The year is 2021, and genre is dead. Think of any of the most exciting releases you’ve heard recently, and chances are they don’t fit into any single pre-defined box, instead bringing a whole range of musical worlds together to create a new, dynamic sound. Since the release of debut album ‘Inguz’ in 2016, Swedish trio Normandie have been doing just that – a little bit rock, a little bit metal, a little bit pop, yet always very distinctively Normandie. Now preparing to release third album ‘Dark & Beautiful Secrets’, it feels like the best policy with this band is to expect the unexpected – but either way, it’s unlikely you’ll find yourself disappointed here.
If you did happen to wander into this album with preformed ideas of how it might sound, opening track ‘Babylon’ will surely screw them all up and hurl them out of the window. This is a track unlike anything we’ve heard from Normandie before, and its position at the start of the album feels like a line in the sand between their past and their newly evolved form. Whirling with an unbridled chaos, ‘Babylon’ leans more readily into their pop sensibilities, with a heaviness that ripples under the surface – if there’s any downside, it’s that the use of a ‘cough loop’ teeters dangerously close to the edge of gimmicky, but it’s easy to forgive in a song that is so unapologetically bold.
One of the starkest and most immediately noticeable differences is just how much more personal ‘Dark & Beautiful Secrets’ feels in comparison to previous releases ‘Inguz’ and ‘White Flag’, and nowhere more so than on evocative second track ‘Hostage’. It’s a song that will resonate deeply with anyone who’s struggled with the internal battles of anxiety disorders, lyrically capturing the repetitive thoughts and inescapable nature of panic – it’s all too familiar, but there’s strength in sharing this experience, and the result is a truly cathartic few minutes that show a new side to this band.
For anyone craving the heavy riffs that have formed a significant part of Normandie’s sound over the years, there’s not too long to wait – and when they appear, they’re easily some of their best to date. Single ‘Holy Water’ drops in with the force of an atomic bomb, while ‘Renegade’ later picks up a similar pace with playful vocals atop skull-shatteringly visceral riffs. There’s a certain restraint in the way the band deploy these heavier moments that allows them to hit all the harder when they come, picking the energy up at the right moments and with all the impact you might hope for.
Taking its place in the middle of the album, ‘Mission Control’ may be the finest example yet of just how capable Normandie are of taking ownership of even the biggest stadiums, taking the form of a galactic, Muse-esque riff monster that truly belongs to guitarist Håkan Almbladh. If a good old-fashioned brain melter with a hefty side order of fun is what you fancy, this is the one – it’s the kind of song that could make anyone instantly long to dive headfirst into a mosh pit (or at the very least, have a damned good dance at the side of one). And, in all fairness, that’s a common theme listening to this album – ‘Dark & Beautiful Secrets’ is a collection of songs that practically beg to be heard live, for their waves of melody and energy to sweep across a jubilant crowd. From the whispered chants and staccato sharpness of ‘Bury Me Alive’ (“I guess I’m not going to heaven now”) to the haunting quiet of ‘Atmosphere’, it’s hard not to dream of live shows as you make your way through this journey of defiance, loneliness, and self-acceptance, each song standing tall on its own, yet coming together to form a complete experience.
Closing with the ethereal ‘Chemicals’, there’s an almost triumphant feeling that bursts through its soaring chorus – a fitting end to a release that marks the start of an exciting new era for Normandie. ‘Dark & Beautiful Secrets’ is, in a word, exhilarating; an album that doesn’t play by anyone’s rules, finding beauty in the chaos of life and filling the darkness with light. More than that, it’s simply an utterly enjoyable listen from start to finish, bringing together the perfect combination of jaw dropping vocals, slick production and outstanding musicianship for an album that is the definition of memorable. As Normandie go from strength to strength, one thing’s for sure – they won’t be a secret for much longer.