If previous posts about heavy music have been off-putting, this one may be better skipped. Norma Jean’s 2005 release, O God, The Aftermath is the epitome of chaotic hardcore music. The average person may hear nothing but noise, but one with appreciation for the genre will hear mathematically-executed riffs, incredible cohesion, and unbridled passion pouring through the eleven tracks (or twelve on the special edition).
At first, I couldn’t understand what the big deal was about Norma Jean. I wanted to like them because so many others in “the scene” did, and I figured there was a depth to their art that I was missing. Finally, something clicked, and I was able to see the beauty where I couldn’t before. In the incredible complexity, I saw musicianship that was far beyond traditional, predictable songwriting. That spring of 2005, I spun this album repeatedly, memorizing the surprise twists of each song and reveling in the sudden shifts, odd timings, and dissonant riffs. It inspired me because I knew I could never create or perform anything like it no matter how hard I tried.
The guitar work is inventive and unpredictable. I don’t know how many times I can use that word to describe this album, but it is one of the few labels that fits perfectly. The songs still have defined structure, and the band plays as one tight unit, despite the seeming chaos. Yet the dueling guitar work will not be held to simple time signatures, rhythms, or scales. From jarring dissonance to frantic noodling, the duo of Scottie Henry and Chris Day delivers track after track of mathcore goodness. From my current perspective, I respect the creative drumming of Daniel Davison all the more. I can’t comprehend how he came up with parts to compliment the oddly-timed riffs and still throw dashes of original fills and syncopation into the mix. To this day, I consider the drums on this album to be among the most original I’ve ever heard.
Lyrically, the album deals with many metaphors which I interpret to be spiritual. My favorite lines come from the incredible ten-minute epic entitled “Disconnecktie: The Faithful Vampire.”
It’s taken me 50,000 separate wrecks to get here
And I’ve learned absolutely nothing
As I’m standing here alone,
Upright and motionless
I’m drowning in her sea.
The rising and sinking of every
Consciousness I’ve ever known
Now detached and disconnected
The endless cycle of idea and action
And endless disappointments
Most of the lyrics and titles are equally cryptic, but I enjoy that. It gives the listener something to think about and ponder in the art.
The few downsides to this album would be the vocal performance and production, as well as the mastering. Unfortunately, I am mostly at a loss to comprehend the lyrics Cory Brandan is so fervently delivering. This is due to both somewhat unclear enunciation, as well as the production techniques use for vocals which lead to a fuzzy, muffled sound most of the time. It’s unfortunate, as the figurative and cryptic yet deep lines are worth hearing amid the chaos. As for the mastering, the sound is largely pushed beyond the limit, resulting in over-driven and even crackly sound in some places. I enjoy a loud, consistent mix as much as anyone, but not when the sound quality is compromised. It could be worse, but it’s noticeable. Still, neither of these things are enough to mar the huge footprint of this album.
Overall, O God, The Aftermath stands as a testament to complex, unpredictable, passionate music, the likes of which I had never heard before. For anyone with a penchant for heavy music, it is a landmark album demonstrating what can happen when all the rules of music are broken at once. With its enigmatic composite titles and fascinating artwork, there is nothing not to love.
You can find the utterly hardcore music of O God, The Aftermath on Spotify or Amazon.