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After a 4 year gap between albums, Georgia heavyweights Norma Jean return with Polar Similar, returning to their former label Solid State. But with the departure of Chris Day, the band is left with no original members for the first time since they debuted in 1997.

N.J. fans know them to be an odd duck, but even if you are new to their music, the cover art of rat pelts (?) might give you a hint of what's to come. This album seems to be a concept album, in 4 movements, but it is never very clear what the concept is, except some vague idea of relationships gone bad, giving the disc a caustic vibe—see the first single "1,000,000 Watts" for what I mean—even before they drop the f- bomb.

Lyrical content aside, there is much to like musically. There is a super heavy rhythm section accentuated by buzz saw guitars going on in "The Planet" and "Everyone Talking Over Everyone Else." "The People" has a creepy recording of a child's toy that keeps repeating a series of numbers, but then kicks into "Death is a Living Partner," which is a throwback to the total chaos of early Norma Jean.

Another single "Synthetic Sun" leads into "Reaction," the high point of the album. "Nebula" changes the scenery with a bit of tasty instrumental fuzzed out blues riffing, before a few more songs of heavy rhythm and buzz saw guitars. "The Nexus" is the final movement and starts out on a more ambient vibe, before reverting to the band's core sound.

Longtime singer Cory knows how best to vary his performance, sometimes singing melodically, sometimes screaming to hammer the point home, interspersed with the occasional spoken segment woven into the heavy fabric. An excellent album for the band, with a caveat for anyone expecting "safe" Christian music. 3.5 stars out of 5. (Solid State)

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