional isn't your typical blasting material. It's a seamless song cycle - and a loose acknowledgement of the heralded quintet's Southern roots - that incorporates an array of dramatic, melodic and experimental surprises.
If the ferocity, velocity and weaving melody that steers that aforementioned leading number incites and inspires, it's perhaps the ideal representation of what Norma Jean has become known for - unrelenting, innovative and exceptionally good songs. When pressed to explain how the band keeps managing to up its game with each successive studio effort, longtime lead vocalist and guitarist Cory Brandan modestly addresses the peerless end product that is Meridional.
That creative preparedness was essential in rendering what can only be regarded Norma Jean's most diverse and cohesive disc yet. From the sinister, percussion- driven standout "Deathbed Atheist" - which highlights Raines' pummeling wares - to the amazing, alluring hard rock anthem "Falling From The Sky: Day Seven" Meridional reflects Norma Jean at its most accomplished and adventurous. "We wanted to make something different, but something that really flowed together," Raines says. "We didn't want to have our record sound like 10 different bands." Although "Falling From The Sky" and the stirring, memorable bruiser "High Noise Low Output" build slightly on the melodic touches first surfaced on The Anti Mother, these Ozzfest and Warped Tour vets are by no means pondering a radical reinvention. "We all like different kinds of music and that is always going to come through," Cory explains. "Besides they're hardly what I would call hits - that wasn't the intention - but they are songs that we feel are very important to keeping the record from being boring and monotonous."
On Meridional Norma Jean also sidestepped the same- old, same- old by opting to work with producer Jeremy Griffith (a veteran of records by Saosin and The Cartel) after two acclaimed discs (2006's Redeemer and 2008's The Anti Mother) with esteemed metal guru Ross Robinson. At Raines' suggestion - he has known Jeremy for a number of years - the band and the rising producer tested the waters on a demo of the song "Kill More Presidents."
Although that track was ultimately left off the album, the drummer says, "We loved the way Jeremy worked and the sounds that he got. He is really picky about who he works with and I really liked that about him. He totally gets the idea of a "dark" record and he helped us accomplish that."
If its predecessor was a bona fide concept record, Meridional takes a less stringent stance. Teaming with provocative, renowned Starving Eyes artist Jason Oda - who nailed the layout for Meridional - Norma Jean aspired to integrate the theme of the record. Although this time out, the band is hesitant to disclose the premise of the project, which developed during the course of writing and recording. Atreyu - continues to dig deeper and go further, a practice which first started with 2005's O God, The Aftermath. Norma Jean's willingness to reset the bar with each successive album isn't only admirable, it's what fuels Meridional - a certain game changer in the world of hard music.
When the members of Norma Jean gathered together to hear the final, completed sequence of Meridional. Raines says the band was elated. "Honestly, we felt proud," the drummer says. "Proud of this band and everything we have gone through in the last few years. We really did what we wanted to do and it showed." "It's a very different Norma Jean on this record," Brandan decrees. "We definitely kept it heavy, but it's a new kind of "Norma Jean" heavy."