Comeback albums aren’t easy to pull off. On paper, the formula appears to be a slam-dunk. Take an established band with a built-in, already devoted fanbase, gather some version of a seminal line-up, record new music, and then get the gang back together to play the hits—rinse, repeat. However, the reality is a little more complicated. On the one hand, there’s an overriding tendency to rely on the power of nostalgia, giving in to the die-hard fans who won’t (read: can’t) move on and will fervently reject the idea that change is a worthwhile endeavour. On the other, there’s the potential to over-step, leaning too much into the unknown, taking a creative gamble, and ultimately hedging the success of a comeback on the value of risk as its own reward.
This dilemma forms the listening experience surrounding Ultraviolet, the long-awaited, fifth full-length album from metalcore veterans Misery Signals. Following a seven-year absence and extended hiatus, the most noticeable change-up here is one of membership. The record marks the return of the group’s founding line-up— brothers Ryan (lead guitar) and Branden Morgan (drums), Stu Ross (rhythm guitar; also of Comeback Kid), Kyle Johnson (bass)—and is their first with original frontman Jesse Zaraska since their landmark debut, Of Malice and the Magnum Heart (2004).
As documented in director Matthew Mixon’s (ex-7 Angel 7 Plagues) film, Yesterday Was Everything (2016), during the 2014 Malice X anniversary tour, the American-Canadian outfit was forced to relive the shared catastrophe and tension that initially lead to Zaraska’s sudden departure in 2005. And while it’s undoubtedly a difficult watch, it is ultimately an instructive one. Watching these men relive the pain, suffering, and trauma which forged their lasting bond (and was such an indelible part of the songwriting on Malice), goes a long way to allowing the listener to unpack and digest the emotional core resting at the heart of Ultraviolet.
Lead single and album opener “The Tempest” thrusts the listener into an immediate call to action. After a brief ambient intro, Zaraska’s yell roars into the foreground (“Let this bring light!”) carried along by a hypnotic, spacey riff, and pummelling rhythms. It’s a textbook example of compelling melodic metalcore, but also a testament to Misery Signals doing what they do best: writing urgent, arresting songs motivated by sincere, uplifting lyricism.
This ethos goes on to propel the sonic undercurrent of Ultraviolet, manifested in every bitter melody and delicate harmonic exchange, every coarse scream and crushing, dissonant breakdown. Across nine tracks and a brisk 34 minutes, Misery Signals set out to recontextualise the sound and aesthetics of their formidable back catalogue: the concentrated aggression of Mirrors (2006), the pre-djent technicality found on Controller (2008), and the brooding desolation peppered throughout Absent Light (2013).
Progressive hailstorm “River King” explores the Katabasis mytheme, reflecting on descent, death, and atonement, with Branden Morgan laying down a fusillade of concussive rolls and fills, as Ryan Morgan and Ross unfurl intricate licks and devastating riffage. Up-tempo cuts like “The Fall” and “Cascade Locks” barely contain the band’s restless energy, shifting naturally between time signatures, Johnson’s low-pitched rumbling, and Zaraska’s passionate delivery. There’s also the revival of “Sunlifter,” a previously released vinyl B-side, with a few subtle variations in the composition that yield dynamic results.
With its crashing, warbling bass bends, “Through Vales of Blue Fire” sounds like a Hans Zimmer remix of Explosions in The Sky, projecting glacial post-rock on an epic scale. “Redemption Key” is Ultraviolet’s “Worlds & Dreams” moment, held aloft by shimmering guitars, radiant atmospherics, and Zaraska’s clean vocals—helped in part by long-time friend and collaborator Devin Townsend. Meanwhile, album centrepiece “Old Ghosts” (sharing its namesake with Zaraska’s debut novel) steals the show with the most cathartic performance Misery Signals have created in over a decade. From the shuddering double-kick assault and precise guitar leads of the Morgan brothers, down to Zaraska’s yearning lyricism (“Dreamweavers/ Remember the fires?/ The battles fought under great fires?/ Dreamstealers/ Open your eyes/ Can’t you see that this is our time?”), the track feels like a full-blown 00s metalcore rager.
In a year as unpredictable and tumultuous as 2020, one would be forgiven for thinking that releases from the more extreme ends of the heavy music spectrum would revel in the chaos and lean into the darkness. While punk often steals the limelight by helping to ferment and sustain ideologies of resistance, plenty of great metal and hardcore albums have also been the direct result of tough times. And yet, in a move that will likely see them standing out from their peers and lesser contemporaries, Misery Signals have taken the polar opposite approach here.
Towards the end of “Difference Of Vengeance And Wrongs,” the closing track on their debut album, Zaraska’s vulnerable screams add a sense of permanence to that album’s redemptive tale of loss: “And in the end what I want/ Is a song that means what it says/ And I’ll show up in your life/ Singing the answers I wish I could find.” And while Malice continues to represent a genuine ‘lightning in a bottle’ moment for modern metalcore—existing in the genre’s greater pantheon as a venerated, era-defining classic—Ultraviolet helps to bring that search for answers to a close. On the album’s spirited closer “Some Dreams,” Zaraska’s final line isn’t filled with the sting of regret but lasting adoration: “I love you.” It’s a touching, earnest sentiment that also acts as a homage to the 7 Angels 7 Plagues track “Arcadia Fades”—echoing a similar reference found on Malice’s “Murder”—allowing the band’s ongoing themes of liberation and legacy to come full circle.
Rather than dwelling on the darkness, fixating on a world ensnared in never-ending cycles of political corruption, social unrest, and cultural stagnation, Ultraviolet is a record that turns firmly towards the light, successfully avoiding the pitfalls of relaxed nostalgia by charging confidently into a new, brighter future. It’s a hopeful record, one imbued with a renewed sense of purpose, impelled by an inner momentum of growth and relentless celestial optimism.
Purchase Ultraviolet here.