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Track By Track: Norma Jean’s ‘All Hail’ With Frontman Cory Brandan

Brii Jamieson
Brii Jamieson 24 October 2019 at 17.00

"So, what is real and what isn't? What is a reflection or projection? Does it even matter if I know - does knowing change anything? History can be revised." - Cory Brandan.

Metalcore titans Norma Jean are preparing for the release of their brand new album 'All Hail' this Friday. There's a lot resting on 'All Hail', as the follow-up to a triology of records which ended with 'Polar Similar'. But with a new band member, and a new perspective, 'All Hail' is a new Norma Jean. 

To best explain 'All Hail', we had frontman Cory Brandan explain the album, track by track. Over to Cory:

'Orphan Twin'
"'Orphan Twin' was one of the last songs that we finished writing. At some point, we just knew that it would become the first track and wanted to push it a lot more. It ended up becoming one of the more complex songs to finish - the length of the song really never changed, but we wanted to tell a story throughout the album, and a story has to start somewhere. I've had terrible nightmares my entire life, insomnia, sleep paralysis, etc. I spent a lot of time in my life staring at ceilings, waking up suddenly, or waking up mentally but not physically. I've gotten pretty used to it, and I know what to expect. This song was inspired all of that - I call it 'fictional reality'. Now I think that nightmares are necessary - I thought about how my subconscious might deal with conscious and subconscious things; how in rest our bodies and minds heal, so they must be useful even if just for that. It forces these 'fictional' scenarios to pass through into 'reality'. It seemed like they might be a reflection of something, or a way for the subconscious to vent. I like to visualize something when I write lyrics, it makes it easier to translate. I envision a mirror."

'[Mind Over Mind]'
"So, down the rabbit hole I went. If a fictional vision can be useful, it changes into a reflection of our needs - just as our reflections are fictional versions of ourselves. A side-effect may be that the reflection of the self eventually becomes less frightening than the true self. It's normalized, and useful things aren't as scary. Story-wise with '[Mind Over Mind]', I believe that the reality we know is also fiction - I don't believe humans naturally live in a state of constant conflict. I think that it's continually being perpetuated from outside entities, fostered by complicit humans, hiding a world, and replacing it. How do you hide a veil? You hang another one in front of it in the form of constant programming over many generations. Like smoke slowly coming through a crack in a window filling a room until you can't see your hand in front of your face. Sonically, it's just three minutes of bad ass rock riffs."

'Safety Last'
"This song was co-written with a good friend, Chris LeMasters of Hundred Suns - Chris is one of the most prolific songwriters I know. I asked him to write a song with me, and he immediately sent ideas - they worked with riffs I had, and this song came together pretty seamlessly. I was thinking about another song we have called 'Children Of The Dead', a B-side from 'Polar Similar' - that song was inspired by playing around the Hamburg red light district, meeting the people working the block, and pondering how we're all entertainers sharing this space. 'Safety Last' is a part two to that song, expanding it to say "these are our people, and this is where we belong". There are still some pretty rough things going down around us, but I still feel at home in those places. They aren't for everyone, but all we want is to bring light into the darkness with our music."

'Volunteer Tooth Filing'
"An interesting part of the 'All Hail' process was working with my brother, Matthew - a lifetime of musical chemistry sits behind this album. This is palate cleanser - he told me the title was about creating fear on purpose. He's a great sound designer and producer, and this is one of those necessary elements. Space and distance were necessary before getting into..."

'Landslide Defeater'
"Heroes are the focus of a lot of compelling stories, but any place that needs a hero must be a dire place to live. This song started with 100 riffs that we whittled down into this. We just pushed it to have a lot of energy, and it made all those riffs seem to have more character. Pushing and pulling and bending - I think we made 10 demos of this song."

'Full Circle In Under A Minute'
"I wanted to go way down any rabbit hole I could find as I explored these themes. I researched mirrors and veils and their origins - at one point I was looking up the creation of the word 'infinity'. How do you have that idea for the first time? Sometimes I think you go so far into something that you end up at the beginning again. It can be frustrating to not be able to see the forest for the trees. C.S. Lewis said, "if you look through everything, then everything becomes transparent" - the point of seeing through something is that you can see something through it. Like a window being transparent because the road and the garden beyond it are opaque. How would it be if you saw through the garden too? To see through all things is the same as not seeing anything. Later, I went to a local show and saw a young band called Vangoons. In the middle of the set they announced, "this song is about having fun!" - it was just that, and my mind was blown! Oh yeah, "fun!". It was full circle in under a minute."

