Misery Index Take “Complete Control” Of Extreme Metal (Review)
Economists calculate the general well-being of a nation's citizens by combining the unemployment rate with inflation. This indicator of a citizenry’s happiness is called its Misery Index. In their 21 years on this earth, Baltimore's Misery Index has gone from a Dying Fetus spinoff into a fully realized apex predator at the top of the extreme music food chain—peddling a muscular melding of grindcore and death metal that is both ignorantly brutal, intricate, and thematically elucidating. The band’s seventh record, Complete Control, confirms Misery Index’s rightful place among Napalm Death as gods and masters of socially proactive grind.
This latest antifascist fusillade is refreshingly reified compared to the previous decade of Misery Index's catalog. The year 2014's The Killing Gods was a brief sojourn into more melodious and literary territory, while 2019's Rituals of Power felt more appropriately urgent and direct if a bit lacking in incisiveness. Complete Control combines the veteran blasters’ class-conscious vision into sharper focus to match their breakout Traitors (2008) and 2010’s highpoint, Heirs to Thievery.
Production on Complete Control is dynamic with a tight mix that highlights the band’s surgical synchrony while providing more space than the super-compressed sounding Rituals of Power. Mark Kloeppel and Darin Morris' guitar chugs sound like fully automatic nail guns loaded with railroad spikes, thanks to the added weight of Jason Netherton's bass. Leads and solos pierce through as class-war cries from the delicate foreboding start of "Administer the Dagger" to the divebomb and ensuing shred duel on "Now Defied!"
Powerhouse Adam Jarvis steals the show with his smooth fusion of extreme drumming styles. Whether hammer blasting through "The Eaters and the Eaten," straightforwardly double-kicking beneath the title track’s verses, or putting a little black metal skankiness on "Reciprocal Repulsion," Jarvis is always worth paying particular attention to. He’s never sounded better on a Misery Index record.
At their best, Misery Index feels urgent and vitriolic. Complete Control is like a burning freight train tearing across the rotting American empire casting light on black sites. These guys aren't the kind of burlap-wearing leftists memeing Marx on Tik Tok. This is old-school anarchy and, as such, didactic by definition. Netherton and Kloeppel have done their homework. From the beginning, "Administer the Dagger" engages rhetoric to augment its sonic assault, quoting Mark Twain to ask and answer "who are the oppressors?" and "who are the oppressed?"
Complete Control's vocals benefit from a revamped production style. More dynamics offer a more significant distinction between the two vocalists. On previous records, even as Kloeppel took on more of a co-vocalist with Netherton, it was hard to hear two voices as the production condensed both into a similar mid-range bark. Trading vicious proletarian barbs on "Necessary Suffering" and "Rites of Cruelty" and on "Infiltrators" when the two voices layer over one another, the distinction adds to an effective collective vibe.
Lyrically, Complete Control generally eschews metaphor for direct action and instruction befitting the moment. The band has skipped the mythological and literary overlays that were sporadically used on previous records in favor of more of the biting criticism that is more Misery Index's forte. Instead of interpreting Faust, the band calls out globalist disposable labor—"Shenzen suicides." They call the community to antifascist action with engaging hooks and arrangements. "Conspiracy of None" strikes at misinformative media actors with hardcore riffs proudly ripped off from 1990s bands like Earth Crisis and Quicksand. Misery Index have always been cross pollinators, and they have only gotten better at seamlessly integrating elements from punk and metal’s legacy.
Like the best manifestos, Complete Control is trim and well-edited. There really wasn’t a second of wasted or extraneous time in the just under 35-minute runtime. This feels like a release that will be looked back on as capturing a moment in history while also artfully zooming out to the timeless structures we’ll all be caught in for the rest of our lives—like Heirs to Thievery and Traitors before it. The album's sound is a refinement of what Misery Index has always been great at, amped-up extreme genre-melding that makes you want to bang your head and march through the street to the history section of your local library.
Misery Index is a band for the hellish news cycle we are all trapped in. Every phone vibration and passive glance at news media forces another disaster into the world. Anger and frustration seem to have burnt a hole into everyone we know. Anthemic death metal, socially aware, grinding, and punk as fuck is a kind of mutual aid and is what many of us need to engage with the overwhelming waves of endless pandemic, class struggle, and regressivism fueling our ever-inflating Misery Index.
Complete Control released May 13th via Century Media Records.
You can pick up a transparent red variant of the vinyl over at the BV shop