For Fans Of
‘Ultraviolet‘ is a tale about love, peace, growth, redemption, reconciliation with the past, and perspective: who we were versus who we are now. Filled with levelling heaviness, uplifting moods, introspection, spiritual themes and cosmic lyrical references, Misery Signals‘ first new album in seven years is almost the polar opposite to the darkness and negativity heard in ‘Absent Light‘ (2013). Thematically, anyway, as it musically continues on from that 2013 record whilst addressing their early 2000’s hardcore roots: like a mix of ‘Absent Light‘ and ‘Of Malice and the Magnum Heart‘ (2004). Beyond the actual music, and as seen with the yellow hues and soft purples and pinks that grace the artwork – beautifully created by artist and Iron Mind vocalist, Sam Octigan – there is light. That’s not to say there isn’t darkness found here, not at all, but it’s to show that there is light everywhere if you just know where to look. So much so that it’s, metaphorically speaking, invisible to the naked eye – ultraviolet.
As wiser, older (and in one specific members case, less angry) men, Misery Signals‘ returning effort isn’t them going soft nor changing what we already knew of them. ‘Ultraviolet‘ also isn’t Misery Signals giving themselves a modern update by adding more guitar strings, tuning to double drop F or some shit, nor them turning over a djenty prog-metalcore leaf. This is the top-tier, golden-era metalcore band that y’all love and remember: technical and tasteful, raw and real, melodic and heavy, and punchy-sounding 2000’s metalcore, written and performed in such a way that it never feels played-out.
I do not say that last part lightly. For Misery Signals are one of the rare older groups in this genre that could come back after so long and pull off such a tried-and-true sound nowadays and have it feel so fresh, urgent and compelling. Outside of it being a very expected record for them, and no doubt living off of the coattails of the immense goodwill they’ve built-up over the last decade and a half, there’s honestly very little to critique. It’s just that good! Except that even with very minor additions to the songwriting formula, it won’t surprise the old heads or newer fans cultivated during that seven-year interim. But you know what? That’s fine! It stands tall and proud regardless. This is a band who puts heart and artistic integrity at the forefront of everything they do. Time has not withered that ethos.
Misery Signals‘ fifth record is one of 2020’s most important metalcore records. For my own personal tastes, ‘Ultraviolet‘ ranks well above ‘Mirrors‘ (2006), just above ‘Absent Light‘, sits on par with ‘Of Malice…‘, and resides just under ‘Controller‘ (2008), my personal favourite work from their discography. (There’s nothing here that’s quite as powerful as that insane three-track-run of ‘Coma,’ ‘A Certain Death,’ and ‘Set In Motion.’) At nine songs long, this may feel a little lighter than what some may have wished for after such a big gap between releases. Yet to me, that makes it much more economical. Less was more for ‘Ultraviolet.’ I think we’d all prefer a shorter, better record over a longer, indulgent, and weaker one. Not just from Misery Signals, but from any band.
Comparing the two different vocalist eras of Misery Signals is like comparing Adrian Fitipaldes and Marcus Bridge of Northlane, or Howard Jones and Jesse Leach from Killswitch Engage. The various frontmen from each of these groups have their own unique musical qualities that made their individual records with those bands special. Yet Misery Signals‘ vocalist, Jesse Zaraska has a slightly different position. In terms of his contributions, we have the 2003 self-titled EP, ‘Of Malice…‘, his initial brief run with the band, a 2014 U.S. tour for that album’s ten-year event (captured with brilliant honesty in the Yesterday Was Everything doco), as well as a few tours since. And now we have ‘Ultraviolet.’
So how does he sound at this point in time? Well, he sounds like Jesse! He’s loud, vulnerable, and passionate, rightfully bridging the gap between your ears and the rest of Misery Signals‘ equally pretty and heavy arrangements. Jesse may be a much calmer, less angrier person nowadays, but his screams have not suffered or lost their raging strength with that personal growth. If anything, they’re better. He sounds closer to his successor/predecessor, Karl Schubach, in terms of vocal tone, voice projection and enunciation, helping to keep the feel of the band’s music consistent from where their last release left off. Something that’s very helpful given the ocean of time between the boy that once was, and the man that is now at the helm of such an important act in metalcore.
