In 2010 Norma Jean released their fifth album Meridional, a resurgent and brilliant reminder of everything the band had pioneered, modeled and become known for during their ten plus years in aggressive and progressive music. Wild and strong, it would have been a fitting end to the band's career, and for a while it nearly was.
“I can't lie, I felt like it was falling apart for a while,” admits singer Cory Brandan. “There was a point where we thought this was over.” In 2011 the band began a quest for new songs to make their sixth album, one they hoped would build on the successes of Meridional. Unwittingly the quintet started down a two-year road that would drive some to despair and others to the door. “This record was a nightmare from start to finish,” he continues. “What we made definitely had its way with us. We pushed ourselves to keep writing, scrapping songs time and time again, we knew it was not ready but remained hopeful that we'd find a way out.”
It got uncomfortable for Brandan, guitarist Chris Day, bassist Jon Finn, drummer Clayton Holyoak and guitarist Jeff Hickey, but the perseverance paid dividends. Wrongdoers came together amidst many setbacks, frustrations and creative tensions but the resulting eleven songs stand proudly among the sharpest blades ever fashioned by the unit. Thoroughly exhausted by the process, the band were heartened and galvanised by what they held when the dust eventually settled. “We're definitely seeing a lot of changes in the band now,” he reflects. “We're being forced to change as there is a new energy that has presented itself to the band, we're learning how to adapt to it.”
Reading that, natural expectations would peg the band's sixth record as their most atrophied and furious. Not so. “This is an album about what connects everyone,” Brandan continues. “You can hear a title like Wrongdoers and think of the word in an accusatory or hostile manner, but we see it is as a positive thing. Our wrong is something that brings everyone into the same light. No one escapes that category and it actually brings us together, we are united by it.”
With expanded categories for their life and music, Norma Jean have once more set themselves apart, choosing the narrow path to deliver an album that sounds like a debut, hits like a veteran and commands like a champion. “For us it's not just about writing a bunch of riffs and throwing them down,” asserts Brandan. “We do not cut any corners when we create, and I'm proud of what we made.”
Wrongdoers is not the extra chapter at the end of a great book, it's the beginning of a whole new story. You may be familiar with the visceral language and palette employed by Norma Jean, but this is a new sound, powerfully regenerated and re-imagined for what lies ahead. “There's a lot on this record about love,” he continues. “The Smashing Pumpkins, one of my favourite bands, used to write really aggressive songs about love. I always shied away from writing about love in the past but something changed, I embraced it and found a way to write about the difficulty to truly know love and be able to show it. There's something new going on with the band at the moment, let's see where it leads.”
New England post-hardcore group Vanna have spent the last several years on a personal journey, and it's the experience of living on the road that has helped them to discover who they truly are. After years of relentless touring and musical growth, the band has found balance with A New Hope, both literally and figuratively.
Since the bands formation in 2004 Vanna – Chris Preece (vocals), Nick Lambert (guitar/vocals), Evan Pharmakis (guitar/vocals), Shawn Marquis (bass) and newcomer Chris Campbell (drums) – have built a strong following based on their killer live shows, which helped garner attention from Epitaph Records. The band signed with the label in 2005 and released their debut EP, The Search Party Never Came, the following year. With the EP's release came extensive touring until it was time to release their full length album, Curses, in 2007. Signaling growth sonically from the EP, Curses highlighted the band's metalcore side establishing them as one of the most interesting up-and-coming bands in the post-hardcore scene.
After almost two years of touring in support of Curses, the band returned to their roots and entered the studio with producer Steve Evetts (Every Time I Die, Story of the Year) to record A New Hope. With widening musical vision and hard-won experience under their belts, Vanna tackled the writing and recording of A New Hope with an added perspective and understanding.
"The writing and recording process naturally becomes more dialed and decisive with each record," explains Preece. "This record was approached with more of a group mentality. We talked a lot about what we liked and disliked about our last two releases, and each one of us were able to express ourselves in every step of the process."
"Steve Evetts was honestly just a great fit for us," adds Pharmakis. "For me personally it was great because I feel my relationship with the producer is important. If we mesh well it shows in the recording. The more comfortable you are the better you perform, the better you can concentrate and the better ideas you come up with as a team, as far as harmonies and melody ideas. And Steve was a great mentor. Chris Preece and I really meshed our lyric and vocal ideas together in a different way on this album and it worked out great. We definitely got to show a more melodic side on the record. I'd like to think this new record is like the perfect mix between our last two releases but with the sound we always wanted...and the skill it took time to earn."
The result of their collaborative efforts are twelve smartly written tracks that highlight the band's musical evolution, balancing the perfect fusion of emotive rock and perilous hardcore.
"Into Hell's Mouth We March," the first song released from A New Hope, rips the album open with the group's finest mix of melody and hardcore yet. While fans will appreciate Vanna's signature mix of weighty breakdowns and uplifting choruses, they'll also hear a progression in song-writing, gang vocals and more melodic singing from guitarist/vocalist Evan Pharmakis which makes for a much more accessible sound. Anthemic tracks like the first single "Safe To Say" and "We Are Nameless" bring the goosebumps, pushing with trashing guitars and pulling with captivating melody until you are chanting alongside the dueling vocalists.
"I feel like A New Hope is a fresh start," says Pharmakis. "This is exactly where we want to be, and I couldn't be happier with the direction of our music. This is Vanna, we are finally Vanna."
As Vanna looks forward with A New Hope, they continue down their unpredictable path of self discovery, continually growing and evolving with new purpose and A New Hope.
