Misery Signals is a name that just about anyone who is a fan of metalcore should recognize, as the band came to prominence in the early 2000s with the right balance of melodic leads and sheer heaviness. Where their earlier years saw the group releasing new albums every few years and showcasing just how strong their writing was compared to much of the genre, in recent years they’ve been a bit quieter and have gone through some changes. Since 2013’s Absent Light, their second vocalist Karl Schubach left and original singer Jesse Zaraska rejoined, essentially causing Misery Signals to have gone through the exact same type of change as Killswitch Engage. This reunion of the original lineup was utilized at first to do a tenth anniversary tour of the band’s debut Of Malice and the Magnum Heart, later resulting in a short EP in 2016 titled Sunlifter. Nearly four years after those two songs first surfaced, Ultraviolet has been released and while it’s a shorter effort than its predecessors the strength of the riffs and vocals has made it worth the wait.
One of the things that I’ve liked in the past is Misery Signals never seemed to pad their albums with filler, as each one typically ran between forty to fifty to minutes and utilized the full span of time with substance. This made me worry that Ultraviolet might be a little too short when I first saw that the thirty-four-minute run-time, but after plenty of in-depth listens it’s clear that concern was unwarranted. Though everything flies by quickly the instrumentalists make the most of it, cramming in crushingly heavy riffs and melodic breaks where the atmosphere soars above the clouds. “The Tempest” kicks things off on the heavier side of the spectrum, as the guitar, bass and drums hit you right in the chest and give off a denser sound while layering some airier melodies over top of them. This likely doesn’t sound that different from what Misery Signals has been writing their whole career, but it’s been refined almost down to a science. While I’m not quite sure if it’ll topple the likes of 2008’s Controller just yet, songs like “River King” and “The Fall” are some of the strongest tracks the band has written in recent memory and the way that move from pummeling, distorted riffs to soaring melodies that have a dark yet hopeful tone will likely have them stuck in your head for some time to come. The writing once again feels a bit more complex than is typical for metalcore, as the band rarely devolves into simple breakdowns and even when they do slow things down the tempo doesn’t stay there for long. It’s this balance between melodic hooks and the ever-changing attack of the heavier instrumentation that makes Misery Signals just as appealing as they were a decade and a half ago, and that’s not an easy feat to pull off.
Listeners that have followed the group over the years will usually point out that Karl Schubach was able to hit lower ranges and had a bit more forceful delivery to his vocals compared to Jesse Zaraska, but Zaraska always seemed to have a bit variety to his performance. Now that the latter is back behind the mic that’s more evident than before and considering that sixteen years have passed since his last Misery Signals album it makes sense that all the vocal ranges feel more polished. He tends to start off with lower growls that tower above the recording and then heads into higher screams and yells, though the delivery is varied throughout Ultraviolet which prevents repetition. There’s also quite a bit of singing throughout the album that gives off brighter flourishes, particularly on shorter songs like “Redemption Key” and “River King”. The pitch is so soft on these two pieces that they almost remind me of some darker folk, pushing outwards from metalcore for just a few minutes before launching right back into the harsher ranges. Although this is a small touch, it goes a long way towards making the album stand out and gives it more longevity.
There is a noticeable shift towards softer, brighter melodies as you make your way through Ultraviolet, as if Misery Signals gets their darkest demons out of the way early and then pushes towards new horizons. While this might not click with all listeners, especially if they’re expecting rage all the way through, for people like me who have been following metalcore for more than two decades it gives this album some much needed variety and helps it to leave a lasting impression. With a sound that’s nostalgic yet forward thinking, this is a worthy comeback from a long-running band and one of the best metalcore albums to come out in 2020. Ultraviolet is available from Basick Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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