Norma Jean may sound like the most un-Christian-like Christian rock band in the world.
Which isn't to say the five members aren't legitimately devout, Jesus-following rockers. It's more a reflection of how their music pummels your ears like a baseball bat.
"Our music was always pretty heavy," bassist Jake Schultz says. "I don't know if it's a big thing [among Christian bands]. But there's some bands out there. And I feel like it has been [expanding] for a while now. Just that kind of heavy music itself has grown in the past 10 years and has gotten much more popular."
Norma Jean is perhaps the most-followed metalcore Christian rock band around. The group started in suburban Atlanta, Ga., under the name Luti-Kriss. It released two albums before changing its name to Norma Jean to avoid confusion with the Atlanta-area rapper Ludacris.
Given a listen, Norma Jean sounds, well, hard. Lead singer Cory Brandan almost violently screams his lyrics. And those lyrics while occasionally having undertones of religious elements are at other times downright vicious. ("We're not going backwards / We're just killing onwards to die," Brandan laments on "A Temperamental Widower.")
"Consciously, we say, "Hey, let's not purposely write a song about God just because that's what we think someone wants to hear," Schultz says. "When we write our songs, it's about experiences we've had in life, and we'll have a message of faith and hope, because that's what we've dealt with."
Then again, its private dealings suggest this isn't your stereotypical rock band. Former lead singer Josh Scogin left the band in late 2002. Now, he's touring with them again as the lead singer of Norma Jean's opening band, The Chariot.
Who knew a breakup could go so cleanly?
"Everybody had this idea that everybody hated each other after it all happened," Schultz says. "It was the complete opposite. He was getting ready to get married. He was like, "I want to get married. I want to have a house. Get a safer job.' Then after he did that, he had too much time off. And Josh needs to make music, so he started it off again."
And then there's the way Norma Jean records. Before laying down the individual songs for Redeemer, the band sat down and talked about each one, its meaning and why it was written. Then the band would practice the song until it felt the energy was high enough before recording the song in uncharacteristically few takes.
"It was different for us because the other record involved us staying in, standing around the mixing board, hitting each note right," Schultz says. "With Redeemer, we let everything loose. We didn't worry about hitting each note. We wanted to capture the passion."
Impressively but perhaps not surprisingly, given its fusion of secular rock and Christian rock sensibilities Norma Jean has appealed to religious and non-religious fans.
"We never feel limited by those kinds of things," Schultz says. "It kind of meets in the middle with a lot of people. And if people are turned off by us being a Christian band, we really don't notice it. It could be that way. It's just something we'd never stress about and we'd never worry about anyway."
Norma Jean with The Chariot, A Life Once Lost and The Handshake Murders
The Black Sheep, 2106 E. Platte Ave.
Saturday, March 31, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $15; call 866/468-7621 or visit ticketweb.com.