REVIEW: Misery Signals – Ultraviolet [2020]

Artist: Misery Signals

Album: Ultraviolet

        Everything exists in a spectrum—there are really precious few (if no) absolutes. Everything, from our favorite foods, types of people, hell, even the colors and wavelengths in which we see, exists on a spectrum. Heavy music is no different, with countless varieties and variations out there—hell, probably even more than I know, but within metalcore at least, they all share a common thread: they were all probably influence by Misery Signals to some degree. Erupting out of nowhere in 2002, the awe-inspiring fashion in which the band have fused groove metal, metalcore, hardcore and elements of various metallic subgenres has provided a path—a foundation, even—for bands operating in the same vein. Hell, even bands with members who might not have even listened to Of Malice and the Magnum Heart or Controller are likely influenced by it to some degree. When rumor first surfaced of their reunion in the early months of 2016, the internet was abuzz with excitement—now, nearly four years, a pandemic and a global shutdown later, Misery Signals’ long-awaited comeback release is upon us. Ultraviolet is the band spanning their own spectrum—touching on their most overt melodic influences in the same breath as they touch on their most ruthless and aggressive ones. The real question, however, remains: do Misery Signals still have the same appeal and energy that defined their immensely influential sound all those years ago?         Ultraviolet sees Misery Signals creating something that is quintessentially them. In a statement made in November of 2010, guitarist and founding member Ryan Morgan said “If the time came that our sound took a drastically different course, then it wouldn’t be Misery Signals, and we wouldn’t pretend that it was.” Although that statement prefaced the release of Absent Light, that same thought process holds true with Ultraviolet. Songs like “River King” and “Through Vales of Blue Fire” see the band churning out aggressive, punchy cuts with percussionist Branden Morgan hammering out massive drum patterns that smoothly transition between groove and gut-busting breakdowns without stutter or faulter. Other songs, especially album closer “Some Dreams” see Morgan’s drumming serving as a more mellow foundation for Kyle Johnson’s dense bass, and for the dynamic efforts of guitarists Ryan Morgan and Stu Ross. Where Morgan’s percussion is punchy, the fretwork is ruthless and distinctly metallic—see “River King,” or lead single “The Tempest.” Here, Morgan (Ryan Morgan, that is) and Ross are riveting, creating mesmerizing leads that segue into spine-splintering breakdowns. Elsewhere—“Some Dreams” and “Cascade Locks”—the duo craft atmospheric metalcore cuts that send the listener sprawling into a relative dream sequence, contrasting distant, ethereal leads against bass-heavy grooves that rock the listener just harshly enough to keep them tethered in reality, but envelop them just enough to lull them into a serene state of mind. Ultraviolet is home to a truly remarkable amount of diversity—all without Misery Signals sacrificing core elements of what has made them a powerhouse (and, indeed, an bastion of influence) within the genre.

         Where Absent Light saw the final contribution to Misery Signals from former frontman Karl Schubach, Ultraviolet sees Jesse Zaraska return to the fold—and what a return it is. Zaraska is vicious, with his screams blending riveting, soulful emotion into the mix with raw, primal aggression. “River King” sees him at his most catchy—with his candor and patterning playing in perfectly alongside the band’s bouncy-yet-heavy instrumentation. Meanwhile, the closing numbers see Zaraska incorporating less variety but more emotive power into his syllables, with the closing segment of “Some Dreams” hitting the listener squarely in the heart. While Zaraska may not be the most diverse vocalist out there—with much of his work on Ultraviolet living comfortably within the mid-range, barring few exceptions (notably, “The Tempest” and “Old Ghosts”). Where this might appeal less to those who have only discovered heavy music in the last couple years, it largely plays to Misery Signals’ strengths—as a band who don’t need overwhelming technicality, vocal variety and gimmicky techniques to impart overwhelming emotion and intensity with a masterful use of raw, unfiltered and un-fucked-with metalcore. Zaraska fits that bill just fine, capturing many of the same feelings as he did on Of Malice and the Magnum Heart, but in a more contemporary frame.

         Really, that might be the best way to describe Ultraviolet. It isn’t a re-make of Malice, nor does it really strive to be a song-for-song counterpart thereof. Instead, it feels like what Of Malice and Magnum Heart—or even Controller, to a lesser point—might feel like if they were recorded and released in 2020. While it is brief—especially considering it’s the band’s first offering in seven years—it is a powerful and dense listen, with songs that manage to be catchy, crushing, beautiful and bold all in under four minutes (and all without being overbearing or forced). While prospectively, old heads might be skeptical of the band’s resurgence, and newer initiates into heavy music might not get the hype, once heard, Ultraviolet is a record that truly touches on every wavelength in heavy music’s essential spectrum.


For Fans Of: Shai Hulud, Comeback Kid, A Plea for Purging, Counterparts

By: Connor Welsh