Axl Rose once sang, "Nice boys don't play rock 'n' roll. Apparently, he's never met Norma Jean. While the band's peers have been busy buying their way onto Ozzfest (and Axl was working on that Chinese Democracy thing), these Atlanta, Georgia, natives have spent the last five years on the road, relentlessly playing basements and ballrooms, expanding their uniquely organic fan base with each show they play. With their second proper full-length, O' God, The Aftermath, all that work is about to come to a head-but in case you're just tuning in, here's the CliffsNotes version of the Norma Jean story.
Recorded by Matt Bayles (Isis, Botch, Mastodon) at Stone Gossard's Studio Litho, O' God, The Aftermath doesn't just push the band's personal limitations (which it does); it also pushes the limits of heavy music, period. "A lot of bands say 'we've progressedâ€¦" But the thing about these guys is they really did progress as musicians and artists, "a direct result of over two and a half years of touring while having only released one record" explains the most recent addition to the group, singer Cory Brandan - who, along with guitarists Scottie Henry and Chris Day, bassist Jake Schultz and drummer Daniel Davison, make up the current incarnation of Norma Jean. "[With O' God], we wanted to do something that was musically challenging and artistically balanced", he adds. "Anyone who's expecting [2002's] Bless The Martyr And Kiss The Child is probably not going to get very much of that."
Although the aforementioned Martyr has scanned over 58,000 copies, this is actually a good thing. From the math-metal madness of "Muderotica" to the mesmerizing melodicism (wait, is that singing?) of "Bayonetwork" to the alternately ambient and aggressive ten-minute opus "Disconnetcktie," O' God, The Aftermath spans the chaotic cannon of heavy music from Pantera to Poison The Well to Pelican and is as cerebral and obscure comparative to musical giants Tool. But, more importantly, it has as many stylistic shifts as it does time changes, refusing to fall back on hardcore's clichÃ©d song structures and stabbed-in-the-back lyrical motifs.
And the band's heady ambition doesn't apply solely toward the music. O God's thematic lyrics, song titles and artful aesthetics are all open to interpretation-even the album's seemingly bleak title isn't necessarily what it appears to be. "A lot of people think the word 'aftermath' has a negative connotation, but I look at it as more of a positive thing; a pleasant aftermath, you could say," explains band drummer Davison. "It's looking at it from a spiritual standpoint; the aftermath of grace or salvation."
Oh, and then there are the live shows. Combining motion pictures, smoke machines and an epilepsy-inducing light show, the band insist their current world tour with Atreyu and Unearth is their most over-the-top yet. "We're artists and we want to pursue our vision of art, but we're also entertainers and we want people to come to our shows and have fun," explains Brandan. It's worked; countless bands who've sold more records can't pack the kids in night after night the way Norma Jean do.
But getting back to that Axl Rose quote, while Norma Jean obviously take their music seriously, these nice boys refuse to take themselves too seriously, be it via lighting off fireworks in their van, starting small fires or, most recently, getting the word 'BBQ' tattooed on their lips with arrows pointing toward their mouths. "I've been in other bands and you always say stuff [like], "Yeah, let's do this! That'll be funny," Brandan explains. The thing about Norma Jean is that they'll actually go do it.
Welcome to the jungle, baby.