Live Review: Misery Signals

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On Saturday night, Toronto was treated to one of 2014’s most remarkable musical events. Misery Signals, known for the past decade as pioneers of the metalcore genre, took to the Opera House stage to perform their massively influential debut album, Of Malice and the Magnum Heart, in its entirety, with their original lineup (temporarily) restored. This would be the final date of the aptly-titled Malice X tour, and possibly the last time the five musicians would ever be seen together in such a context. This being the case, a palpable sense of urgency began to permeate the venue as the moment of truth drew near.

Opening acts Counterparts and Comeback Kid did an excellent job of setting the tone for the evening; the former were quick to point out that their signature melodic hardcore sound would never have taken shape had the members not been exposed to Misery Signals and Comeback Kid’s music. Given the great strides Counterparts’ career has made in recent years, selecting them as openers for the final dates of the tour felt like a very neat way of passing the proverbial torch to new generations of musicians and fans. Alternatively, Comeback Kid have been pillars of the Canadian hardcore scene for ages. Since guitarist Stu Ross comprises one fifth of the much-celebrated Misery Signals ‘04 lineup, inviting his current band to the date felt like a gesture of scene solidarity. By the time Comeback Kid pulled out “Wake the Dead” – arguably their most classic anthem – the show felt like This Is Hardcore: Toronto Edition, with a good chunk of the audience piling up for gang vocals and soaring through the heavens via stage dive. Energy levels were climbing fast, and they reached a pinnacle once the headlining act finally hit the stage.

OfMaliceWhen Misery Signals appeared and began playing the opening notes to “A Victim, A Target”, everyone in attendance was ready. This was, after all, an anniversary show. There was no element of surprise regarding which song the band might open with – in all likelihood, many attendees had already been rehearsing the lyrics in anticipation of this moment. Consequently, there was no hesitation from the audience when Jesse Zaraska’s distinctive screams began piercing the PA system – just sheer exhilaration. By this point, the attendant audio technician had worked out any muddiness or kinks, so the band looked and sounded like a beast from the get-go. The set’s sense of momentum and urgency would continue to accelerate, arriving at a peak during “The Year Summer Ended in June”, a song that undoubtedly occupies a special place in the heart of any Misery Signals fan.

Given the fact that this iteration of the band had not performed in roughly eight years, you might have expected them to sound a bit tired or sloppy. Such was not the case. Every rhythm was executed with precision and packed a serious punch, which made it a lot easier to become captivated by the performance. In fact, listening to Malice at home after the show now feels like a bit of an injustice, since these songs sounded so much bigger and more immersive when played live. I’m sure that insofar as technical proficiency is concerned, the band met or exceeded the expectations of all in attendance.

This momentous set would go on to feature numerous highlights. The Malice interlude, “Worlds and Dreams” sounded absolutely gorgeous live, and I thoroughly appreciated Zaraska’s shout-out to the CBC at the top of it. As a vocal supporter of the organization, I’m well aware that it doesn’t enjoy a reputation for being particularly badass. To hear a hardcore band that I’ve long admired shower it with praise on such an important night of their career gave this guy a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.

Other highly noteworthy moments included guest vocal appearances by Brendan Murphy and Andrew Neufeld (of Counterparts and Comeback Kid respectively), as well as the surprise appearance of Matt Mixon of the long-defunct metalcore act 7 Angels 7 Plagues. Since this is another band that shares a great deal of history with Misery Signals, this little treat made the evening feel even more like a giant celebration of the band’s legacy than it already had. If you’re a metalcore nerd who’s interested in the genre’s canon and/or evolution, this was undoubtedly the show to go to this summer.

Despite the fact that the members of Misery Signals (past and present) exude a punk ethos that demands a certain amount of humility, it’s common knowledge that this is one of the most important bands within the realm of quality hardcore, and it’s unlikely that the Malice X tour could have come to fruition unless the musicians involved were aware of their debut’s massive impact on the scene. To see Misery Signals embrace the sentimental value of Malice and play the record front to back a decade after its release was a truly special musical experience. The amount of love, sincerity, and scene solidarity that was abundantly present at this show reminded me why I feel such an affinity for this music, and why I remain an avid hardcore enthusiast while most people my age are popping molly at EDM concerts or camping in trucks at country festivals. Mis Sigs’ big gig was an absolute triumph, and proved that the band are still deserving of the heaps of praise that have been directed at them throughout their storied career.

 

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