Review Summary: Metalcore Now Available Suck Free!
Ain't fads great? Be it “Rocky Movie” synths and tight spandex, whiney teen angst, or the ear-raping stylings of rap rock, musical fads have brought us here-today gone-tomorrow act after act and metalcore is just one of the most recent of these much maligned trends. I'm generally not one to follow, but I would be seriously amiss if I spoke completely ill of all of such crazes because even the biggest junkyards have had their treasures. What objective listener can in all honesty say grunge motifs like “Dirt” or “Supernatural” and nu metal classics such as “White Pony” or “L.D. 50” weren't at the very least g-o-o-d? Naturally the same premise applies to metalcore. I'll admit that chugga-chugga breakdowns, monotone tuff-guy vocals, and simplistic guitar harmonies don't exactly scream exciting, but if there's one band out there that can breathe life into such a decaying genre it's Misery Signals.
Misery Signals is metalcore to the core and they most definitely aren't ashamed of that. They have all the ingredients one might expect of the genre, but they seem to have a little something else, a kind of undefinable variable in their sound that makes them stand out- and it just might be grace. It sounds preposterous but there's just something about the way the band reams your head into the pavement one moment with chugged math metal flurries and then calms you down the next with post-rock like ambient sections that just seems so, well graceful. Much like the football player who also happens to know ballet, Misery Signals float like a butterfly and sting like a pissed off swarm of African Hornets. It's a duality that made their sophomore release, “Mirrors” a very pleasant surprise, and its also a skill that makes their follow up, “Controller” one of the best metalcore albums to be released in the last decade.
Controller picks up precisely where Mirrors left off, using much of the impressive foundation Mirrors and even their debut established, but this time the group has sharpened the edges, cut away all the gristle, and pruned the bushes. All together Controller feels fuller in the sense that the songs are overall the band's most technical and precise to date and yet they are also generally shorter than most of the tracks on their past releases. The whole record clocks in at just over forty minutes, but there is no filler in sight. The riffs throughout the album feel as if they were specially handpicked to be just right in every circumstance. Mirrors had some great ones as well, but not too many that leaped out on a first listen and some felt slightly generic; the exact opposite is true here. Whether it's the old school thrash riffs of “Weight of the World,” the spiralling Meshuggah-like crunch of “Parallels,” or the skull-cracking triplet chuggs of “A Certain Death,” Controller cooks from start to finish. Oh and there are also plenty of breakdowns, but fear not, they're top notch, just listen to the ends of “Nothing” and “Labyrinthian” and you'll be convinced. Pulling off something which has now become as cliched as a breakdown with any degree of finesse is not an easy task to say the least, and yet Misery Signals do it in nearly every track.
However, this isn't to say that the group has skimped on melody, not in the least. Nearly every one of these riffs is backed or followed up by some kind of lush guitar melody that perfectly counterbalances the heaviness for an oh so satisfying effect. In addition to these leads the band has also increased the number of clean/ambient sections in their songs, however unlike their past albums where they have often felt haphazardly tossed into place, they seem more gradual and natural on this release. The outro of “Parallels” is a fine example of this as are the two final tracks which compose a magnificent two-part epic chock full of such beautiful transitions. These softer parts are also enhanced by the percussion talents of drummer and guitarist, Branden and Ryan Morgan's father who plays chimes on many tracks.
The individual members also give their tightest, most impressive performances to date. The aforementioned guitar work is stellar, but not in the sense that they shred constantly or solo up to wazoo. Rather every lick is placed perfectly and the chemistry between Ryan Morgan and Stuart Ross is mind boggling, the precision in which they bounce arpegiated leads and off-timed riffs off one another is really remarkable; it's almost as if they have some kind of telepathy going. Branden Morgan is as always a marvel behind the kit and drives the band with an arsenal of polyrhythms, ambitious fills, and wacky accents that would have the average metalcore drummer's head spinning. Oh, and the bass is actually audible- imagine that!
Of all the things one could nit-pick on Mirrors is was probably newcomer vocalist, Karl Schubach's performance. He wasn't really bad in anyway, just pretty darn boring. He kept the same monotonous tone throughout the entire record, and frequently broke into the infamously long winded speeches that are typical of the genre. Fortunately, he really upped the ante on Controllers. Whether it's Devin Townsend's immense production, or Karl's own skills improving, I'm not sure, but he sounds absolutely monstrous on this record. In fact he even sounds remotely death metal-y in places. He also mercifully cut down on his tedious “Chatty-Cathy-isms” and even adds, God forbid... clean vocals in a couple songs. Yep, that's right on “A Certain Death” and “Ebb and Flow” he sings and he actually sounds really good, doing a great Killswitch impression; I probably wouldn't have minded hearing them a bit more to be honest. His lyrics also deserve praise for eschewing the all too familiar break up melodrama and “slave to the system” rants that are also so common. Instead he takes a much more cerebral approach, often examining person struggles, motives and world conflict. He sounds...intelligent. “We're just rehearsing who we think we are” -Coma. How many hardcore vocalists go Freudean on you?
Controller is a concise, innovative, and HEAVY album that not only reasserts everything that makes Misery Signals a truly class act, but is also a fine example of how a metalcore album or even a metal album in general should be made. Lovers of technical heavy music with a strong sense of melody and creativity will not be disappointed.