REVIEW: MISERY SIGNALS – “Ultraviolet”
Metalcore and Hardcore are genres that weave in and out of each other. They are also genres that heavily borrow from several other genres and branch of into their own sub- and micro-genres with new bands popping up every day bringing their own gimmick with them reshaping the space. These gimmicks lead to a slew of mediocre and forgettable copycats that are easily forgettable and crowd the space and the cycle continues. Milwaukee’s Misery Signals does not follow this trend. They are among the first. They are among the best. Their first record in seven years, Ultraviolet is a testament that if there was ever a Big Four or Titans of Metalcore, they more than deserve their place.
In the age of consumption, an over-abundance of choice leads to a diminishing attention span and an ephemeral audience. Misery Signals faced the gargantuan task of writing a comeback record, the first after 2013’s masterpiece “Absent Light”, for an audience of jaded older fans, and new listeners forged in the post-myspace version of metalcore, the over-processed low-range, electronic glitched version. With a few moments of bated breath, Ultraviolet lulls you with a sense of an ambient section and then gob-smacks you with an early 2000s melodic hardcore riff on “The Tempest”. The boys waste no time telling you exactly what this record holds in store: nine tracks of no-nonsense melodic hardcore/metalcore.
Ultraviolet is as focused as it is raw. Ultraviolet is as raw as it is dense. Ultraviolet is as dense as it is nuanced. Repeated listens to yield higher gains as each little facet is uncovered. To list every one of the magical moments on the album would be doing listeners a disservice, but some aspects must be highlighted. On “Sunlifter” a melodic arrangement swiftly careens sharply into a darker space with a simple minor chord change leading up into a surprisingly macabre breakdown, further peppered with enough pick-scraping flair to make even the absent-minded passive listener look up and take notice. The intro lo-fi intro to “Cascade Locks”, and the melodic swell on “Old Ghosts” have a throwback vibe that is reminiscent of simple times and simpler pleasures. The melodic sways backed by traditional hardcore beats immediately conjure up images of teenage Warped Tour fandom and the friendships we made along the way! Single “River King” starts off with a string-intro, spends time in an aggressive hardcore zone, leading us to believe that this is a straightforward “brutal” track, only to curveball a melodic arrangement, before throwing us back in the pit. Album ender “Some Dreams” almost sounds like it has sections borrowing from easycore/pop-punk, before dropkicking us all with among the best breakdowns on the record. It is this ebb and flow that make Misery Signals a group of proficient musicians, and Ultraviolet a rewarding record. If there was ever a complaint, and by all the metalcore Gods, this is nitpicking, it is that “Through Vales of Blue Fire” and “Redemption Key”, the shortest tracks on the record, come across as mild filler, and would maybe have been combined into one full-length track, or had sections added to it. If they were meant to break up a dense record, then they served that purpose, but it seemed infinitesimally out-of-place. To repeat, this is severely reaching as far as complaints go.
Guitarists Ryan Morgan and Stu Ross and bassist Kyle Johnson write tracks with crushing weight. Their prowess in dancing in and out of moods, tropes, and even genres is sincerely astounding. Every riff is measured, every breakdown has its purpose, every melodic section adds dimension, but does not overstay. Drummer Branden Morgan knows when to switch between hardcore and metalcore beats to perfectly match the vibe set by the guitars and bass. Ryan’s clean vocals (“The Fall”, “Redemption Key”) make appearances and adding to the mélange without staying long enough to cause eye-rolls, which is often a complaint in the genre. Vocalist Jesse Zaraska deserves a paragraph for himself, but his pipes belt banger after banger. For someone who has been in the screaming-biz for over a decade, his performances on Ultraviolet blow his younger counterparts clear out of the water. His hardcore barks are aggressive and clear, his delivery and cadence adds to the mid-2000s metalcore aesthetic where bands like August Burns Red, The Ghost Inside, and others rose to prominence.
The guitar and bass tones walk the tightrope of unprocessed yet pristine with grace only veteran producers and musicians can achieve. The drums are masterfully placed and mixed. The vocals are in the front and center, but never over-power. There are no quibbles. Ultraviolet has a sonic template that is very symbolic of old-school Misery Signals but comes across as remarkably fresh in the current zeitgeist.
In a crowded space of in interchangeable extended-scale low register djent tinged metalcore laced with electronic trimmings, Ultraviolet is a throwback to the golden era of guitar-driven metalcore. Misery Signals prove, yet again, that dense and thoughtful songwriting, well-placed hooks, and punchy breakdowns are all you need for an excellent metalcore/hardcore record. Do not sleep on this giant comeback record!