‘Ultraviolet‘ being only the band’s second album with Jesse behind the mic, by it’s very nature, almost makes it a spiritual successor to ‘Of Malice….’ It lands a lot of the same songwriting tones and musical ideas as that album did 16 years ago, whilst sounding informed by the band’s later writing styles. From the techy and catchy riffs, massive grooves and breakdowns, beautiful instrumental passages, to the soft and subtle singing that’s sprinkled in. This will be seen as “Malice 2.0” by many, not that that’s a bad thing. Most importantly, though, it’s honest. Nostalgic. Never forced. In two words: fuckin’ genuine!
Opener ‘The Tempest‘ is inspiring and motivational, like an old friend asking you to hold on, to understand that it’s not your time just yet. The soft ambient pad heard in the first 13 seconds acts like a calm before the storm, an eerie stillness that is about to be shattered by a very real musical tempest of quaking drum patterns, heartfelt screams of “we will be lifted again,” and huge riffs amidst lively production that doesn’t have to dress itself up with needless bells and whistles. This was the perfect choice for the first single of ‘Ultraviolet,’ and has quickly become one of my most loved Misery Signals songs overall.
Originally, I thought that a somewhat weird inclusion was second song, the off-kilter and rapid-fire ‘Sunlifter.’ Because ‘Sunlifter‘ is originally a Karl era B-side from ‘Absent Light‘, initially released on vinyl alongside a redux version of ‘Like Yesterday.’ Here, it’s a re-recording with a slightly tweaked arrangement – drum patterns changed, different instrument panning, no keys in the outro – with the lyrics remaining the exact same (weird but okay), as the song is brought in line with this new album’s production. At first, I didn’t know how to feel about it, but it’s really grown on me, truth be told. While it is admittedly an odd re-do of a Misery Signals deep-cut, ‘Ultraviolet‘ gives it a proper second wind. And it’s not like it was a poor song to begin with. As it was the first song written for this record, and as the band themselves put it, it was a tone setter for the lyrics, so it’s placement here is important and required.
Once the striking ‘River King‘ reaches its halfway point, with matters taking a far heavier, abrasive metalcore turn after it’s serene first half, the track details braving strong currents; building resilient vessels that won’t leak or sink; about control against the tide of time. It’s a formidable, robust track that’s fittingly about emotional resilience and mental fortitude. Like an oceanic wave of instrumental post-rock, heavy roars, soulful lyricism, pummelling percussion, tough riffs and dope mosh parts crashing down. (That “Time spreads so wide, and all we reach is the moment” build-up and pay-off is just so satisfying!) The first minute or so of ‘River King‘ does admittedly share close blood ties with ‘Marinas Trench‘ by August Burns Red. To a strong degree, actually. And yet, where do you think ABR got a lot of their sound from? Artists like Hopesfall, Strongarm, and, that’s right, Misery Signals. It’s the same thing with other bands like Counterparts: if you think Misery Signals sound like them, it’s the other way around.
The droning noises and lo-fi vocals that start the interlude of ‘Through Vales Of Blue Fire‘ kick-off a short but sweet metalcore jam that’s powerful and euphoric. Like it’s bequeathing you the strength to climb Mt. Everest. From here, the immaculate Side-B of ‘Ultraviolet‘ rears its head, cementing one of my favourite heavy releases of 2020. With sharp leads, syncopated drumming and driving guitars laced with cleanliness and dissonance, ‘Old Ghosts‘ acts like a musical teleportation device, sending us back to hardcore and metalcore circa 2004. As Jesse bellows “dream weaver, we built up the fires” and “dream stealer, open your eyes”, ‘Old Ghosts‘ feels like an invitation to confront the past and make peace; growing from trauma and facing reality.
After that, ‘The Fall‘ is easily the purest melodic hardcore, foot-to-the-floor song of the LP. ‘The Fall‘ is an aggro heater that sits in consistent line with the album’s theme: about light growing and dimming, watching someone – as the title indicates – fall from grace due to ambition and hubris. Whether it’s about the self, another, or both, is up for debate, the track’s violent and intimate sensibilities, with Kyle Johnson’s crunchy bass tone peaking through the grooves, are all hard to resist.
Outside of ‘The Tempest,’ ‘Ultraviolet‘ brings forth even more of my new favourite Misery Signals songs. Songs which arrive at the tail-end of this impressive record. The awesome one-two punch of ‘Redemption Key‘ and ‘Cascade Locks‘ is a major highlight. The soft and slow-burning ‘Redemption Key‘ is one of the records shortest cuts – next to ‘Through Vales Of Blue Fire‘ – and I’m sure many would want to see these ideas expanded upon, even though it does careen into an earth-shattering heavy passage come it’s final stretch. I can understand that criticism, but I’m also of the opinion that these shorter songs help to make a cool turnaround for the songs that bookend them on the track-listing. It also flows wonderfully into the next piece of the puzzle, ‘Cascade Locks.’
