Misery Signals – Ultraviolet

It’s difficult for me to find a place to begin, and that’s because I will admit freely and with full transparency that Misery Signals is my favorite band of all time. I would go so far as to say that I might be one of their biggest fans ever, having extolled their virtues and championed their underdog status as one of the greatest, most influential, and criminally underrated or overlooked metalcore acts ever to this day. In fact, it’s one of my favorite conversations. They pioneered the art of progressive, melodic, atmospheric dynamics without sacrificing hardcore sensibility or appeal. I have a deeply personal history and connection to their music and the band itself in more ways than I care to admit (though, to counter any assumptions: no, I do not know them personally.) It is with this lengthy caveat that may ruin any credibility or perception of being an unbiased party that I believe myself to be a foremost authority in what I am about to tell you:

Ultraviolet is good. It’s also exactly what you’d expect.

For those lacking context: Misery Signals was formed in the early 2000s after the breakup of 7 Angels 7 Plagues, with multiple members making the jump to the new project. Their 2004 debut album, Of Malice and the Magnum Heart, is highly regarded as a Mount Rushmore-worthy staple of formative metalcore works. Original vocalist Jesse Zaraska was asked to leave due to personal conflicts after this, being replaced by Karl Schubach, who went on to record and perform for the band’s next three albums – the majority of their catalogue. The band had already begun to fall apart as early as 2010, when two of the other founding members left to pursue other projects, leaving Schubach and brothers Ryan and Branden Morgan to keep the outfit alive. Misery Signals released what many believed to be their final album – Absent Light – in 2013, with the help of fill-ins (including Greg Thomas of END) and a crowdfunding campaign to mixed reviews.

Miraculously, the very next year saw Schubach unceremoniously kicked and the original five members, with personal differences solved, embark on a tenth anniversary campaign for Of Malice. This was a polarizing move; many fans had grown to love Schubach and the sound the band had cultivated with him for the majority of their career. Many others, however, longed for the nostalgia of the original lineup. The future was still unclear – whether or not they would stay together or this was a tenuous bond reforged in that nostalgia to make a quick buck off their previous success was yet to be seen. The lineup remained, however, and continued to tour sporadically for the next few years.

News of a new album was never taken seriously until last year when they began playing a new song live, “Sunlifter.” This was actually recorded years prior as a B-side, though the band has since claimed it was the first track written for Ultraviolet, the fabled fifth album years in the making. Fast forward to May of this year and the rumors proved true – the band began teasing new material and dropped the first single, “The Tempest,” to hopeful, tempered acclaim.

Ultraviolet is what they consider both a natural progression from and a direct thematic companion to Absent Light, where they left off with Schubach all those years ago. That album was decidedly their darkest, dealing with themes of hopelessness and letting go of relationships, using a sonic palette at times more stripped and barren than before. Ultraviolet attempts to cleanse the listener of that rust with brighter, airier compositions. It is a return to the major uplifting leads they were known for, proving the glimmer of hope that was once lost is back again – this time to stay.

That warmth is perhaps most evident on the second to last track, “Cascade Locks,” which opens with an unapologetically happy pseudo-shoegaze prelude, evoking feelings of fond memories with old friends. The rest of the track is equally as powerful, riding the line as only they can between saccharine post-punk leads, deeply personal, anthemic vocals, and deft off-time riffing that moves you against your will. Indeed, this track, followed by album bookend “Some Dreams,” are perhaps the best distillations of ‘old’ Misery Signals on the whole record. They would have slotted so perfectly into the Malice/Mirrors era that they feel like tracks pulled out of time, mythical B-sides that were written and abandoned just to be revived almost two decades later.

One of the things that makes Misery Signals so beloved is their ability to write this extremely evocative, emotionally charged hardcore that absolutely brings you to your knees. Throughout all of their permutations, they have always infused elements of post and progressive melody that make tracks soar with the sense of a skipping heart or swallowed breath. “Old Ghosts” and “Redemption Key” have this in spades, with the latter being a squarely post-metal exploration that acts as a bridge between the album proper and its denouement.

Overall, there is a renewed sense of purpose to Ultraviolet; a definitive coalescence of years spent crafting something to both make themselves proud and the fans happy after all this time. More than that, there is an expected refinement and maturation to the material, even as it tries to recreate itself in the image of past triumphs. It will come as no surprise to longtime fans then, that Ultraviolet feels like an attempt to pen a spiritual successor to Of Malice and the Magnum Heart. After all, that’s what we expected them to do.

And they did it.

Ultraviolet releases August 7 via Basick Records.

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