Album Review: Normandie – Dark & Beautiful Secrets (2021)

In their Twitter bio, Normandie call themselves “Sweden’s best-kept secret”. And, for me, that’s extremely accurate – for once, it isn’t just a PR line. After two incredible full-length albums which combine both the band’s metalcore origins and their pop sensibility (2016’s Inguz and 2018’s White Flag), they began work on their third album soon after the latter’s release.

I got the chance to see them twice since their last album – once heading the bill with Led By Lanterns and —–, and another time supporting Dream State on their 2019 tour. Since then, they’ve gone from strength to strength, and some of their biggest news to date came from receiving writing credits for Lesley Roy’s upcoming song as the Ireland’s 2021 Eurovision entry. However, they’ve also been making their own material, and their third album is yet to be their most personal yet, and it all started with the second single, my favourite preview of the album.

Frontman Philip Strand told RockSound in November that “[Holy Water was] where the really dark feeling came into place and we all felt like we were onto something very personal here. That darkness can either be a ‘Fuck Society’ vibe or it can be something very emotional and reflective towards yourself. That’s when we made the conscious effort to write something personal and the rest of the record came together in two or three months afterwards.”

The first taste of the album came from Jericho, which was already known as a fan favourite after being played a few times on tour since the end of 2019. Although the trio have expressed a desire to alter their sound and be a little more experimental than their first two albums were, they haven’t lost the ability to make gig-ready anthems. I listened to this all the time in late summer, but I had forgotten until a relisten today just how good this track was. Maybe it’s because it paled in comparison to ‘Holy Water’, which I personally think is the best they’ve ever created.

At time of writing the most-streamed of the five singles, ‘Holy Water’ manages to brilliantly combine the two sides of the band’s sound – the heavy riffs and soft ballads (seen in the verse), combined with more experimental electronics to increase the dramatic nature of the track and even a screaming outro. I was headbanging from the first listen and soon shredding my vocal cords trying to sing both parts.

The other single I really loved was ‘Babylon’ – which the more I listen to, I love. It builds and builds until a riotous chorus breaks out, and will leave you screaming ‘Are you following or falling out?’. I wasn’t as big a fan of ‘Atmosphere’, but ‘Hostage’ finds the band back on top form as Philip sings about the panic attacks which he has suffered. While not only striking a chord with me as I too have experienced them in the past, it’s a brilliant song and the last minute of the track will be unmissable when they embark on their live tour with Thousand Below and Captives in October this year.

‘Mission Control’ is track 5 on D&BS and is the first of the new tracks. It definitely displays that more electronic sound which they’ve been aiming for – and it’s impressive, even when led in by ‘Holy Water’. It’s both dark – “system failure, call mission call” – and beautiful, and is a real hidden gem here. Although, as I came to realise as I let the tracks play, this is an album full of ten anthemic, single-worthy bangers. ‘Bury Me Alive’ is another solid track which displays their new sound, while ‘Thrown In The Gutter’ is an incredible song and one of the brightest lights in an album full of stars. It’s almost a throwback to their older music, but with a clearly more mature edge. ‘Renegade’ captured me immediately with its frenetic beat and it’s moshpit chorus, while ‘Chemicals’ is a solid closer.

‘Dark & Beautiful Secrets’ is an album with no let-ups, no skips and no shortage of energy. It’s their strongest album to date, and I cannot WAIT to see them live on their next tour, or to get hold of some of the merch from this era (to add to my collection). If great rock music floats your boat, Normandie will never let you d(r)own.

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