Monday, June 28, 2010

Album Review: Norma Jean - Meridional

Band: Norma Jean

Title: Meridional
Label: Razor & Tie
Release Date: July 12, 2010
Reviewer: BMer


  1. “Leaderless and Self Enlisted”
  2. “The Anthem of the Angry Brides”
  3. “Deathbed Atheist”
  4. “Bastardizer”
  5. “A Media Friendly Turn for the Worse”
  6. “Septentrional”
  7. “Blood Burner”
  8. “High Noise Low Output”
  9. “Falling from the Sky: Day Seven”
  10. “Everlasting Tapeworm”
  11. “Occidental”
  12. “The People That Surround You on a Regular Basis”
  13. “Innocent Bystanders United”

Meridional is the 5th studio album by the “almighty” Norma Jean, it will be released through Razor & Tie Records on July 12, 2010. This is Norma Jean’s first album with Razor & Tie after leaving Solid State Records in 2009 after the release of The Anti Mother. This is the fourth record that features vocalist Cory Brandan as the main singer and song-writer.

From the moment you fire up Meridonal you are blasted with the brutal onslaught that Norma Jean is known for. The first track, “Leaderless and Self Enlisted” is a great opener, heavy and intense, no time to waste on some intro track; let’s just get to the point. For those wondering if the move to Razor & Tie would somehow soften Norma Jean, considering their label-mates are now Brian McKnight and Dave Barnes, you’ll be rest assured very quickly. According to the band switching to Razor & Tie was the fresh start they needed, and the album really shows a renewed spirit for chaotic hardcore.

The album is roughly split into 3 parts, the first 4 tracks representing the most brutal sounds. The tracks are heavy on chaos and light on melody, something longtime fans of Norma Jean can get excited about. The 2nd track, “The Anthem of the Angry Brides” (great title by the way) is the most disjointed, featuring a quirky little guitar riff that basically noodles all over the place, on top of a shuffling drum beat during the verse. Once the chorus comes in you’ll find a driving, thumping feel that supports the vocals “You’re not getting under my skin!”

After track 5, an instrumental break, you get a few melodic tracks including my two favorites on the album; “Septentrional” and “High Noise Low Output”. Both tracks feature more singing than most, and some melody which is a side of Norma Jean that some fans don’t embrace. “High Noise Low Output” is the most “radio-friendly” track, a slower pace and plenty of singing and occasional screams. This doesn’t sound like your typical Norma Jean track, but the power and passion behind these tracks is unmistakable. The track following these, “Falling From the Sky: Day Seven” is a relatively subdued song. The feel is somber; “Your death will bring you all of the answers you’ve been looking for” and Norma Jean really start building the emotional feel for the album (even though we’re halfway with done with the songs).

Tracks 1-8 are straight-forward songs, except the interlude track 5, you get everything from chaotic brutality reminiscent of early Norma Jean to the more accessible sounds we found on The Anti Mother. After track 8 though you get a lot of experimentation, ambient moody sounds, probably representing what the band was referring to when they stated the music writing for Meridional was “something totally new”. There are a few memorable moments at the end of the album but overall I think the bulk of valuable work is in the first-half of Meridional. Songs like “The People Who Surround You on a Regular Basis” are just too predictable and formulaic, following the simple format of Verse – Chorus – Breakdown – Chorus. It’s not all bad, just not what you would typically expect from Norma Jean, something new.

The overall dark feel of the record is evident throughout, if not for lyrics like “I’d scratch away to the center. I’d bite it down to the blood” which is repeated frequently in the opening track, then maybe the sinister-sounding guitars will surely remind you that this album is not for the feint of heart. The drums also have a very live sound; the bass drum is so honest sounding, unlike the clean, over-produced sound on most metalcore records these days. Although the overall feel is dark, Meridional is not without it’s lighter moments which if you listen carefully enough you’ll hear quite an arsenal of random sounds/instruments throughout. Some clever lyrics can be found as well including “You’re like a never-ending soap opera, and we’re ready to find out who kills J.R.”

