NORMA JEAN with BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME, FEAR BEFORE THE MARCH OF FLAMES and MISERY SIGNALS at the Opera House (735 Queen East), Tuesday (October 10). $22. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
You'd think that explaining the title of his band's new album would be easy for Cory Brandan, frontman of Southern metal/hardcore band Norma Jean. After all, the disc's called Redeemer (EMI), and Brandan's band is all, like, Christian and stuff, so I'm figuring he's gonna respond with something pretty cut and dried.
But judging from his facetious reply, Norma Jean isn't quite as easy to figure out as some of us would like.
"It sounds cool," he snorts, on the line from his Arkansas home. "We get that question a lot, and I say look the word up in all its contexts and meanings."
Fine, so they want you to do some homework and come to your own conclusions. I suppose it's always nice when there's an element of mystery in a band's music. But one thing Norma Jean doesn't leave open to interpretation is their faith.
I ask Brandan if he's tired of talking about religion. Shit, even Sufjan Stevens apparently refuses to discuss matters of, shall we say, Biblical proportions. But as repetitive as the questions about Christianity may be, Brandan says it's part of the price you pay for being in the spotlight.
"We like talking about that topic more than anything - it's one of the most important things to us. But we love music aside from our faith, and we're not musicians because we're Christians. We want to express them together."
Brandan's certainly not embarrassed to expound, and it's not like he's preaching, but the message is certainly there. It's also all over Redeemer, a record that he says allowed them to "dig in personally about what we've been through. We sat around for hours, and it was kind of like therapy."
He claims that he and his bandmates are just "regular dudes who are always learning. We don't have everything figured out," and that they grew while making the record. As an added bonus to the intense interpersonal psychotherapy, they got to record with legendary metal producer Ross Robinson, known for his work with At the Drive-In, Slipknot and Sepultura.
"I think Ross literally changed the way metal is produced," Brandan gushes. "He asks, 'What can we do to have the best-sounding record without losing the energy?' He's mastered it in a Jedi kind of way. He gets to know personal things about you that other people don't know. He's full of fire, and he brings it out in the band.
"We wanted him forever," he continues, "but it was one of those things where he was someone I looked up to so much that it didn't actually seem realistic."
Though Robinson may have pushed them to go above and beyond, it sounds like the band doesn't have a hard time doing that on their own, as seen by their balance of constant touring, songwriting and family life (Brandan's a father of two, and several other members are married).
But when is enough enough? Apparently, not quite yet. Brandan admits Norma Jean are long-overdue for a break, but they're reluctant to slow down at the moment.
"We just want to keep the pedal floored."
They've been flooring it for three albums and counting, always trying to figure out how to top what they've already done.
But fans can be fickle. As Brandan points out, Norma Jean's supporters are often resistant to any changes in the band's style - especially ones that diverge from a conventional metal/hardcore template. Still, he says, his band's not satisfied with being pigeonholed into a quirky little sub-genre.
"I have no idea where we fit in. I know I've pissed off our fans, but honestly, we don't care if we sound like metal or hardcore. We have to be honest.
"I don't think those fans understand that if we did what they wanted us to do, they'd be incredibly disappointed."