But the name change is only part of the story. For all intents and purposes, Norma Jean is a new band. The most apparent change has been in the music. Whereas Luti-Kriss borrowed heavily from the nu-metal stylings of bands like the Deftones, Norma Jean's lessons in chaos and violence come from hardcore legends Converge, and they've learned the powerful art of driving a riff into the ground from Boston doom kings Isis. The result is a completely fresh, incredibly potent assault.
On Bless the Martyr and Kiss the Child, Norma Jean's debut release under its new moniker, the guitars unleash randomly like shotgun blasts fired at firecracker pace. The drums manage to match that attack perfectly, while the death-metal growls rumble as low as the well-timed bass.
Norma Jean sounds like a band on the verge of self-destruction -- which is where they happened to be a few months ago. Singer Josh and bassist Doolittle left just weeks before the new album's release.
"There were no hard feelings; it was nothing bad," says Daniel Davison, whose hammer-of-the-gods (or God, in this case) drumming anchors Norma Jean's carefully controlled chaos. "We definitely knew it was their time to go. They had grown out of it."
Despite the general good feelings all around, the members' departure couldn't have come at a worse time. "It was less than a week before we were starting a national tour, so we were really shocked," recalls Davison.
A friend named Brad offered to fill in on vocals (and has since permanently joined the band), while another acquaintance covered bass duties. "Brad didn't know our songs or lyrics, but he got a burned copy of our CD and learned the lyrics on the way to the first date of the tour," says Davison. "And we only practiced for an hour with our fill-in bassist before we left."
Even so, the dates went off without a hitch, and Norma Jean faced the biggest crowds of its career. "The last few weeks we've been headlining shows where over 300 kids will come out," Davison says. "So we're doing better than ever now, playing some of the most amazing shows."
The new name has also brought a change for the band on the religious front. "I'm happy with where our band's spirituality has gone. When [Josh and Doolittle] quit, we wanted to make sure that this is still what we're supposed to be doing, so we spent a lot of time praying about it," Davison says. "And although we definitely all felt that continuing Norma Jean was the right thing to do, we needed to change the way that we go about the ministry aspect of the band."
As Luti-Kriss, the group toured incessantly, making a name for themselves in the Christian hardcore circuit by playing with Zao and other God-fearing screamers. As Norma Jean, however, the band is playing fewer churches and more hardcore clubs, trying not to limit itself to Christian audiences. "We've never been forceful about [Christianity], but we're going at it in a different way because we've pretty much been playing to a new crowd," says Davison.
Norma Jean's lyrics eschew absolutes and preachy statements in favor of broader, more general references to life, death and spirituality. The formula serves the band well by not alienating fans turned off by the more direct, in-your-face approach.
"We want to appeal to everyone," Davison says.
That is, everyone who can stand one of the most brutal hardcore batterings put to disc in years.
"There's so much great stuff out there, regardless of any religious connection," says Davison.
Amen to that. Or maybe we should say, "Roll out."
ooooohhhh, I'm so excited!! I can't wait to see them together!
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Yes, 14 is the correct answer. I'll pass your info along to the group's manager,…