To say that Norma Jean’s career has been inconsistent would be an understatement, at the least. In the space of four albums, the Christian metal quintet from Georgia has played progressive technical metal (Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child), spastic mathcore a-la-Dillinger Escape Plan (O God, the Aftermath), melodic metalcore (Redeemer), and whiny, subpar post-hardcore (The Anti Mother). Fans of the band are firmly divided because of that inconsistency, unable to find common ground between the first pair of albums and the second pair. The only way that the band could hope to bridge the divide would be to release an album that musically walked the line between the two extremes of their sound, because releasing another album with a completely different sound would decimate the fanbase even further. Luckily, the band’s newest effort, Meridional, manages to balance the band’s technical and melodic sides into an album that has something for everybody.
The most noticeable and welcome change from The Anti Mother is that Cory Brandan Putman has returned to his vocal style from Redeemer, using screams and clean singing in mostly equal measure over the course of the album. This is a relief for most fans, since many critics and fans vilified The Anti Mother for its overuse of his clean singing, limiting the album in many ways. The decrease in clean singing is accompanied by an increase in technicality and overall heaviness on the album. Both “The Anthem of the Angry Brides” and “Blood Burner” recall the intensity of O God, the Aftermath in their structure and style, with buzzsaw guitar riffs and complex drum patterns changing throughout both songs.
However, fans of the melodic side of Norma Jean will find equal enjoyment in the album’s softer songs. There are a number of songs that use lots of clean singing and slower, atmospheric guitar riffs that slowly draw listeners in before hitting a big climax seemingly out of nowhere. “High Noise Low Output” and “Falling from the Sky: Day Seven” do this back-to-back through different means, with the latter accomplishing it in almost twice as much time as the former. This is another positive part of this album: the songs vary in length, similar to Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child. Thus, rather than stagnating halfway through with similarly-structured songs like The Anti Mother, Meridional keeps listeners on their toes and engaged from start to finish with its variety.
This album may not turn into an instant fan favorite due to its blend of styles, but it is undoubtedly the best album of their career because of this. After Bless the Martyr, the band seemed to adopt a one-dimensional mentality that changed from one album to the next. It’s only here, four albums later, that Norma Jean shows the kind of diversity and experimentation that attracted so many people to them in the first place. Meridional is a return to form, or rather forms, that re-establishes Norma Jean as one of the better Christian metal bands in today’s scene.