Sweden’s Normandie has a new album out in a matter of days: Dark & Beautiful Secrets. It’s the third full-length from the Stockholm trio, made up of frontman Phillip Strand, guitarist Håkan Almbladh and drummer Anton Franzon.
Strand, who penned the Irish 2021 Eurovision entry, has dug deeper than ever before and poured his heart out. Using his personal experiences and self-analysis to produce something that resonates with its listeners. Normandie fans will be pleased to be let into his world and hear what could be the most honest and rawest of Normandie’s music yet.
The album opens with a bang in the way of ‘Babylon’, a song about how the need to dig deeper into yourself can make you lose track of reality. It’s catchy from the get-go, and you will probably find yourself nodding along at the least, if not singing along on a second or third listen. The lyric “Down we go the rabbit hole / On to the other side” could not be any more appropriate. You are about to be sucked down a rabbit hole into a world of wonder, awe, and, quite frankly, Dark & Beautiful Secrets indeed.
Next up is ‘Hostage’, another catchy one. When Strand was 22, he suffered from severe anxiety and de-personalization. “I couldn’t recognize myself in the mirror, and it felt like nobody could see or hear me. It was like I didn’t exist,” he said. The beginning of ‘Hostage’ is disorientating quite deliberately so as if to mimic what it’s like to be inside of a panic attack. The song is written from that perspective, which is apparent both musically and lyrically. “I shut my eyes / I shut my mind / And hope it passes me by,” he tells us before he almost screams the pre-chorus.
After listening to these first tracks, I can see why some people might describe their sound as a mix of Nothing But Thieves meets the poppier edge of Bring Me The Horizon. Their music brings a cathartic release much like many other bands, but they’ve taken their skill and weaved something beyond parallel. In other words, it’s hard to compare them to anyone. Stand-out songs include the slightly heavier ‘Thrown In The Gutter’, an absolute jam. This is one song that would be perfect live for those of us that still mosh.
‘Atmosphere’ is the closest thing you’ll get to a ballad on this album, which is a little disturbing when you realize it’s actually about Strand’s fractious relationship with the internet. You could be forgiven for thinking this one is about his relationship with a person as he sings, “But I need somebody / Honestly, I don’t know who I’d be without it / Misery loves company / And I’m surrounded / Honestly, I’m tired of feeling numb.” It may not be the ballad we asked for, but perhaps in this day and age, it’s the one we need, who knows. Nevertheless, the band have created a beautiful soundscape, especially when the vocals echo “That I can’t be / That I can’t be / That I can’t be alone,” as the track begins to draw to a close. You can feel the atmosphere in this aptly named song.
If you are looking for a track about relationships with actual people, then ‘Chemicals’ is the one. Penned as a song that encapsulates love and lust, it explores what happens when you confuse the two. The most common and perhaps pivotal theme running throughout this album is Strand’s relationship with the church he grew up in. It’s mainly focused on his decision as a teenager to turn his back on it. ‘Renegade’, ‘Bury Me Alive’ and the blasphemously brilliant ‘Holy Water’ are all testament to this life-changing experience. Subsequently, in ‘Mission Control’, Strand explores who he was as a child and how much his life and values have changed in adulthood.
This album is far from the traditions of pop music and Eurovision entries, so don’t let Strand’s tendency to write for pop artists fool you. Brave, bold, and courageous, it is, in reality, the first time fans can hear the band be their authentic selves with exceptional lyrical insight backed up by music produced with pinpoint precision. This is a record you should own because you are going to want to play it a lot more than once or twice. We certainly do.