It was around 20 or so years ago that Norm Rejection first dropped their debut recording, a three-track TDK tape that unleashed a new kind of beast onto the Maltese metal scene and, as things would turn out, beyond it too. The band has been through a number of changes since then – both in line-up and direction – but the concept has remained consistent. Theirs is the sound of rebellion and liberation; no-frills power, thought-provoking lyrics, agit-prop at its finest - all delivered with a mighty metal punch. Two albums down the line, the band is about to release its third full-length offering, The Radical Underground with a live performance at Zion on Friday, July 11. Drummer Michael Briguglio takes time out from putting together the final preparations to answer a few questions ahead of the big day.
Looking back over the 21 years since the band's formation, what do you feel were your biggest achievements and disappointments in terms of music activity and also the messages/issues your songs strive to convey to the public?
Two achievements we’re proud of are that with our 1994 release, Subtly Mesmerized?, we were the first Maltese metal band crossing musical boundaries and delving into other genres. The other is for setting a trend in agit-prop lyrics in all our releases, particularly those in Maltese when we released Malta Not For Sale in 2000 and before that, with the 'mahkumin!' chorus of Caged in 1998. Yet, in all honesty, I think our biggest achievement has been to have a tightly-knit band made up of members who grew up together and who share a common musical sub-consciousness. This has enabled us to create art, rather than follow some pre-fabricated formula. The lowest point of the band was the passing away of keyboardist Andrew Martin, to whom The Radical Underground album is dedicated.
Malta being something of a politically-consumed nation, how significant and relevant do you feel a band like Norm Rejection and its mission to be a voice for the voiceless is within the local music scene and indeed, at a national level?
Our message can be seen to be as radical as reality, and can act as a counter-hegemonic force. The universal message of Norm Rejection is rebellion and liberation, yet people can give their own interpretation and reading to our lyrics. What is for certain is that given our style of music one should not expect ‘Eurovision’ lyrics.
Clearly Norm Rejection's songs have consistently been inspired by both local and international political/social issues, expressed through music with a heavy slant. Do you imagine Norm Rejection ever taking a softer approach or do you perhaps feel your protest songs are more effective when boosted with a metal edge?
Norm Rejection is an underground metal band with a message of rebellion and liberation. The message and the music are two sides of the same coin. At the same time, we are anti-dogmatic and look positively at venturing in new areas, yet I cannot imagine Norm Rejection becoming a band which follows pre-fabricated musical fashion for the sake of it. Such music may result in 5-minutes-of-fame, yet we are not after that. Art is eternal and knows no compromise.
Bar the Belligerent EP in 2011, 14 years have passed since your last album. In what aspects do you feel Norm Rejection has evolved the most since then - musically and lyrically - and further to Malta Not For Sale, what triggered the increased presence of the Maltese language in your releases since 0002?
We are tighter, more close-knit as a band and we’ve become more efficient in our songwriting too. However I don’t look at Norm Rejection in terms of evolution. I prefer looking at the band as being characterized by moments, each having its own significance. Each release represented a special moment - an encounter of band members which resulted in specific songs. Some took years to form, others less. As regards use of language, once again, we are not dogmatic. Some songs, such as Il-Vo(j)t off the new album, seem to tell you that they require lyrics in Maltese. Others require in-your-face agit-prop, like for example The Radical Underground or Peltier. Others, like Celebration of the Snake and The Just were written in relation to political experiences I encountered, yet they are much less direct and more conducive in plural interpretations by the listener, who thus becomes a co-author by giving his/her meaning to the song. In previous albums and EPs, this creative tension could also be witnessed in different songs.
You've released three songs off The Radical Underground online so far...what has the general reaction/feedback been to these songs and how in your opinion does this album relate/compare to your previous releases?
The feedback has been great, and this is also seen through the increasing number of YouTube hits, which is very encouraging given that we are a DIY band with no corporate, commercial or state backing. Some have noticed a certain degree of continuity in relation to our previous material; others have described us as moving in new directions. We give a lot of importance to songwriting as we want the listener to remember the song's music and message. In this respect, I believe that this album succeeds. Something which really has to be highlighted is that this album is a real experience in DIY, both in terms of songwriting and production. Sean wrote most of the music and Rex was main music author of one song, and I wrote all the lyrics. Sean produced, mixed and mastered the album, and all instruments apart from the drums were recorded at his studio. Wil produced two videos so far and designed the sleeve in line with the album's thematic concept which I proposed. In all cases, band members gave their musical and artistic contribution. The performance of each member enabled each song to take up the role of the 'Norm Rejection' character, creating a collective artistic production which we are proud of.
Your songs always seem to be on the side pointing out all the political/social wrongs; have you ever been tempted to write about any political/social issue that has been properly dealt with addressed by the authorities involved?
Well various songs call for empowerment, liberation and emancipation. This can take place at various levels. If one person decides to empower himself or herself, that is a victory - an existential encounter with liberation. The song Existentialate off the new album deals with this. But on a political level, such songs can also inspire activists to form counter-hegemonic strategies and to write history.
One particular song on The Radical Underground, Living Not Dead is about a Maltese frame-up victim who finally received justice after many years. Yet, it can easily be related to the case of other frame-up victims who eventually achieved justice. It can also be interpreted as a song of hope. Another song, Jesus meets Mao deals with fragmentation, antagonisms and the internal contradictions one faces - even in political activism - yet looks at this as a testament to being human.
Norm Rejection's repertoire and profile already enjoys an international presence and following…are there any plans for the band to take this a step further and perhaps tour or perform abroad?
This is an area we haven't ventured into yet, but the future is unwritten, so who knows?
Last but not least, what's planned for the album launch this Friday?
We will be sharing the stage with Sempliciment tat-Triq and R.A.S. which is an honour, not only because we share a sentiment of rebellion, but also because the concert will represent music diversity in the name of heaviness. From metal to hip-hop to punk and back. We feel that Zion is the perfect venue for such an event, as the place itself is an explosion of diversity. It is important to note that first band will start playing at 8pm and that the concert will end at 11.30pm.
Photo by Michelle Sullivan