OVERALL When they say they’re going back to their old mentality of writing music, I can see that with Meridional. Riffs that have an old school hardcore feel to them, a few cool metal licks that I haven’t really heard from them before. This album does resemble The Anti Mother in a lot of ways, but feels like a lot more effort was put into this one than their last one. Each song is really well crafted from top to bottom. This is probably their most creative work to date, although it is a bit tamer than most of their other albums.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Album Review: Haste The Day - Attack of the Wolf King

Band: Haste The Day
Attack of the Wolf King
Solid State Records
Release Date:
June 29, 2010


  1. “Wake Up the Sun”
  2. “Dog Like Vultures”
  3. “The Quiet, Deadly Ticking”
  4. “Travesty”
  5. “Merit for Sadness”
  6. “The Un-Manifest”
  7. “The Place Where Most Deny”
  8. “White As Snow”
  9. “Crush Resistance”
  10. “Walk With a Crooked Spine”
  11. “My Name Is Darkness”

Attack of the Wolf King is the fifth studio album from metalcore act Haste the Day, which will be released through Solid State Record on June 29, 2010. This is the first album with the current lineup; the only mainstays from Dreamer are Stephen Keech and Mike Murphy (bass). Added to the group are drummer Guiseppe Capolupo (ex-Once Nothing) and guitarist Dave Krysl (ex-New Day Awakening, Stephen’s old band) and Scotty Whelan (ex-Phinehas). This will be HTD‘s fifth album on Solid State Records since Burning Bridges, their first release in 2004.

The last three records that have featured Stephen on vocals have been quite different from one another and with Attack of the Wolf King the change is for the better. This record shows many accomplished elements of HTD, excellent guitar-work and solid song-writing. New drummer Giuseppe is awesome, and while Devin was a very good drummer for HTD, Giuseppe’s introduction will give the band a fresh feel for years to come. Just when some of us thought HTD might be on its last legs the new members bring another level of ability.

According to front man Stephen Keech “The record is a concept album about a herd of sheep being protected by lions from a pack of bloodthirsty wolves.” Concept albums are always tough, sometimes the concept takes away from the music and starts to get somewhat gimmicky and sometimes the concept is completely lost on the listener. In the case of Attack of the Wolf King the concept of sheep being protected by lions is something that we can relate to, it can be perceived as a metaphor to Christians living in the world today. The songs turn into battle-cries, and when we sing along we are singing with purpose.

While the guitar-work is the most noticeable improvement, the lyrics and attention to song writing is equally as impressive. Stephen really shows a foundation of biblical knowledge on both Dreamer and Attack of the Wolf King, his lyrics are carefully written and once you get a chance to read them along with the record they will make an impact. Some bands use the vocals merely as another instrument in the metalcore genre, and their lyrics lack a sense of purpose and value. Haste the Day is a band that along with a crunching, pit-stomping sound, have brought an inspirational message of Christ’s power and love. Whether they’re chanting “Won’t look back – chains that bound me” or “ For Now – we are here and we are one” Haste the Day really understand how to rally the listener.

My favorite track on the album so far is “Dogs Like Vultures”, a track that blends the harsh aggressive metal sounds of HTD with a beautiful melodic chorus. There is just something great about a heavy crunching sound featuring a chorus with words like “our hearts are softer than the sheep.” On the track “The Quiet, Deadly Ticking” you have some more impressive guitar-noodling on top of some serious chugging that will most likely incite some intense ground-punching!

“Travesty”, the first track released for streaming, also features some heartfelt lyrics “With love that the blindest eyes will see, You cover the darkest part of me.” When I first heard this track I was a little concerned that the new record wouldn’t be heavy enough but tracks like “The Quiet, Deadly Ticking” and “The Un-manifest” feature that old-school feel from Haste The Day, straight-forward, raw pounding metalcore. Track 10, “Walk With A Crooked Spine” has some excellent contrasts throughout the song, with a closing breakdown that is one of the best on the album. Micah Kinard, singer for another Solid State backed metalcore band Oh, Sleeper does some guest vocals on the throwdown track “The Place Where Most Deny”.

As I said earlier, the guitar-work is a major improvement from the previous two records. Very tight melodic parts feature throughout each song, giving the verses a lot of dynamic. Haste the Day sticks to the metalcore blueprint, adding breakdowns to most songs, clean catchy choruses, and aggressive intense verses. It’s not ground-breaking, however the quality of Haste The Day shows on this record. They have combined the good elements from Pressure the Hinges and Dreamer to create an album that is excellent from start to finish.

