Norma Jean - The Anti Mother
Record Label: Solid State Records
Release Date: August 5, 2008
Of all of Norma Jean’s album titles, I have to say, The Anti Mother is by far the most intimidating they’ve ever created; after all, the symbol of the ‘mother’ is generally regarded as the most crucial element in the creation of life. What then, could be so destructive, so horrifically despicable, that it embodies every quality that a mother is not? The answer, of course, is the beast within every person that seeks the destruction of everything beautiful: the Anti Mother.
Without having heard even a second of the musical content, the listener is struck by the no-nonsense title and the gory album art gracing the cover of the CD. Already predisposed to Norma Jean’s reputation as metalcore titans, the front cover seems to prepare for the worst.
But while this album does certainly exemplify every quality of the ‘Anti Mother,’ it does not fulfill said requirements in terms of pure musical heaviness, as their previous work and reputation would lead you to expect. It is through front man Cory Brandan’s songwriting that Norma Jean (literally) reveals its dark heart.
Compelled by the disintegration of his marriage and his own guilt surrounding it, Brandan had reached a deeply pained emotional state by the time he sat down to create a record. As a result, The Anti Mother reveals some of the most complex, brooding lyrics the band has ever created. Additionally, Brandan’s delivery has an element of almost uncomfortable pathos, which is accentuated by his ‘sung’ lyrics, which sound like a mixture of his trademark scream and Dustin Kensrue’s (Thrice) throaty wails. Basically, when Brandan screams “She’s not breathing, Choke that witch out / Suffocate Her/ Choke Her Out” in “Birth of the Anti Mother,” it’s more akin to hearing a broken man begging for mercy than an angry call to violence.
The guitar-work is also top-notch. Created by the tandem of Chris Day and Scottie Henry, the songs can jump from the fluttering chaos of “Murphy was an Optimist,” to the deafening crunches of “Vipers, Snakes, and Actors,” to the floating atmospherics of “Discipline Your Daughters" (think Isis), and even into nu-metal territory in “Surrender Your Sons…” (the result of the Deftones’ Chino Moreno aiding in the entire writing process of the song). The variety helps keep the record alive, marking a definite shift in sound from earlier work.
Bolstering the explorative guitars is Jake Schultz’s work on the bass, which is vital to the band’s sound and the primary vehicle the band uses in conveying the ‘heaviness’ of the album. While it may not be the first thing you notice when listening, it is something that, if even marginally altered, would change the entire feeling of the album.
The primary weak-spot of the record lies in the percussion. Unlike the matchless drumming in previous efforts, The Anti Mother presents a more standard rock vibe. It would be wrong to try and place blame on either the band or new drummer Chris Raines for the shortcoming; I can only imagine how difficult a thing it was for both parties to adjust after more than ten years (don’t forget about their tenure as Luti-Kriss) of relying on another man’s style. I firmly believe that once Raines has had more experience with the band he’ll become more adventurous with his drumming and bring this end of Norma Jean back up to par.
As previously noted, this album is a far cry from the heaviness of Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child, O’ God, The Aftermath or even Redeemer (the band’s most melodic work until this release). Somewhere between Brandan’s pained vocals and the varied guitar-playing, Norma Jean decided to become more melodic. But don’t let that fool you; these tracks still hit like a punch in the throat. Interestingly, the track that I most enjoy rocking out to is “Robots 3 Humans 0;” one of the most melodic tracks on the album.
Even the heavy tracks, though, are not heavy like they’ve been in the past. “Opposite of Left and Wrong,” which features a great vocal dynamic between Page Hamilton (of Helmet) and Brandan, is one of the heaviest tracks on the album, but sounds nothing at all like “Memphis Will be Laid to Waste,” “Bayonetwork” or The End of All Things Will Be Televised.” The closest songs you’ll find that even somewhat resemble their earlier work are “Vipers, Snakes, and Actors,” and “Birth of the Anti Mother.”
Here’s how I break it down. Is this Norma Jean’s best record ever? No. Is it a necessary step in their career that speaks mountains of their artistic ability and willingness to experiment with their sound? Yes. Years after Norma Jean has come and gone, listeners will undoubtedly look back at this album as a turning-point in the band’s career; a turning point that led to great things.