Misery Signals - Controller (Cover Artwork)

Misery Signals

Controller (2008)


A hardcore band in 2008 has a lot to keep up with. As much as I hate having to type this word, "deathcore" is setting swooped hair a-fluttering and selling tons of records; macho breakdown bands like Emmure are somehow able to get wrestler Kurt Angle on their album cover; and the sing-y chorus thing refuses to die. For Misery Signals, this is an even bigger dilemma, as they have built their name by using difficult time meters and odd song structures. But their last album, Mirrors, showed a band maybe second-guessing their inaccessible ideas and smoothing a few edges, while still creating their strongest effort yet.

Now with Controller, Misery Signals are smoothing out even more edges, but producing a few less compelling results. Extended instrumental passages in "Coma" and "Reset" are pleasant but not interesting at all. It's the first time on a Misery Signals record where you could fall asleep for a couple minutes and not really miss anything, proof that melodic variety can harm rather than help. While Misery Signals have always meticulously crafted their songs, they just didn't quite fill their normal quota of memorable riffs. Most disappointing is "A Certain Death," the most underdeveloped song on here, but somehow Controller's first single. It barely cracks three minutes, and that's only because they draw out the final riff for too long.

"A Certain Death" also features the first melodic singing from vocalist Karl Schubach, a jarring experience to say the least. He sings even more on "Ebb and Flow." Schubach's singing isn't unbearable, but is probably unnecessary, since he got by just fine before this without it. He has also dropped his vocals to an even lower pitch than on Mirrors, taking on a more guttural delivery. Schubach sounds fantastic with this, but when it's happening in not-so-heavy parts, he's a bit out of place with the band, going at it too harshly.

Awkward moments aside, the moments where Schubach's roar does connect are everywhere. Far and away the best song on Controller, "Set In Motion" has superb guitar work from Ryan Morgan and Stu Ross, and ends with Schubach bellowing in urgency the command, "Burn it down / Burn it to the fucking ground / It's not going to stop," with the band providing a thunderous punctuation. It's a perfect summary of what Misery Signals can do. The previously mentioned lull in "Reset" gives way to "Homecoming," a devastating epic with huge riffs, closing the album with a succinct statement: "Within me, the spell is broken."

Every Karl Schubach lyric is delivered with passion, but I'm hoping that they really do break this spell of near compromise in their sound. All they need to do is be crushing, but still challenging. When they do that, they reign as maybe the best band of their genre, even if it doesn't sell them as many records. What do the kids know, anyway?