If you had asked me to look ahead when 2008 started and predict which of heavy metal's burgeoning crop would produce the year's can't-get-it-out-of-my-stereo record, Misery Signals would've been pretty far down the list. Sure, the band had put out two albums of alternating beauty and fury, but each was plagued by several marked issues, from vocal monotony (even with a lead singer change) to a paint-by-numbers metalcore feel. However, I can say without qualification that Misery Signals grabbed me by the throat with the release of Controller, and hasn't let go since the album dropped in July.
Misery Signals didn't so much make an overhaul as a batch of critical tweaks to take their sound to the next level, and they're all clear from the opening roar of "Nothing" -- crisper production, beefier vocals and songwriting that makes the breakdowns, roars and slower pieces sound like part of a whole (rather than a loose assembly of ideas). Assuming you don't have an innate hatred for metalcore, the track will have you banging your head in no time and latching onto vocalist Karl Schubach's whispers and roars of "I'd give anything to return to nothing!"
And Controller truly shines by spreading these moments out evenly from start to finish, unlike some of the uneven moments on the band's previous discs. There's an ebb and flow to both the album as a whole, and its individual tracks. The opening three tracks set a blistering pace, with "Weight of the World" and "Labyrinthian" piledriving their way to head-spinning breakdowns, the latter closing with painfully heavy instrumentation serving as a backdrop for a roar of "It's going to be a long, hard road / Which I will walk alone."
Before you even get your bearings -- and before the all-out assault can even toy with any kind of montony -- in steps "Parallels," a blistering track itself, but interlaced with a bridge and outro that are soaring and acoustic. This bit of gorgeous breathing room feels not at all forced, giving guitarist Ryan Morgan a moment to shine and letting the listener drift peacefully into the onslaught of "Coma," whose lightning-fast guitars hit like rabbit punches, even with a few more airy moments worked in.
The twists keep coming, with "A Certain Death" providing a lightning-fast rhythm section and unexpectedly closing with one of the album's only clean lead-vocal melodies. It's quick and unexpected enough to work, and it once again sets the listener up for a brain scramble with one of the album's heaviest moments, "Set In Motion," where Schubach roars through a dark vision of a collapsing city.
If the album has anything to hold against it, it's the last three tracks, none of which are as forgettable as the weaker points of the band's sophomore disc, but none of which quite have that grab-you-by-the-balls feeling of the rest of the album, either. "Ebb and Flow" might've gone a bit too far with the second set of melodic vocals, but still hits a searing breakdown. "Reset" is nearer to the level of the rest of the album with a blistering tagline of "Nothing here is picture perfect," and "Homecoming" closes the album on a uniformly heavy note that wraps things up more than adequately.
It's hard to describe why the band clicks on all cylinders with the crazy-breakdown/instrumental-beauty dynamic here, when they only achieved mixed results with it before. In a sense, you have to hear the albums to understand the difference. But if you're only going to check out one, this is the one, no questions asked. This album is how metalcore should sound -- emotion without whining; brutality without monotony; variety with the songwriting flair to hold it together. And there, all of a sudden, you have the best metal CD of 2008 from the band who might've had the least expectation pinned to them.
Misery Signals Discography
Of Malice and the Magnum Heart (2004)