Untitled Document First things first, As I Lay Dying and Norma Jean are both great acts, pushing the hardcore envelope without thinking they have to conform to scene fashion trends just to fit in. That said, you wouldn’t have missed much if you arrived to their show late.

The first band up, Philadelphia-based A Life Once Lost put on a solid set, its members show good musicianship, but still have a ways to go to set themselves apart from the rest of their contemporaries. Much in the same vein as Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe, Lost frontman Robert Meadows has a voice that drips with intensity as he barks into his mic, he just needs to figure out how to channel it with a bit of variety.

Then there was Madball. God help us, there was Madball. Did anyone else know these guys were still around and making music? Moreover, does anyone really care? Shrug. Suffice to say, much beer was needed to sit through this unholy trial of patience.

Thankfully, Norma Jean would remind us, or this writer at least as the cheap bear-swilling masses likely didn’t have much coherency or concept of quality anymore, what exactly good hardcore is. Norma Jean bring a very youthful, chaotic energy to any show they play without falling into stereotypical clichés you might expect from them on first sight.

Playing the colorfully named songs of their latest album, O God, the Aftermath, the band showed why they are quickly rising to the upper echelon of hardcore bands. With a strong ear for when and how to get technical and a good sense of when to just shut up and shred, Norma Jean is proof positive that young hard rock bands can be artsy and experimental.

Certainly not a band to be outdone, however, As I Lay Dying took stage, blasting out its signature giant wall of sound from the second guitarists Nick Hipa and Phil Sgrosso took stage. While vocalist Tim Lambesis’ growling vocals don’t steer to far from the beaten path, the older influences that sometimes show through, when combined with Hipa and Sgrosso’s classic metal style, make for some very metal horn-worthy songs. The great thing about As I Lay Dying is that, while the music isn’t rocket science, there is a great sense of bro-ness in watching them play. The spotlight is shared equally and you can tell they’re just a bunch of dudes having fun, even despite their dark, angst-ridden lyrics.

After the show, the casualties increasingly apparent, with more than a few very bloody people walking out of the venue and everyone else looking worn down by combat. Will they be feeling it the next day, more than likely. But really, if you’ve got shredding guitar chords and a cup of overpriced Miller Lite in your hand, what else do you need in life?