With repeating arpeggios and warm guitar strums between guitarists Stu Ross and Ryan Morgan, Branden Morgan’s creative and effortlessly kinetic drums kick in hard with some throwback Misery Signals drum fills – quick snare flams, rolling tom, cheeky ride bell hits slipped between notes – to help make for a jubilant, harmonic metalcore composition about letting go of the words of the past, relinquishing bitterness, and moving forward. This is more or less made crystal clear as Jesse shouts from the depths of his very being, over super solid half-time measures: “tomorrow starts tonight.” It’s like a lighthouse in the ocean of Stygian blackness. The song’s title sums up its musical DNA: cascading drums and guitars spilling over one another in an unstoppable tsunami; galloping hardcore punk beats and riffage, and a short-lived but wickedly dissonant breakdown parts. Even having the Misery Signals trope of rim clicks and dreamy guitars teaming up to make for a killer dynamic change-up.
Powerhouse closer ‘Some Dreams‘ is at once one of the most joyful and bittersweet metalcore tracks of 2020 I’ve heard, what with its uplifting melodic tone, stellar guitar work, remorseful lyricism and dire pace. In its colossal refrain, where Jesse declares “some dreams, some hopes“, I’m left with nothing but a big goofy smile on my face. ‘Some Dreams‘ ends with a downright devastating, classic metalcore breakdown, leaving you in the quiet ethereal wake, at it ends with a simple, solemn final thought: “I lost my heart, I lost my breath, I lost my head when I left you. I love you.” Some hopes and dreams may very well be beyond our reach, but new Misery Signals is now within our grasp and it feels so good!
Misery Signals don’t have a ‘Carrion,’ a ‘Tears Don’t Fall,’ a ‘Rose Of Sharyn,’ or a ‘Composure,’ but what they do have are cornerstone records of the genre they’ve reigned within. Touchstone moments for metalcore that almost make them untouchable. They are an “album band”; their bodies of work are meant to be consumed as a single entity. Of course, there’s definitely stream-topping songs that people immediately think of when they think of Misery Signals: ‘The Failsafe,’ ‘A Certain Death,’ and ‘The Year Summer Ended In June.’ I’m not saying that you should abstain from hearing this upcoming album’s singles as they come out until it’s full release – we’re only human and this is new Misery Signals we’re fucking talking about – but when this monolith touches down on August 7th, consume it in one gulp.
Even when the shock factor of “holy shit, I’m actually listening to new Misery Signals” wears off, there’s much to love about this record. Taking a more straightforward yet more stream-lined approach, Misery Signals have returned with an album that is decidedly them in terms of recapturing that grand 2000’s metalcore sound that gave them their house-hold name. A mix of melody, heaviness, riffs, dynamics, technicality, all with so much heart and soul. Deceptively simple ideas by their individual selves coalesce into something bigger, something more than the sum of their parts, and that’s always been one of their greatest skills. That’s what’s special about Misery Signals’ songwriting, and that’s a huge element to ‘Ultraviolet.’ Sure, there’s zero surprises in these songs, yet there didn’t need to be any for it to be such a strong comeback. The very band that inspired so many others is back and perhaps better than ever, surpassing many of the groups that have sprung up since. The bearing of the torch comes full circle.
2020 is a historic year, with the COVID-19 pandemic revealing just how vulnerable global economic, healthcare and social service systems are once threatened. A year that once again shows there’s still a long, hard battle to fight in terms of doing away with systemic racial inequality and unchecked police brutality, reminding us how quickly tax-payer bodies will turn on those they’re meant to serve and protect at the beck and call of their true masters. For us Australians, beginning this year off the back of our worst bush-fire season in recent memory should only amplify the severity of climate change, not reduce our means to adapt to it. To put it bluntly, 2020 has been fucked, and in many ways, unprecedented. Yet an album like ‘Ultraviolet’ is positive, fulfilling and reassuring; it inspires you to push yourself harder, to be better, to help leave the world a better place than the state in which you found it. ‘Ultraviolet’ informs me with a single belief about the present and the future: if yesterday was everything, then tomorrow could be anything.
Through Vales Of Blue Fire
‘Ultraviolet’ is out Friday, August 7th: