By Sarah Kitteringham
CALGARY — The year was 2004 and Calgary was enjoying an all-ages scene of incredible strength and prominence that was simultaneously enjoyed and utterly battered by shithead kids. Toilets were frequently ripped from walls in venues, there was blatant drug use and venues closed one after another. Internally, there was a struggle in the strictly patrolled alternative scene between the emerging hardcore scene and the punk rockers/metal heads — much of said struggle took place on the Calgarypunk.org forums. For a teenager getting into local music, it was a confusing, yet elating time.
The highlights of that time are numerous: a show at Inglewood’s Queen Alexandria Centre where grindcore act, Ion Dissonance, laid waste to a crowd of moshing, sweat-covered revellers; legendary local death metallers, Thorazine, were playing their final gigs at the Carpenter’s Union and vomit littered the alleyways; there were gigs featuring Edmonton’s Bury Your Dead where attendees were silent (in accordance to the “Rules of Being Hardcore” posted on the aforementioned forum) and, if not, threatened with a beating; and perhaps the most enjoyable were the utterly insane gigs featuring Edmonton/Milwaukee quintet, Misery Signals. The band was young, furious and wounded. They formed from the dissolution of 7 Angels 7 Plagues, Hamartia and Compromise and their debut, Of Malice and the Magnum Heart, explored the pain of losing two former band mates to a drunk driver. For a young angry kid, it was a rallying cry, transforming relatable pain into catharsis. It was healing.
“I definitely feel like that’s an album that could have only could have come out of something like that. That is definitely a mode of working that only comes from trying to reconcile with something that is irreconcilable,” explains guitarist Ryan Morgan. Back in 2004, the band was compromised of Morgan, alongside vocalist Jesse Zaraska, guitarist Stuart Ross, bassist Kyle Johnson and drummer Branden Morgan. The band frequently played in Alberta, given that two members hailed from Edmonton, and their 10-track debut flew off the merch tables at every performance.
2014 tells a different story. Three original members remain and they’ve released three full-lengths since. Their sound has changed (or maybe, just the tastes of those listening to it have). However, Of Malice and the Magnum Heart remains the band’s opus, a metal album with hardcore, progressive and punk twinges that skirted the same genre-transcending lines as albums by Dillinger Escape Plan, Converge and The End. Produced by Devin Townsend, who also appears as guest vocalist on opening track, “A Victim, A Target,” the album displays Misery Signals at their peak.
“Like you mentioned, it was definitely an album that was important to a lot of people and, I think, none more than us,” he continues. So, on their 10th anniversary, the original lineup of Misery Signals is going on tour and playing all of it as a way to remember their fallen friends, to celebrate being a young, hungry hardcore band and, inevitably, catch up with and thank all their fans who’ve since grown into adults or simply grown older.
“That is a mode of making art, that despairing as it is, is something really special. I think under any other circumstance, the album would have been a lot different,” muses Morgan. “Better for worse, but I’m guessing probably for worse, because it touched on some really raw things that otherwise wouldn’t have been there, you know? So, it’s definitely a place and a time and a feeling all wrapped into it.”
What made it special for myself in particular is easy to recognize. The place was the now-defunct Warehouse, which was all ages depending on the show, along with the halls of Lord Beaverbrook High School, where girlfriends and I would listen to the album on our Discmans and discuss how perplexed they were to be receiving threats on then-popular networking site, Nexopia, for wearing a Misery Signals T-shirt in a profile image. The same group of girlfriends would go to every show and we’d scream along to the lyrics. Following the death of a junior high classmate, who tragically perished in the avalanche that claimed seven teens from the Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School in 2003, the album demonstrated that healing can come through ferocity.
“Like you said, it’s an album that affects people,” acknowledges Morgan. Rather than perform it with the band’s newest members, they knew the original lineup had to remain, particularly because vocalist Jesse Zaraska penned the lyrics. For later shows and recordings, Misery Signals will revert to their current lineup. But for now, “the other guys, Greg [Thomas, guitarist] and Karl [Schubach, vocalist], who were on Absent White (2013)…. Were cool enough to understand.”
So all the fans will be brought back to 2004 with the band, when they play a tiny, packed room. Many of the shows are already sold out, so expect a sweaty near-riot, complete with roars, riffs and rollicking beats. Whether that riot is set to you commemorating a time when the hardcore scene was peaking in Calgary, your favourite album or a lost loved one is perfectly acceptable. Just know that both those on the stage and those on the floor will be one in their nostalgic celebration.
See Misery Signals at Broken City on Thursday, August 14 with All Hail the Yeti and This is War.AB, Alberta, Broken City, Misery Signals