Concert Review: Norma Jean at Rocketown; Nashville, Tennessee September 18th, 2015

Cory Putnam of Norma Jean
Cory Putnam of Norma Jean

BY: Melody Ryan

Photos by: Melody Ryan

Ten years ago, Norma Jean released their second album called O God, the Aftermath.  When I picked the cd up at the store (those were the archaic days when you usually had to go out and physically purchase cds), I didn’t realize at the time how influential that album would be on my life. To this day, I still listen to it all the time, and every time is just as amazing as the second time I listened to it… because nothing could ever top the first time I listened to it.

When Norma Jean announced the 10 Year Anniversary Tour and that they would be playing the album all the way through in its entirety, my heart almost literally exploded. And the show did not disappoint- In fact, it exceeded any and all expectations I had.

The show took place this past Friday at Rocketown in Nashville, TN. Rocketown is an interesting venue that has moved and morphed almost as much as Norma Jean has changed band members. (ha…ha…) It has a new location close to downtown Nashville and features a skate park as well as three separate areas for live shows. It also focuses on involvement in the youth community of Nashville, providing volunteer programs, Bible studies, a variety of summer camps, and a recording studio among other things.

I enjoyed the setup and ambience of this show, because it had the feel of a small, underground metal show, which is my favorite.  All of the bands who opened up for Norma Jean are fairly new to the metal scene, which put a nice emphasis on the seniority and importance of Norma Jean who have been around since 1997.

The opening band was a group called Belle Haven, who have been together since 2010 and traveled all the way from

Tom Mitchell of Belle Haven
Tom Mitchell of Belle Haven

Australia to bless us with their music. Their live show was quite impressive, and they were a great opening to this show.  They brought on the intensity and got everyone involved right away with their drones, driving rhythms, and long-winded screams. I would recommend watching their music video for the song “Hunt for Health” if you want to see a perfect example of their music and the energy they bring to performances.

The next band made quite the explosive entrance, with the lead singer, Dawson Scholz, jumping and stomping around almost as if he were having a seizure. The Ongoing Concept from Idaho is also new to the metal scene, having just released their first album Saloon two years ago and their second album Handmade earlier this year. Based off of their live performance, I know they are going to go very far in the metal world. I have never in my life seen a metal group as a whole put so much driving energy, excitement, and unexpected entertainment into their show. Throughout their set, I would look around at the crowd to see if everyone was as bewildered as I was, and sure enough, most of the crowd had mixed looks of confusion, awe, and pure enjoyment slathered on their faces. The interaction between the band members on stage was also very playful and super fun to watch. Their music fuses metal with electronics and even an occasional hillbilly sound. I enjoyed it, but it was their live show that really drew me in, as it was absolutely captivating from beginning to end. The best part was definitely Scholz, as he moved around like no singer I’ve ever seen before. He also drew the crowd into their show by jumping off stage and screaming from the middle of the mosh pit or carrying a drum out in the middle of the crowd and beating the crap out of it. On a final note, I would like to say that if you don’t want to get excessively spit on or sweated on, stay towards the back.

Spencer Chamberlain of Sleepwave
Spencer Chamberlain of Sleepwave

Sleepwave, a rock band from St. Petersburg, FL played next, which wasn’t the best idea in my opinion. After such a loud and crazy set from The Ongoing Concept, they lost my interest almost immediately. Sleepwave formed just two years ago by Spencer Chamberlain, former vocalist of Underoath. Their music wasn’t really my thing, and they also used strobe lights in the background of their set which was pretty distracting for me. Their performance all in all seemed to be filler, and I could have done without; however, they seemed to have a pretty big fan base there, and a lot of the crowd was singing along passionately to their songs, so they must be doing something right.

The next group to play was ’68, an interesting duo formed by The Chariot’s Josh Scogin on guitar/vocals and drummer Michael McClellan. Their setup was something I had never seen before. Drums were set up at the front of the stage facing sideways with Scogin set up across from him with a mic and guitar. It actually ended up being half comedy routine, half music performance, and it brought a light-hearted fun into an otherwise intense show. These two guys made the crowd feel like part of the show by talking to us throughout the set and cracking a lot of jokes while also playing some really good tunes for just being a guitar and drums.

Chris Day of Norma Jean
Jeff Hickey of Norma Jean

And finally, the moment we had all been waiting for. Norma Jean started playing, and everyone went crazy. Norma Jean is a Christian metalcore band from Georgia that formed way back in 1997, and despite many band members coming and going, they have managed to stick together. I always feel concerned when bands change members, because sometimes it’s just not the same- but that didn’t matter in this case, because they played so tightly together and had really great chemistry and enthusiasm on stage. Everyone in the band was so engaging and lively while performing, including Holyoak on drums. A drummer who jumps around and brings such animation to playing the drums is always a pleasure to watch. As much fun as it was to watch them on stage, throughout the show, all I could do was stand there with my eyes closed, just taking in the beauty of it all. For those of you who have not heard the album O God, the Aftermath, I would recommend it over any other metal album. It is an album that I have shared with a lot of metalheads and non-metalheads alike who have all end up enjoying it, and I think that says a lot. It is full of mathy, syncopated, driving rhythms you have never heard before. It is also a great example of how loud, grungy metal can be exquisitely beautiful. Listening to them play this album in its entirety actually ended up being a very spiritual experience for me, as I’m sure it was for most everyone else who was there. As I mentioned above, I have been listening to this album consistently throughout the past 10 years of my life, and it has not once gotten old. This album has been there for me more than some of the people in my life… I take walks with this album, I cry with this album, I laugh with this album, I sleep with this album, I dance with this album… and now I feel complete, having heard and seen it played live. If you know of Norma Jean or even if you don’t, I would make a point to try and catch this tour for sure. You will absolutely not be disappointed.

Clayton Holyoak of Norma Jean
Clayton Holyoak of Norma Jean

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