July marks 10 years since Misery Signals released their third full-length record, ‘Controller‘. It’s an album that set a new standard for every other metalcore band around – both back in 2008 and even now, too. ‘Controller’ really is a one in a million record, where the band truly hit their stride and found the way to perfectly blend aggressive energy, beautiful melody, and tasteful technicality altogether. A balance that so many other bands since have tried to achieve, but have never truly succeeded in the way that Misery Signals did right here.
2008 was an interesting time in heavy music. Bands like Whitechapel and Suicide Silence were spearheading the deathcore movement and it seemed like everyone was so focussed on tuning as low as they could and writing the heaviest breakdowns humanly possible. Rather than leaning into the trend and changing up their sound, Misery Signals stuck to their guns and produced their finest work to date – ‘Controller‘.
‘Controller‘ is a record made to be listened to from start to finish, in-full. It flows like the best mixtape you’ve ever heard. One moment, it is filled with raging fury and aggression. The next, it is delicate and immensely beautiful. Album opener ‘Nothing‘ comes straight out of the gate and shows that the band isn’t messing around. ‘Weight of the World‘ is fast, punchy and technical, all wrapped up in under three minutes. The three-part suite of ‘Parallels‘, ‘Coma‘ and ‘A Certain Death‘ is a spectacular center point of the album. Whilst not tied together thematically, each song flows into the next with finesse and elegance. It would be easy to think of this part of the album as one well-constructed 12-minute song, which is no easy feat. ‘Set In Motion‘ and ‘Ebb and Flow‘ are both incredibly powerful songs and probably should’ve been the main singles for the album given their sheer strength; both feature what I believe to be vocalist Karl Schubach’s finest performances, highlighting just how immense and also how vulnerable his vocals are.
Finally, the album comes to a close with ‘Reset‘ and ‘Homecoming‘, and boy does it end well! ‘Reset‘ is just fucking epic, from the upbeat energy to the blast beats and culminating with one of the most beautiful arrangements of music I have ever heard (including the father of the Morgan brothers playing a plethora of different orchestral percussion instruments). As the final notes of ‘Homecoming‘ sing out, like any great closing track, there is a wonderful sense of completion and comfort. The ten tracks of this album are just so well balanced that by the end of it you cannot help but feel satisfied.
The thing that makes ‘Controller‘ such a powerful and astounding record is the sum of its parts. As each member of the band plays such integral roles in the overall sound of Misery Signals.
Branden Morgan is one of the most creative drummers in heavy music. His playing has so much finesse, and he makes the most complicated of ideas sound so fluent and easy. Frontman Karl Schubach is the most well-enunciated vocalist in heavy music, hands down. It’s so common to hear vocalists screaming and only really being able to make out a few words without reading over the lyrics while listening. Yet Karl is so well pronounced that every single word on this album is so clean and well enunciated. Is that really nerdy? Yes. Do I give a fuck? Nope!
The guitar and bass team of Ryan Morgan, Stuart Ross, and Kyle Johnson works so well. Every single part of these complex and giant arrangements is there with a purpose and plays a specific role in building these vast, stunning sonic landscapes. Prime examples of this can be found at the end of ‘Reset‘, the bridge section of ‘Homecoming‘, and basically on every single second of ‘Coma‘. Whilst these arrangements are huge and intricate, and whilst a lot of the actual playing is very technical, not once does the album feel wanky or self-indulgent instrumentally.
The band enlisted Devin Townsend to come back and produce ‘Controller‘ after 2004’s debut album, ‘Of Malice and the Magnum Heart‘. Having worked with the band on their first record, it seemed like a logical decision to bring Hevy Devy back in after the somewhat disappointment of a second record, 2007’s ‘Mirrors‘. Devin seems to operate as a good sixth member, and given that they’ve worked together in the past, it makes sense that the approach to ‘Controller‘, was very comfortable. Well, it certainly sounds that way, at least.
Finally, I have to commend the art direction for this record. As a musician myself, when I write music for my band, I tend to be able to see the artwork in my head. Looking at the CD booklet for ‘Controller‘ as well as it’s cover art, it honestly looks like the exact image to match the vibrancy of the record’s sound. Not too often do I feel like an album’s artwork matches the sound and sonic aesthetic so perfectly, but I genuinely feel that every single aspect of the artwork for ‘Controller‘ is perfect. Much like the rest of the album.
The hardest thing for me is that I’ll just never understand how Misery Signals didn’t become enormous off the back of this album. Sure, they have a very devoted and passionate fanbase (made clearly evident with their incredibly successful crowdfunding for their fourth album, ‘Absent Light‘), but I can’t help but feel that they should’ve been so much bigger. Regardless, it cannot be discounted just how important this band is to metalcore and well, all of heavy music.
Ten years on now, ‘Controller‘ could still have come out today and it would wipe the floor with almost every other metalcore band in the scene. It is timeless, passionate, groundbreaking and truly a perfect record from beginning to end. If you somehow haven’t listened to this record yet, please do so immediately!
Relive one of the greatest heavy records of all time below: