Misery Signals - Mirrors
A week ago I was spending some time on the website politicalcompass.org. Though their actual survey has a huge liberal slant so their actual "compass" is incredibly partisan, they have developed an intelligent step beyond the typical oversimplified notion of liberal versus conservative. Instead of having a one dimensional line to show one's political slant (left ------- right ) they create a two dimensional plane so that they can include another axis. The x-axis represents economic slant (one end being liberal and one being conservative) and the y-axis represents social slant and the government's control of one's non-economic life (one end being fascist and the other being anarchist). That week I also happened to be doing a lot of meatheaded stuff like watching UFC, weightlifting, and listening to metalcore. I just received the album Mirrors
by Misery Signals, whose first LP, Of Malice and the Magnum Heart
had not blown me away but was enjoyable. I was struck by the particular way Misery Signals blends styles. Usually, metalcore known for being pretty brutal and just being meaty and heavy. Some bands try to break out of that mold like fordirelifesake who are incredibly melodic. So using the one dimensional line, on one end would lie brutality, and on the other would lie melody. However, melody and brutality are not opposites, and it's possible to have both at the same time, or neither. So, taking a cue from polticalcompass.org, I tweaked my personal metalcore scale, and added a dimension. Think of brutality as its own line, with its opposite being placidity. The most brutal thing a band can do is a heavy breakdown or a grind section, and the most placid thing is laying out or having simple little clean-tone arpeggiations. That will be my x-axis. My y-axis is the melodic or harmonic content. If the harmonies and melodies are dissonant they go to one end, and if they're more consonant, they'll go to another. My compass looks something like this:
Notice certain metalcore bands' placements on the map. For example Shai Hulud favors dissonance and brutality fairly strongly so they find themselves in the upper right quadrant. fordirelifesake is less brutal (though still pretty heavy) but they focus on major key signatures and use a lot of consonant harmonies. Their placement is in the lower right quadrant, somewhat closer to the x-axis than Shai Hulud is. Most metalcore, considering the genre being founded in two rather brutal genres, metal and hardcore, stays to the right of y-axis most of the time. A band like Radiohead for example never really leaves the left side, though they have tons of diverse harmonic choices, leaving them centered on the x-axis.
And while this way of understanding two aspects of music, heaviness and harmony, may sound a little convoluted, it's a perfect way of understanding Misery Signals' style. Misery Signals are brutal, no doubt, but on this album, Mirrors
, especially compared to their first album, there's a lot more variety to the attacks, pacing, dynamics, everything in the realm of brutality. Similarly, while the previous album featured a few pretty melodic moments, most of the album remained really harsh and dissonant. On this album there is a distinct trend towards including more consonance, or really, more variety to the harmonies chosen. The end result is a more fleshed out and deep metalcore sound. There are some truly meatheaded breakdowns, and a lot of token screaming, but overall this album has a different flavor that dips into the territory of being as accessible Underoath's two most recent albums, yet has even traditional elements to appeal to those who live and die by Converge and Earth Crisis.
If judged only by its formula, this album already has the chance to appeal to a wide audience. However, stepping beyond that this album is also actually good
. There's quality to fit the appeal. First off, the songwriting is just an extension of the great songwriting on Of Malice and the Magnum Heart
, which, though it had few melodic moments to break up the chunkiness, it still employed them all perfectly so songs could be strong but also sweet. Here, now that there's a more diverse palette to work with, Misery Signals only further prove their ability to push and pull little songwriting nuances to make their music more emotionally visceral and scintillating. I would liken their ability to throw in cool change-ups from section to section in their songs to that of Hopesfall, who have really cool songwriting techniques like on their song "Owl." Also, like a similar band, Shai Hulud, Misery Signals do repeat their most catchy ideas and themes in their songs but not in a standard verse-chorus-verse format, such that when a certain awesome idea reappears it isn't just a familiar repeat of an idea, but feels like a way to reinvigorate a song after a long melodic section or a particularly crushing breakdown. Overall, the songs just feel natural and beautiful. My only complaint in that department is the tendency to throw in giant, heavy moshing sections, which is likely just to help out their live shows. However, the final studio product of the song "The Failsafe" would probably be a lot better without the meaty breakdown at around 2:48.
Secondly, the technicality is sick and seems to exist to complement the strong songwriting. Nothing here is technical in the way Dillinger Escape Plan or Between the Buried and Me would be considered technical, but all of the riffs, fills, and bass lines feel perfect at each moment in each song. A fast, angular riff feels best when the time signatures are asymmetric and the feel is offbeat and fast, thus justifying the existence of a faster, odder riff. Similarly, during sweeter sections, very easy arpeggios juxtaposed against one another can produce some really smooth, lovely counterpoint that accommodates that certain section perfectly. So, while the album has some shred-worthy moments and some between fun time signature choices, these are really fungible technicals and feel worthy of their varying levels of complexity. Once again though I have to register a complaint from the breakdowns. I feel like some of the best breakdowns on the album come from unusual circumstances, like when they are being particularly melodic, or come unexpectedly, so it's obnoxious to hear the really simple rhythmic structure of the meatiest breakdowns, cutting up the unusual and interesting feels produced by the rest of the album. And while this pairing of simple rhythms with simple open-chord harmonies seems fitting, I just would prefer it to not be there, when instead there could be a lot more interesting material.
Overall though, this album is straight up solid and really unexpected. If you had asked me the best release of August 22, 2006, I would have probably mentioned some stuff about how Cursive's last CD was pretty cool, but after listening to Mirrors
I wouldn't be surprised if it found its way onto my Top 10 list. It's a collection of amazingly written songs that are all part of a niche genre I have a tendency to hate on, but all feel a little too smart and diverse to just be pinned as metalcore, because that means somewhere along the line this album will be equated with something Norma Jean has released, which is plain unjust. I can't believe that double-bass and open-chords and palm muting could feel so good right now.
Recommended Tracks: Sword of Eyes, Mirrors, Face Yourself, Post Collapse