Misery Signals – Ultraviolet Review

Misery Signals have been signalling misery by hybridising their metalcore vehicle with flashy touches of thrash, post-rock and progressive metal. Although elements of these other genres make appearances, Misery Signal‘s engine is pure metalcore. Since forming in Wisconsin in 2002, Misery Signals have released four full-lengths. Their last record – Absent Light – was released in 2013. Seven years is a long time. A lot has changed. Ultraviolet, their fifth full-length, combines tender post-rock dynamics with a modern metalcore thrust. The two seemingly contradictory genres predictably clash throughout. Whereas post-rock shines when building steadily and subtly, metalcore shines when in a constant state of flux and aggressive dynamism. Is this a marriage made in heaven or hell?

“The Tempest” is a microcosm of the record as a whole – a ballerina attempts to delicately pirouette during an earthquake. “The Tempest” represents the earthquake at its deadliest. An explosive chainsaw shimmer cuts through its core and sparks in the form of melodic licks caressing the chaos providing intriguing depth from the get go. It’s a promising start but a lingering unease comes to the fore: the vocals. Followup “Sunlifter” grooves with a monotone thrust that typifies the modern gait of the genre. Though solid drumming and elastic bass playing embellishes sections, gruff forthrightness and thrusted one-tone testosterone dominates “Sunlifter.” Jesse Zaraska’s metallic shouts carry a flat consistency throughout. Always at the front of the mix, their constancy and lack of dynamism is distracting. Nuance is occasionally demonstrated, especially when Zaraska’s vocals begin to unravel and reveal more emotional vulnerability, but for the most part they fail to complement the delicate/heavy dynamic at the heart of Ultraviolet. Misery Signals show a promising degree of emotional deftness when languishing in the post-rock depths of their spectrum. The melodic shards of sound that interject “Sunlifter,” particularly towards its end, are delicate and enamoring but too fleeting.

“River King” opens with this promising delicacy continued. As a brook babbles, Misery Signals trickle saccharine melancholy as enticing clean vocals whir through the mix. But further up river the dam has smashed. Unfortunately Misery Signal’s heavy main thrust lacks nuance, originality and ‘the hook’ that makes the best metalcore stand out. Similarly, the core gallop of “Old Ghosts” is paint-by-numbers. Branden Morgan’s overindulgent drumming works extra hard to provide a real sense of textural dynamism, a constant positive throughout, but can’t save the heart from rotting. Tender melodic fret-work and lofty electronic touches are a lingering reminder of the promise the record shows, but these are too disparate and disconnected to create a whole. Isolated, the crescendo of “Old Ghosts” is satisfying in its crushing, twisting outpouring. However, the foundation that lifts it was too shoddy to make it feel worthwhile.

“The Fall” combines the heaven-hell dynamic successfully. Churning slams offer little comfort for riffianados but, when fused with blissful drum fills and satisfyingly subtle melodic touches, “The Fall” surges forward with strength. The initial two thirds of “The Fall” shows Misery Signals less intent on writing tracks for the pit and more intent on writing tracks that demonstrate greater emotional tact. Unfortunately, where the song could have morphed into greater softness or peculiarity at its end, Misery Signals – imprinted in their DNA it seems – end with a crushing surge of one-dimensional faux-heaviness. It’s a shame, because follow up interlude “The Redemption Key” is the dreamy, clean vocal led blueprint that should have replaced the needlessly heavy ending to “The Fall.” Though “The Redemption Key” channels the devil through a quick passage of gruff screams and slams, it acts a scaffold for the angelic softness rather than a deluge to destroy it. 

The closing tracks of the record demonstrate Misery Signals at their natural best. “Cascade Locks” has an emo core which suits their sound. Evoking Touché Amoré and Pianos Become The Teeth, “Cascade Locks” is successful in its vulnerability. Though retaining a heavy thrust, the song isn’t overwhelmed and the melodies are able to stretch through the mix with greater ease. “Some Dreams” continues the despondency of “Cascade Locks,” at first. It builds subtly, continuing the reflective and wistful tone of the previous.  Misery Signals are successful at capturing saccharine moods. At their best they evoke a range of emotions through thoughtful interplay of melodic softness and -core based heaviness. At their worst, Misery Signals are directionless and annoyingly abrasive. Clearly, Misery Signals are inspired by a range of genres and, admirably, they attempt to integrate dissonant elements into short bites. Ultraviolet is not a rousing success. Its flaws show up too often and, due to its short length, these flaws stand out. 


Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Basick Records
Websites: miserysignals.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/miserysignals
Releases Worldwide: August 7th, 2020

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