OVERALL for fans of metalcore this album will be a favorite this year, if you don’t like metalcore (or think it’s a dying genre) then this won’t bring anything new to the table. You won’t find Jimmy Ryan here so we can all stop wishing every album would sound like Burning Bridges, it’s time to move on. Attack of the Wolf King combines the passionate energy of early Haste the Day albums with fresh new talent to give us one of the best releases of the year.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Album Review: Blank Page Empire - Sinners, Thieves and Beggars

Band: Blank Page Empire
Sinners, Thieves and Beggars
Release Date:
May 14th, 2010


  1. The Star Gazer
  2. The Amazing Two-Headed Man
  3. The Void I Couldn’t Shake
  4. The Vagabond
  5. The Seas’ Lonesome Drone
  6. The Blind Lead the Blind
  7. The Idol Hands
  8. The Lighthouse Keeper
  9. The Beacon
  10. The Conclusion

Blank Page Empire is a fresh new band out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. They play a brand of progressive-rock that sounds similar to As Cities Burn and Emery, although Blank Page Empire definitely has a sound of their own. Their debut Sinners, Thieves and Beggars is a sign of musical maturity for founding members Ryan and Nate who admitted that the band found the sound they wanted very quickly after forming last October.

On my first listen I was a bit wary of the album, I had never heard of Blank Page Empire and I don’t often venture out of my comfort zone when it comes to reviews. Instantly I was reminded of As Cities Burn, with their indie-rock sound and aggressive vocals. But after a few more listens through Sinners, Thieves and Beggars I was really impressed with Ryan’s singing. He is such a strong singer and his voice has a great sound.

Sinners, Thieves and Beggars was produced and released with no label support. The record was recorded by a friend of the band, Eric Winkstrom, who has also worked with Venia, For All Those Sleeping, and many other bands in the Minnesota scene. The production quality of this album is pretty impressive, especially in light of some recent releases that have fallen short of the standard in regards to sound quality. I love the way the band sounds here, the drums especially; they have a real “rock” feel, you can just hear everything without having that over-produced sound. The presence of the kit flows well through the lighter parts of each song right on through the abrasive breakdowns, bringing a big sound to fill some space in the overall sound. The drumming itself is definitely one of the high-points on the record

I think the key to having a successful progressive sound is having a good balance to each song. Tracks like “The Amazing Two-Headed Man” and “The Blind Lead The Blind” start off with an intense aggressive tone, only to be countered by a stripped-down verse that gets you tapping your feet. And just when you think it’s safe to recommend Blank Page Empire to your lady-friend they kick in the door and bring the passionate aggression that usually make the faint-of-heart run and hide. Especially on the opening track (after the intro) “The Amazing Two-Headed Man” the sound is forceful at first, and might scare a few listeners off, but less than a minute into the track you get the great indie-rock feel that really makes the album so much fun to listen to.

Sinners, Thieves and Beggars moves right along with story-telling lyrics and driving guitars all the way through to track 5: “The Seas Lonesome Drone” where singer Ryan Menghini brings the mood down to a more serious feel. The track is beautiful, the vocals are honest and powerful between the choruses of singers and Ryan’s pleas for the Father to “…pull me out before I come one with the sea.” It’s a refreshing break before the second-half of the album which seems to have much more purpose and focus.

This leads right into one of my favorite tracks, “The Blind Lead The Blind”, where the restrained feel of the last track is quickly erased by a driving guitar and screaming vocals. This song features some impressive guitar work along with great contrasting elements of aggression and indie rock. This is probably the heaviest track on Sinners, Thieves and Beggars and the change-of-pace midway through the song is welcomed, showing the creativeness of the entire band.

The finishing tracks on this album are very well structured, song transitions seems to be a lost art these days but it can really improve an album if the songs are put in a well-planned order. Blank Page Empire really builds the end of this album well, starting with track 7 “The Idol Hand” which has some amazing lyrics “lift me now up from the grave / where there’s no grace abound with love / devoid of the sound of your love.” This last line leads right into a subdued bridging track “The Light House Keeper” which is short and simple accompanied by choir-like singing, always powerful! Still in a calming introspective feel track 9 “The Beacon” shows some real honesty, switching from the “we” of track 8 to the “I” here, admitting that’s the Father’s love is great but “…how easily I forget”.

All of this leading into the last track of Sinners, Thieves and Beggars fittingly titled “The Conclusion”. This is another favorite track of mine with the background vocals really adding support to the feel of the track, a song sung directly to the Lord. This is the kind of song I eagerly anticipate seeing live, with everyone singing along “Gloria in Excelsis Deo”! so powerful and moving!

OVERALL For those fans of Ryan and Nate’s previous band, Nihilio, this will have a similar feel, although Blank Page Empire is a lot less screaming and crunching guitars and more creative and dynamic with their song writing. The songs are constructed very well, allowing each member room to be creative; and it’s Ryan’s vocals that really stand out as the piece that could be the difference maker. With a record like this I can’t see this band remaining unsigned for much longer, with a look straight out of Minnesota’s north woods and a refreshing debut album, Sinners, Thieves and Beggars is only the beginning for these guys.

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