For the better part of two decades, Misery Signals have been one of the most influential and innovative acts in progressive metalcore. On their forthcoming album, Ultraviolet, the Canadian-American outfit are entering a new era with the return of their original founding line-up from 2004’s genre classic Of Malice and the Magnum Heart. We asked vocalist Jesse Zaraska and lead guitarist Ryan Morgan to walk us through their fifth LP with a track-by-track rundown of the group’s lyrical and creative influences.
- “The Tempest”
Jesse Zaraska (JZ): “The Tempest” is partly about my struggles with mental health, partly about my brother’s struggles with mental health, and partly about my friend overcoming the death of his mother. On a broader scale, I would say that it is about overcoming hardships and finding a light at the end, but it is those three situations that mostly informed the writing.
This was a piece that the band liked early on, and one that we all had faith in, so we worked super hard to get it right. It is one of the more positive pieces on the album lyrically speaking and a piece that sort of set the tone for a lot of what would follow. I believe that it is something that we should be putting out into the world during these times.
Ryan Morgan (RM): Often we put ourselves through pain and damage by chasing after achievement. There is a pressure to not be stagnant, to be out chasing a goal. And it’s not only external pressure, much of it we create for ourselves. At the time I wrote this, I was putting massive pressure on myself to work harder, without even knowing what I was working toward. I’ve since found many other people that drive themselves to suffer in this same way. This song is about finding the balance between aspiring for things, which can be good and necessary, and beating yourself up unnecessarily.
- “River King”
RM: Control is a theme we’ve touched on in a few previous records, and here we grapple with it again. Mortality and the passage of time are totally outside of our control and, as we age, they weigh heavily. The copper coin reference nods to ancient Romans who would put a coin in the mouth of their dead, believing [that] it would pay for transport across the river Styx to the underworld.
- “Through Vales of Blue Fire”
JZ: This was one of the final tracks written for the album and one that took a fair amount of toying [with it] to get right in the studio. We thought this was our opening track for the longest time, but in the end we questioned having an intro-style piece to open this record, after having a similar style thing starting off Of Malice and the Magnum Heart [album opener “A Victim, a Target”]. Because I wanted to start the record off with the lyric, “Let this bring light,” and because this was to be the first song on the record, I used that lyric here. When we decided that “The Tempest” would open the record, I messed around with the lyric in both places. In the end, I liked it in both places and could not decide which to axe, so they both remain.
The ‘muses’ line (“muses sing with me”) is one of the oldest bits that I wrote for this record, as it is something that I’ve had in mind for many years. I believe that the use of ‘vales’ comes from listening to too much T. Rex as a kid. The working title for this was “Through Ghosts and Blue Fire,” or something similar, but [bassist Kyle] Johnson axed it as he saw it as [being] too similar to Zao’s Where Blood and Fire Bring Rest (1998). He was probably right. This was one of the pieces that I worked with Dev [Devin Townsend] on in Vancouver during the first vocal session, and he kills a few vocal bits on this one. We feel very lucky to have had him involved.
- “Old Ghosts”
JZ: “Old Ghosts” is about the band getting back together after having been apart for so many years. I draw upon places of importance and musical works that were important to us in those early days.
I mention Elver Park, which is a park near the Morgan childhood home in Madison, Wisconsin, that we hung out in a lot when we were young. I make reference to a section from Poison’s “Cry Tough” (“Remember the dreaming nights, the start of it all”), as that was a piece that Jeff [Aust], our original [rhythm] guitar player, listened to a ton when we were starting the band. I then basically plead with the guys to reunite (“Dreamweavers, remember the fires, the battles fought under great fires. Dreamstealers, open your eyes, can’t you see that this is our time?”). I think that the use of the word ‘remember’ is of note/importance here, as it was a word that held great weight in “The Year Summer Ended in June” and because it is always a great word to use in lyrics.
The title is something that has been spinning around in my crazy head since I was a kid. I believe that I first heard the term when a neighbourhood kid had a Vision ‘Old Ghosts’ skateboard. The name stuck with me, and I eventually released a batch of short stories under the same. When it came time to write this song, the term kept coming up, and though I resisted using it as a title for a while, in the end it just felt right. Norah Jones also has a great little song [using] the same [phrase] that I highly recommend.
- “The Fall”
JZ: There are a number of references and allusions to Icarus [from Greek mythology] on this album, and the title of this one touches upon that. On a grand scale, it is about getting too close to the Sun and allowing your ambitions to get the better of you. On a smaller scale, it is about people of importance to me that got too involved in bad things, things that either brought about their end or about the end of what they once were. My great friend Mckenzie Lahaye does some great high backing vocals on this one that I really love.
- “Redemption Key”
JZ: This is one of my favourite pieces on the record. Ryan [Morgan] wrote the majority of the music on this one, and I remember thinking that it sounded like a film score the first time I heard it.
This one contains the most clean singing that I’ve ever done on a Misery Signals piece, so I was a little intimidated when I first brought the ideas to the guys. This was another of the songs that I worked with Devin on in Vancouver, largely due to the fact that I was a little freaked out about doing it. Dev helped a ton and the time we spent out there brought about this piece and a lot of the clean sections that you hear on the album. I also brought in our old pal [vocalist] Jeff [Radomsky] who plays in a great band from Vancouver called Neck of the Woods to help us out on the end of this one.
- “Cascade Locks
JZ: This is the most hardcore song on the record, and one that reminds me of With Honor or Propagandhi. That said, it also contains an intro that is likely going to be something that folks [who] adore “Worlds and Dreams” and that side of the band will be excited about, so it is pretty varied musically speaking.
The title comes from an area in Oregon that had a terrible fire while Ryan was backpacking nearby. It was the working title throughout the writing process and, in the end, worked really well with the lyrics that I brought to the table, so we kept it. There are a lot of references to water on the record and this is one instance of that.
Ryan came up with the title for this one and also wrote some of the lyrics, which are partly about surrendering to larger momentums that come into our lives. Specifically, in the creative process, letting things happen and getting out of our own way, which was difficult in making this record, working with a group of very different people that hadn’t written music together in over a decade.
- “Some Dreams”
JZ: This one examines regret. It is mostly about my wife and I moving away from my little brother Liam when I got my first teaching job, but it is a piece that a lot of people will likely relate to. Out of university we ended up accepting jobs that were ten hours away from home and, due to this, I saw my little bro a lot less than I had hoped for. So, this one examines those regrets/mistakes.
I think there is some “Cats in the Cradle” going on here and I think this is a piece that a lot of people that work away from their family will relate to. When Liam was born, we were just starting Compromise and one of the pieces on the last EP, “Liam,” is about his birth and the impact he had on me. This song references many of the lyrics from that Compromise song, and questions whether I lived up to my words there.
These are some of the most heavy lyrics on the record for me. Anyone familiar with 7 Angels [7 Plagues] might also notice the last line of the record. This is a line I questioned for a number of reasons, but one that I’m happy ends the album. I remember hearing Grade for the first time and thinking that it was strange how he was screaming about love in the way that he was. As a young naïve metalhead, I thought then that it was heavier to scream about hate and sorrow. Though it is harder to make great heavy metal about love, it can be done.
Pre-order and purchase Ultraviolet here.