"It's strange to look into a mirror - it shows an inverted version of yourself, you're not necessarily focused on what's behind you or the glass itself. It's hard to even see the glass unless it's shattered. Seeing what's beyond the glass is easy, but it's like walking through a gate without seeing the gate. You just see you, and over time you become used to that version of yourself. Typically in the same room, in the same lighting, the same colored walls, and that's you. That's the self you recognize - or at least after a while, that's what it becomes. But still a visually flipped version of yourself. Why don't we always like photographs of ourselves? Profile shots? Under harsh lighting? Because we have a template. We're programmed to see ourselves inaccurately."

'Trace Levels Of Dystopia'
"In a magic trick, how can you hide something? You show something else. Misdirection. How many ways is this possible? How do you make a shadow seem brighter? You project an imaginary, much darker, shadow."

"Maybe a conversation with the reflection, a lot of this song consists of unused ideas from 'Polar Similar' writing sessions. We never like to force a song to happen - if it's not vibing right then, we'll just stop and move on, revisit it later, or abandon it completely. I think it was the bridge of this song that tied it all together. After we had that, it just clicked. Often when we're having trouble with the structure of a song, we'll try to find space rather than additions. Less is more... but sometimes more is more."

'Extra-Dimensional Palate Cleanser'
"Palate cleanser B - another production by Matthew, with my title added. I had been thinking about creation and the idea of how I could "create" a two-dimensional world with a pen and paper. That creation wouldn't be able to see me, and if it did, it probably wouldn't understand me. I'd have to find a way to communicate from where I am somehow. I wonder what's going down in the fourth dimension right now?"

'If [Loss] Then [Leader]'
"An "if-then" statement is a formula that states "A" only works if "B" is true - brakes can't slow something down that isn't in motion. The title is a reference to that principle, mixed with the economic idea of a 'Loss Leader'. I used to work at a department store, where there are hundreds of examples of loss leaders. The razor you buy that comes with a few blades, or the four-in-one scanner / printer that comes with sample ink. They're a great deal for the consumer, until you need razor blades or ink cartridges. The original item was sold at a loss, knowing you'd return to buy the more expensive refills. I think it's interesting that these don't work unless a decision is made by an individual. I feel like we are born on a path, and it's all we can see. Although there are many things I can do on that path, it's still one path because the end is [true] - there's one end result. And for the longest time, I felt like I saw only that one definite ending. Who is paying and losing to affect the precise end. We know that road and any other hidden, stolen, non-existent, or far-away roads also still end. Life has to be true for death to exist. This is a real-world example with a significant price to pay. The mirror is real!"

"Am I the reflection or refraction? I'm confused - where am I now? Maybe it isn't about me at all, or about any of this. I feel over it. I feel like every decision I make is wrong, and it hurts to keep walking forward. I'm just going to stop and fall to the path at my feet. Even still I feel kicked and laughed at. I was used to the motion. Inertia. The path is a decision now. I must surrender to this road or the one behind me. I know where the old one goes, so I turned around. Whether you've gone the wrong way for 40 years or 40 days, turning back is the only way to progress. Surrender is the single crossroad."

"So, what is real and what isn't? What is a reflection or projection? Does it even matter if I know - does knowing change anything? History can be revised. My perception of what is known, and my perception of love and hate is a defense against apathy. Fear is most definitely fictional. Fear is non-existent, it requires surrender to exist. 'ANNA' is the most honest and absolute story of this album - I think maybe in a state of intangible pain, you can see more clearly others.

Anna was a fan turned friend. She loved music and guitar, and had perseverance that was influential. My wife Rachel and I enjoyed being a part of her life in any positive way we could. She messaged me on a Tuesday, but I couldn't reply to her until Thursday. I watched the weekend pass and my message never moved to "seen". I found out the day we started writing this album, beginning with this song, that Anna had passed away unexpectedly. This album started with her and others like her, and throughout all of this album there are fan-inspired stories within the underlying theme summarized here. I named this song that day too, knowing no matter what, it would be dedicated to her and the palindrome, mirrored, name 'Anna'. Writing a song with that intention makes it more complex to finish - how do I match the emotion of any of that? It'll never be good enough. It was people like her who named this album for so many years. 'All Hail' to them!"

'All Hail' is out now through Solid State Records.

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