HEIRS TO THIEVERY: MISERY INDEX’S ANGER DIRECTED AT MORE THAN THE GOVERNMENT GETTING THEIR HANDS IN MEDICARE
The title track of Misery Index’s 2008 album Traitors was perhaps the first truly great anti-Bush song. Granted, it certainly wasn’t the first anti-Bush song (hell, Al Jourgensen decided to wrap up Ministry‘s career with a trilogy of albums dedicated to them), but most of the others felt like empty sloganeering even if their heart was in it. But something about “Traitors” hit home particularly hard, perhaps because instead of aiming white-hot rage at Bush’s lies and hypocrisies and his party’s Eisenhower-era morality, there was a weariness with it, a genuine disdain for decades of Neocon rule and the culture of “real America” that surfaced in its wake (bassist/vocalist Jason Netherton barking the final lyrics “and not through them defined by fucking flags on SUVs and Super Bowl half times” before chanting “traitors” for the remainder of the song). Instead of capturing the anger in the heat of the moment, in 2 ½ minutes, the band dig into the Earth to the root of their disgust through an incendiary metallic hardcore song. So, fittingly, Traitors was released a little more than a month before Bush was out of office for good. In theory, it was too little, too late. In fact, now that Bush has been gone for about a year and a half (and, sorry Keith Olbermann, but we don’t need any more anti-Bush songs), the song still has a feeling of relevance, like all good protest songs do from Dylan to Bad Religion.
The rest of that album, while by no means bad, was missing something that Misery Index’s best work — Retaliate and the brilliant EP Dissent — had in spades. The band’s staying power has been attributed to its balance of death metal brutality and hardcore looseness, literally metalcore or deathcore before either of them became dirty words. Traitors was too surgically precise for its own good; a friend of mine described it as “being a little too death metal than I’m used to them being.” And while they’re no stranger to death metal — the band, after all, were an offshoot of Dying Fetus, one of the best death metal bands there are and ever will be and don‘t you fucking forget it — when they veer too far into one direction instead of straddling the middle ground of several, they lose some of their punch. Which is what makes their latest full length — the fucking great Heirs to Thievery — so wonderful. The band are back to groove-inflected deathgrind, sounding loose and spontaneous while simultaneously precise and well-rehearsed. Though an excellent new album is always occasion to declare it “the best thing the band has ever done,” Heirs to Thievery, with the passing of time, could very well be that.
While the record finds the band back doing what they do best, it’s not like they’re not trying to break new ground as well. The mid-paced “The Seventh Calvary” slows the band down and gives them room to breathe, while “The Carrion Call” is nothing but Misery Index employing grooves 75% of deathcore bands would cash in their dads’ trust funds for. Little monkey wrenches like this are what make Heirs to Thievery a full-on front-to-back album experience. The problem with full-speed-ahead blasterpieces is that 35 minutes of full-on brutality can become desensitizing when taken all at once (which is why the Lord created the “shuffle” function on the iPod); the moments of variance — no matter how slight — allows bruisers like “You Lose” and “Fed to Wolves” to retain their impact. And this is a wonderful thing, considering that I could conceive of no greater crime than the brilliant micro-riff that anchors “The Illuminaught” to be lost in a hypothetical sea of blastbeats and barking. Even sprouting from another notable band, Misery Index have been around for quite a while, and thus they know what they’re doing and they do it well.
When Misery Index have been on, there’s an incredibly visceral appeal to their music. But at the same time, they’re not a skin-deep affair, either; simple but well-constructed, the band have making an impact down to a science. But this isn’t to say that they’re cold and calculated, either. Heirs to Thievery is an album of youthful energy with the introspection and forethought of maturity released a decade into their career, when most bands like them usually start petering out (when real-life woes, disenchantment with the road and their own leftist philosophies, and a dry well of ideas become an issue). But most importantly, it makes you want to put your fist through the back of someone’s skull. And despite George W. Bush being relegated to the professional speaking circuit and Crawford, TX, there’s still a world of corrupt, do-nothing Democrats, borderline-retarded Tea Partiers shouting about being overtaxed despite actually receiving tax cuts, Stalinistic immigration laws in Arizona, a completely preventable oil spill destroying the Gulf of Mexico for what will most likely be generations, and a populous completely powerless (arguably due to its own complacency) to do anything about any of it. We need a band like Misery Index just as much now as we did eighteen months ago. And if you’re a metalhead, you always need an album like Heirs to Thievery. Politics aside, not many bands do ferocious quite like Misery Index.
(4 out of 5 horns)