Released: 2006, Relapse Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Out of the new school of grind bands, the unheralded champion is Baltimore’s, Misery Index. On their second release, DISCORDIA, the band has mastered their socio-politically-charged lyrics, brutal vocals, blasting drums and speedy, technical riffing to such a finely-tuned craft that they are ascending to the classic realm of grind shared with the likes of Napalm Death, Repulsion, Carcass and Exhumed. Since their last full-length, 2003’s RETALIATE, the band has added second guitarist Mark Kloeppel to the lineup and Matt Byers has left the drums and new skinsman, Adam Jarvis, more than capably handles the sticks. In fact, the drum sound on DISCORDIA is so unrepentantly heavy (yet clear) that it leads the listener to instantly dispel any hesitation about Byers’ absence. Misery Index has also incorporated a more riff-based, hook-filled sound on DISCORDIA that was first explored on 2004’s DISSENT EP and may put off some fans but after one listen, it becomes apparent that this is a befitting approach. The brutality still lies within the death/grind/hardcore (no, this is NOT metalcore!) hybrid but as shades of melody peek through, it cements the band’s position as veritable musicians rather than just “head-down-and-go” purveyors of heaviness. If nothing else, Misery Index’s axemen have hit the books and learned how to craft more memorable riffs, ones that owe as much to blistering speed as they do technical precision or ear-bending hooks. DISCORDIA really benefits from a more group-oriented songwriting approach, too, as elder members Netherton and Voyles readily handed new recruits Jarvis (credited on all ten tracks, no less) and Kloeppel the reins and the results are as seething as ever, with the raging never stopping through the album’s 33-minute duration. Killer cover art aside, DISCORDIA is sure to place Misery Index among the crème de la crème of American extreme metal bands, a position they so rightly deserve.
The pummeling riffs of Sparky Voyles and Kloeppel jettison “Unmarked Graves,” while Netherton’s growling barks enshroud the darkly political commentary of his lyrics. Jarvis’ thunderous blend of blasting and precision here is jaw-dropping. The drums are right up in the mix and beg the listener to crank up the volume (trust me, it’s worth it). “Conquistadores” is an exercise in technical grind that many have tried to emulate but few have succeeded. Shifting gears from lightning-fast speed to a mid-paced rapturous groove and back again, this track showcases the skill that lies within the band members as they pull it off without flaw. Netherton really skewers consumerism with the brilliantly-titled “Outsourcing Jehova” (“From labor market hell, straight to well-worn shelves/Would Jesus shop at Wal-Mart if the crosses were on sale?”) and further opines on the American ideal of jingoism on “Pandemican” (“And through all our failed attempts/We still proclaim our opinions law”). The Yanks fare even worse on the aspersion to the ignorance to its own problems on “Breathing Pestilence” (“Brother, wave your trust in faith goodbye/When it’s man against man, the culture consecrates the code of spite”) but Misery Index has never minced words in getting its point across and they certainly don’t hold back here, either. The slow-building intro to “Sensory Deprivation” sets in motion a clean guitar riff and paves the way for a fast, diving solo from Voyles that offsets the savage riffs found in between. “The Medusa Stare” is perhaps the heaviest track on DISCORDIA and is relentless from start to finish. The guitar squeals and rolling double bass/blasting epitomize the sound of New York death metal bands like Suffocation, Immolation, etc. and show the band’s influences. The slow, lumbering title track is a real departure for Misery Index, its dark moodiness creating an uneasy atmosphere of impending doom that is radically off-kilter from the rest of the album but still feels right at home.
Fans looking for a continuation of RETALIATE’s no-frills grind will be shocked to hear Misery Index embracing death metal riffing and a much cleaner, fuller production on DISCORDIA. Behind Jason Netherton’s pissed off rantings and Sparky Voyles’ technically jarring riffs, DISCORDIA seethes like the kraken, waiting to pull the listener into the abyss-like depths of heavy metal. The introduction of solos and melodies does nothing to squelch the ten-ton wallop that Misery Index lays down and DISCORDIA could very easily end up as a benchmark album for new-school grind. The genre can be very limiting but when a forward-thinking band like Misery Index is allowed to push the boundaries and let its influences and musical skills shine, the result is an album like DISCORDIA, one that is a sure-fire bet to be on many writers’ minds when assembling their year-end “best of” lists.
KILLER KUTS: “Unmarked Graves,” “Conquistadores,” “Breathing Pestilence,” “Sensory Deprivation,” “The Medusa Stare,” “Pandemican”