It’s a true rarity that you get to see a band hit their peak 7 albums into their career, let alone find a band hit their seventh album without a single original member left. However, this is exactly what happened when metalcore heavyweights Norma Jean released Polar Similar, an album that was as crushingly heavy as it was painstakingly beautiful, along with an exceptional vocal performance from front man Cory Brandan. In the aftermath of the record: Norma Jean certainly left themselves with a daunting task; to release a follow up to Polar Similar that was, at the very least, just as good as its predecessor was a herculean task - but one the band refused to shy away from..
Fast forward 3 years and we find the bands eighth studio album, All Hail, at our doorsteps.The time has seen apt for Norma Jean to be surrounded by the most hype that they've ever experienced pre release date - propped up by the four singles supporting All Hail. The quartet of tracks showcased the band building on their signature sound, as well as a few less chartered directions. This, as a whole, is a pertinent summary of the material on All Hail.
Opening tracks 'Orphan Twin' and 'Mind Over Mind' introduce the album in a very similar way to the opening two tracks on Polar Similar, with face-meltingly heavy riffs that are very clearly influenced by sludge metal. The main difference here is that these two tracks are noticeably shorter than the ones on their predecessor; 'Orphan Twin' is just shy of 2 minutes long while 'Mind Over Mind' is only about 40 seconds longer. The shorter length of these two songs, however, does nothing to diminish the impact these songs leave, and sets a good benchmark for the rest of All Hail in terms of song quality.
As with most of Norma Jean’s material, credit has to be given to vocalist Cory Brandan, who over the years has become one of the strongest front men in not only metalcore but arguably modern metal as a whole. His throat shredding screams are almost completely unmatched, but at the same time he has also become a very competent singer, showcased by his croons during the softer moments of All Hail, as well as some of his more powerful pitch screams. The latter of these vocal styles is demonstrated the best on 'Landslide Defeater', a song which gives off a post-rock shimmer in its softer moments and takes nods to British metal titans Architects.
Despite All Hail being able to throw heavy punches with anything else in Norma Jean’s discography, the band has really refined their melodic side on this record. This is particularly evident on the latter half of the album. 7th track 'With Errors' is the closest thing to an alternative metal song Norma Jean have ever penned, and is another great example of Cory’s singing, while 12th track 'Careen' is a truly heartbreaking ballad that will go down as one of the best Norma Jean songs ever written. 'Anna' continues this melodic force field too - topped with a guest appearance from Silent Planet’s Garrett Russel, as if the vocal quality on this album wasn’t good enough already.
To put it simply: All Hail is an astonishing achievement for Norma Jean. It's a record that sits very much on par with pre-existing classics from the trio such as Polar Similar and Wrongdoers in terms of quality, and explores enough new musical ground to stand out on its own, whilst retaining enough of the qualities that made their previous albums so good. If it wasn’t made clear by its predecessors, All Hail reaffirms the fact that Norma Jean will go down as one of alternative music's all-time great bands, thanks to their strong songwriting, musicianship, and refusal to conform to the staples of their genre which most people consider to be a style devoid of quality and originality. What makes this band so great is that they blow those assumptions clear out of the water.