When Creative Loafing first spoke with Daniel Davison, drummer of Douglasville-based hardcore act Norma Jean, it was 2002 and his band had just released its debut album, Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child on Solid State Records. Four years, two albums and two vocalists later, a lot has changed for the quintet, which also includes guitarists Scottie Henry and Chris Day, vocalist Cory Brandan and bassist Jake Schultz.
Norma Jean has gone from exhaustively touring the limited pockets of the world's hardcore circuit in a dingy van to participating in this summer's Ozzfest tour and headlining sold-out theaters across North America on the Radio Rebellion tour. While Martyr debuted without much of a splash, Redeemer -- the group's third album -- appeared on the Billboard charts at No. 38 during the first week of its release in October.
The group's newfound success is partially due to the drastic rise in popularity metal and hardcore have experienced on a commercial level in the last few years. "I never would have imagined that things would become what they have today, speaking both for Norma Jean and hardcore in general," Davison says. "Heavy music has been on such a rise for the last three years or so, and I am really thankful that we have been a part of that in some way."
But Norma Jean has done more than just ride a wave of success that youth culture has afforded its genre. If anything, the competition has strengthened tenfold; heavy music's increased visibility and the advent of the instant promotional tool/mass-culture homogenizer known as MySpace.com spawned legions of copycat acts. They all want a piece of the pie, and a particularly large piece is available to acts who play Norma Jean's dissonant, atonal brand of metal-informed modern hardcore.
If anything, this has only served to distance Norma Jean from the very sound the band helped define. Originally, the group sought inspiration from the textured, abrasive and rhythmically tilted stylings of acts such as Converge and Botch. "I don't really even find myself listening to any hardcore bands anymore," Davison says. "I can appreciate what they are doing." Now he chooses to seek inspiration elsewhere, which is perhaps why Norma Jean has managed to stay ahead of the legions of bands who aspire for comparable success or quality.
"When we started writing Redeemer, we knew right away that it would be our favorite record yet," Davison says. "It came to us in a short two months, and it came really easy." Indeed, Redeemer showcases considerable musical growth for the band, even though it hasn't been much more than a year since the release of the group's last album, O God, the Aftermath. Redeemer expands upon Aftermath's more varied songwriting and melodic dabbling, but returns to the raw immediacy that characterized the production quality of Martyr.
The dissonant screeches and rhythmic battering that defined the band's earlier material remain integral to Norma Jean's sound. Tracks such as "The Longest Last Statement," which splits open with squalls of guitar noise and vocal abrasions, showcases the band's ability to churn out its harshest material yet. But Norma Jean has also expanded its sonic lexicon to include electronic percussion flourishes, anthemic power-chorded guitar riffs and even coarse-throated sing-along choruses that wouldn't be out of place on MTV2, where Norma Jean's video "Blueprints for Future Homes" recently made its debut.
Perhaps more than anything else, though, Davison believes that Redeemer is Norma Jean's best album to date because "it just sounds so alive," he says. "It really has a sense of feeling, emotion and life to it -- which to me, makes it stand out from a lot of what is going on in heavy music at this point in time."