Here's what a few magazines and publications have said about us:
"Veteran Winnipeg noise-rock trio KEN mode's Kurt Ballou-produced fourth album Venerable is one of the best records of 2011, bar none…From opener "Book Of Muscle" to closer "Make Shark," KEN mode mix AmRep toughness with heavy, doom-y melodies and angular, chiseled hardcore that pummels as well as it sticks easily, comfortably in your head…Think David Yow doing crunches, Unsane with more swing, a dirtier Helmet, a younger/hungrier (and Canadian) Today Is The Day." – Stereogum.com
"As I said in 2008, KEN Mode rules. If Unsane spent less time at Swans shows and more at hardcore matinees, they'd probably rip out noisecore obliteration like 2008′s Mennonite and 2006′s Reprisal" – Brooklynvegan.com
"If tertiary 2008 effort Mennonite revealed noisy metalli-rockers KEN Mode to be growing comfortable blazing their unique swath, Venerable turns that unbeaten path into a four-lane highway. The trio then put the hammer down and barrel forward with a menacing grin." – Exclaim! Magazine
"Earlier this year, on their first US tour in six years, KEN mode wrote a series of tour diaries for Decibel. After the magazine's recent site redesign, I can't find those diaries anymore. But I remember a particular detail from them. The band stopped somewhere for supplies (Wal-Mart, I think), and its shopping list included protein powder. Touring bands' shopping lists usually begin with beer and end at whiskey. Someone in the band is a jock, I thought. Which makes sense – when I listen to KEN mode, I think of a more athletic, yet more bookish Jesus Lizard. Maybe if that band had put down its beers, hit the gym, and boned up on the music it helped spawn – noise rock, hardcore, mathcore, even post-metal – then returned to whip the kids at their own game, it might sound like KEN mode. Venerable is indeed a protein powder-fueled beast." – Invisible Oranges
"This is how I know KEN Mode rule: I saw them play a virtually empty bar about five years ago and still remember that gig like it was yesterday. In this day and age, when half of what hits the stage when I decide to part with my precious time and leave the house doesn't even register, this is a triumph-and-a-half. …Not only do they sound like a raging beast wired on the up-tempo bits 'n' pieces of Unsane's discography, but in the case of much of the new material, KEN mode evoke the brutality of Unsane's Total Destruction and Unsane album covers brought to musical life." – Decibel Magazine
"With their debut 'Mongrel' and the stellar follow-up 'Reprisal', Canada's best kept secret established a reputation for perfection jagged, chest-tightening riffs that not only demanded your attention but commanded it as well. Consequently, they have a lot to live up to. Luckily, they've done it again… They've eased up on the straightforward drive 'er home Keelhaul heaviosity, while maintaining the mid-'90′s Black Cross punk meets Melvins undertone, and zoned in on the dissonant Kittens country quirks and Botch-flavoured guitar antics that had previously played second fiddle to the spirit of crushing riffage." – Terrorizer Magazine
"Winnipeg's KEN Mode have run a tight ship since their inception, resulting in two previous provocative and unforgettable releases. Yet even with the musical muscle showcased on Mongrel and Reprisal, there was still room to grow, to become more comfortable in their warped, artistic anti-rock/metal hybrid, as opposed to being consumed by the youthful tendency to prove themselves. With Mennonite however, we celebrate the power trio's bar mitzvah; they're grown men. Still uncompromising and heavy yet feature a few more laidback — for them — grooves and tracks that grow into the focal point rather than rage from start to finish, Mennonite accomplishes more in one track than even KEN Mode probably thought possible. Incredibly well rounded and gripping, the album rages through thick, drawn-out battles of emotional torment, strikes fast and deadly with two-minute shots of rage, seizes with bastardized pop metal bravado and mesmerizes thanks to the band's relaxed attitude and comfort in their skin." – Exclaim Magazine
"I'm not gonna try to demarcate what the hell these three Canucks are capable of in a song, but I'll say this: (KEN mode) should be ground-zero for you disillusioned souls looking for granite-heavy, solid 'heavy mental' that's as challenging as it is battering." – Metal Maniacs
"The daily grind (pun intended) at a school where geometry, heavy metal history and chaos theory are the only courses offered." – Alternative Press
"Although it shouldn't, it always somewhat surprises me that KEN Mode is able to expand on what they've already done. However, the fact that they are able to speaks volumes as to just how good this band is. This is noise-rock at its finest, if you haven't managed to check out KEN Mode yet then you are really missing out." – Built on a weak spot
"There are drummers and there are drummers. Then, there are drummers. Ken Mode's skin basher Shane Matthewson belongs to the latter kind; the ones that organize and gather the masses. The ones that make the difference and are, through skills and gusto, able to elevate the sound of a band from the above par to the outstanding. And kudos to the band too. Quite frankly I wasn't expecting a three piece to come off as potent as Ken Mode. Guitarist vocalist Jesse Matthewson (is this one musical family or what?) bends his axe in quasi mathematical manners, the riffs are played in Forrest Gump ping-pong speed angularity, shooting off in all directions and…the result is an explosive encounter between post hardcore and noise rock. " – Deaf Sparrow Zine
"Maybe too much noise-rock for the metal crowd and maybe too much metal for the noise-rock fans and definitely too much of everything for the pissy-pants hardcore-kids, but hey, what a great record." – Monochrom
Long Beach, CA-based miscreants, The Greenery. The band, whose brand of snotty, metallic hardcore punk rock has drawn comparisons to Every Time I Die, The Bronx, Discharge and the Stitches, are recorded their full-length debut at BuzzBomb Studio in Orange, CA now with Paul Minor (Terror, H2O, Death By Stereo); the band previously self released an EP.