Album Review: Misery Signals — “Ultraviolet”

My brother and I started high school at the heyday of the metalcore scene.  We listened to quite a bit of awful, vapid breakdown-bots, but Misery Signals always stood out as a cut above the rest, right from the first time the guy sitting next to me in Spanish class put me on to them.  Lyrically, sonically, technically, emotionally, there was something about them that made them resonate deeper with us, and it’s something that we still come back to.  When I snagged Ultraviolet, I thought it would only be fitting that Vince and I tackle this one together.

Ian: It really doesn’t feel like seven years have passed since Misery Signals’ last album, especially when listening to Ultraviolet.  It also sure as hell doesn’t feel like it’s been sixteen years since Of Malice and the Magnum Heart, but here we are.  Ultraviolet is the first album the original lineup has recorded since their 2004 debut, which means it marks the return of original vocalist Jesse Zaraska.  Ultraviolet is not simply Of Malice, Part II though.  It truly feels like a continuation of the strides the band has made over their almost two decades in and around the metalcore scene.  It’s a maturation of their sound without losing the unique qualities that caught my interest all those years ago.  The lock-step double bass and guitar rhythms of the Morgan brothers are still a driving part of their sound, and the highly technical, incredibly melodic ringing lead lines still saturate the sonic space with a brightness that lifts the songs into a place most metalcore bands avoid.  There’s even a few honest-to-god breakdowns thrown in, which made me incredibly happy, but they’re not overused, and space between them gives them room to really impact emotionally.  Zaraska’s vocals are probably the most striking example of the passage of time in the band.  His voice is deeper, more resonant, but also more honest and vulnerable than it’s ever been.  “It is a record that purveys a much greater sense of hope than those that preceded it, and I think that as older individuals this was important from the onset of the process,” says Zaraska.  Older, maybe, but also wiser, more experienced and more driven than ever.  Not since Mirrors has a Misery Signals album captured my attention like this.

Vince: If you asked me in the Year of Our Lord Two-Thousand and Twenty if a new Misery Signals album would be one of my most anticipated albums of the year, I would have said hell yes, absolutely, because Misery Signals have always been the gold standard as far as metalcore goes.  Every album this band has released has been light years ahead of their competitors, in no small part because of Misery Signals’ ability to mine so much deeper than just surface-level heaviness, using intricate musicianship, evocative melody, and thought-provoking lyrics that tackle deep emotional topics with grace and humility.  Ultraviolet presents a continuation of the maturing process the band has gone through with every album.  The concept of “maturing” when it comes to metal bands’ sounds is an often-used descriptive cliché at this point (cool, thanks Ian), but here it is both a true statement and an important point as to why Ultraviolet is so outrageously good.  The payoff in a Misery Signals song doesn’t come from just the big explosive breakdowns, although Ultraviolet has those in spades (“River King” immediately springs to mind), but the interplay of different textural and emotional elements that create the tension that then explodes in a fury of catharsis.  It’s as much the journey as the destination, and here the journey is that of struggling against entropy and grabbing meaning from a life that seems hell-bent on breaking any human being down, given color by everything from the classic chug of “Sunlifter” to the resplendent melody of closer “Some Dreams.”  Metalcore is a genre often treated with kid gloves, yet Ultraviolet shows exactly what people who brush off this music are missing out on.

Misery Signals

Misery Signals are never late, nor are they early; they arrive precisely when they mean to.  In times when every day presents new and interesting reasons to hang up your hat, an album that begs you to get back up on your feet and grab this world by the throat is certainly timely, and showcases the exact reasons why we have been enamored with this band for over a dozen years of our lives.  So there, if one of us alone couldn’t get you to be excited about Ultraviolet, maybe both of us, Wonder Twin Powers activated, can do it.

– Ian and Vince

Ultraviolet will be available August 7 on the band’s Bandcamp page.  For more information on Misery Signals, visit their official website.

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