The late ‘90s and early 2000s were a time of great change in the underground punk and metal scenes. A combination of the rise in popularity of a stable of bands who played differing varieties of metal-influenced hardcore, a flourishing DIY scene, and the fact that bands were endeavoring to stretch the very boundaries of archetypal hardcore, adding clean parts reminiscent of Midwest emo contemporaries or nearly unintelligible vocals based in guttural growls or piercing yelps more akin to death metal, among other shifts in their sonic approaches, made for an exciting and transitional time for bands and audiences alike.
Bands like Boysetsfire, Norma Jean, Grade, Shai Hulud, Overcast (who would later beget Killswitch Engage), and Stretch Arm Strong were among a collection of groups that hit the road and were seemingly always playing a show in your town every night between 1998 and 2008. Each act had their own unique sound rooted in hardcore but also fiercely independent of its stylistic conventions. Metal influences creeped in over time through acts such as Earth Crisis, Snapcase, and much of the straight-edge hardcore that sprung up in VFW halls across the country. But a debt is also owed to Converge and Dillinger Escape Plan for their complete demolition of the expectations for hardcore bands. The tireless efforts of these mid-level and better bands — who all achieved varying levels of fame, barring the last two above who were and are massively successful in their own right — was entirely down to near constant touring.
By 2004, bands like the ones mentioned above had become firmly established as mid-card or greater touring artists. One of the things that most, if not all of them, seemed to value was in lifting up new bands. In their wake stepped Misery Signals with the release of their debut full-length, Of Malice and the Magnum Heart. The album was a stew of elements from all of the bands that had come before them and hinted at the heavy dose of melody melded with the kind of prog-metal riffing that would eventually become ubiquitous in modern hardcore. The band would take this new album and evolved sound on the road where their lives would change completely.
Touring serves as the major frame through which we view Misery Signals’ feature length documentary film, Yesterday Was Everything. The film opens with Matt Mixon’s footage from the car accident that took the lives of 2 members of Canadian band, Compromise, with singer, Jesse Zaraska, at the middle of it all. Zaraska, of course, would go on to become the fiery vocalist for Misery Signals. The core of that band, though, came from the band Compromise had been touring with when the accident happened: 7 Angels, 7 Plagues.
The film really is about redemption and forgiveness in one form or another. That Misery Signals, particularly Zaraska, routinely drew from the well of introspection makes the portrayal more poignant. That it also works somewhat backwards chronologically, from the early stages of the reunion tour to a recounting of the accident, pushes the pathos here to another level. It doesn’t totally utilize this mechanism because we get the grand reveal of tragedy in the very opening but they choose to sequence the film in a way that only delves deeper into it after we have met the men they’ve all grown into since that determining event. Knowing that, ultimately, they would have this reunion sort of cheats at giving us a glimpse of growth, renewal, and the simple (and often sudden) ways that life forces us to shift perspectives.
One other theme, though, is the band continuing to have issues between themselves and Zaraska. Where Ryan Morgan is consistent in saying that this tour is the last run for this incarnation of the band, Zaraska wants it to continue somehow. Whether it is the singer riding separately from the band, arriving late for a show, or being unable to rehearse in a certain room, the drama within the group is palpable. Filmmaker Matt Mixon capably captures this back and forth tension throughout the course of the project, bringing it home well in closing out the tour with the portrait of a band that may or may not have a future together (spoiler: they do, as word has spread that this lineup is recording and planning a tour).
What we’re left with is a nice piece of memorabilia for a band that represents so much to their fans while also being symbolic of whomever was your favorite band that never quite made the majors even if their live shows always felt to the audience like they were seeing the biggest band in the world. Ultimately, this film is a tribute to all of those bands. The underdogs who created great music but for whatever reason never quite hit “the big time”, but rather brushed up against it only to find themselves never quite getting there. And yet, they still would play those shows, gain new fans who could touch their heroes, and be inspired to become musicians in their own right. In short, these are the bands that inspire bands to form and that is, in and of itself, a moving tribute to Misery Signals.
Yesterday Was Everything will be available on June 30th at iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon.