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Gig Review: Norma Jean + supports, Sydney

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Norma Jean + Belle Haven + Bare Bones + We May Fall
Newtown Social Club, Sydney
5 April 2015
Review by Matt Doria

Like the last time The Simpsons was actually funny, it’s been a hell of a long time since Norma Jean were in Australia. Two slow, somewhat eventful years have passed since the last time the kings of crazy rocked out on our shores, and after having since lost our voices yelling along to ‘Wrongdoers’ a thousand times over, we’re hungry for another serving. This time around, they’ve decided to hit Sydney at the Newtown Social Club rather than the HiFi, a decision I couldn’t possibly commend enough. The Newtown Social Club is a spacious, modern-ish looking hall with an expertly organised design – the stage is a tiny little platform in the far right hand corner, but you can see it perfectly from anywhere you stand, which is outstanding when you consider how twisty the layout actually is.

First up to the podium are local shredders We May Fall. The five-piece post-hardcore powerhouse are gearing up to release their debut album ‘You Wear Those Scars Well’, and in thirty short minutes, they make an undeniable case for why you need to suss them out. Alluringly melodic with tinges of metalcore influence, We May Fall are individualised by their thick, layered breakdowns, complemented by crunchy glitches and the type of distorted synth riffs you’d expect to hear from a band on the UNFD roster. The dude upfront is JJ Brady, a man with an impressive vocal spectrum that ranges from syrupy sweet, to 90’s punk, all the way to ‘holy fuck’.

It’s some seriously good stuff, but there’s one complaint to be made. Even the most unique of musical styles can be beaten to death, and thirty minutes of the same thing over and over can garner a yawn or two. We May Fall kicked off with a winning formula, but with only fleeting cleans and little deviation on their path, they had attracted some staleness towards the end of their set.

I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll say it again: Bare Bones are one of the most, if not the most outstanding band in Sydney at the moment. Of all the acts in our “quaint” little scene, there’s not a single one that’s anything like Bare Bones, both stylistically and in execution. Bringing a cutthroat edge to the tried and true formula of rock ‘n’ roll, their sound is built upon flairs of AC?DC (albeit not shit) and early Metallica, slicked with the fuzzy zeal of classic hardcore punk and topped off with an impudent sassiness that is entirely unique to Bare Bones.

They’re at the top of their game tonight, frontman Tom Kennedy absolutely slaying on vocals as the four audacious musicians behind him lash out some of the grittiest, catchiest and most powerful beats this room has surely witnessed. They’re beyond cluttered on this pizza slice of a stage, but each member is able to make the most of their surroundings, however cramped they are. ‘Humble Wasteland’ is a definitive standout (as it always is,) though it’s the set closing ‘New Breed’ that fills the Newtown Social Club with a fiery delirium.

It was up to Melbourne metalcore quintet Belle Haven to alleviate the flames, and with their fluid, earthy composure, they succeed in excess of doing so. Fresh off the heals of their debut LP ‘Everything Ablaze’, Belle Haven are tenaciously fierce in their equilibrium, pouring every ounce of their capacity into delivering an unhinged and uncompromising set.

Undoubtedly in his own ambient headspace, vocalist David Vernon bellows with a textural grittiness, somewhat reminiscent of Sonny Moore in his From First To Last days. He hasn’t set foot onstage yet, and he doesn’t throughout the entire duration of the band’s forty-five minute exhibition. Instead, the dancefloor becomes a platform with which he is free to slither around as he pleases, the long-haired poet making sure each and every punter that stands before him is a part of the lucid experience Belle Haven presents. Everybody involved here is incredibly passionate about their sport, and it shows with the way Belle Haven are able to simultaneously blow our minds but keep us completely in the moment.

Sydney is well and truly out of breath by this point, but the show has only just started. Following a speech led introduction (par for the course), Atlanta metalcore heroes Norma Jean kick off a wildly energetic hour with ‘The Anthem of the Angry Brides’ before taking us on a breezy trip throughout their extensive discography. Unsurprisingly, a good chunk of the band’s setlist is comprised of cuts from their latest record ‘Wrongdoers’, the lead single ‘You Got It At Five, You Got It At Fifty’ and the title track standing out as highlights throughout the band’s explosive set. Scanning the crowd, we see an equal mix of flailing limbs and thrashing heads, proving that Norma Jean definitely know how to put on an insane show. Even those standing toward the back are nodding along in approval or turning to their drunken friends every now and again to proclaim their surprise at how good these guys actually are, dude! Do you reckon they’ll play ‘Hive Minds’?

Uh… I mean…

Driven by hooky punk riffs and unfathomably crazy drums, Norma Jean put their pedal to the metal tonight. There’s an emphasis on breakdowns, but composed with enough originality to make each one stand out, this is far from a problem. The mosh pit is as strong as it could be, and there’s good reason for that. Chris Day’s vocals are strong and layered with a formidable growl, whilst still entirely comprehensive – a good thing, because Norma Jean are lyrical masterminds, and once you get a line from one of their songs in your head, it’s in there for good. Trust me.

All in all, Norma Jean played an exceptional show tonight, and this writer can say with confidence that it was most certainly better than whatever other Easter celebrations were happening concurrently. As for the opening acts, Taperjean scored themselves three brilliantly strong bands, and the bill could not possibly have been more enjoyable.

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