he misery index is an economic indicator derived by adding the unemployment rate to the inflation rate. Jimmy Carter and John Kerry cited versions of the misery index for political purposes; ironically, the misery index under the former was the highest for all US Presidents. Despite rising health care and gasoline prices, the misery index now isn't technically that high. Perhaps a better measure of American misfortune would be the new Misery Index album: a sharp, concise 33 minutes of discontent.
Misery Index arose out of one of metal's finest socially aware bands, Dying Fetus, whose Destroy the Opposition was a landmark synthesis of death metal, grindcore, and political rage. Vocalist/bassist Jason Netherton and drummer Kevin Talley left Dying Fetus in 2001 to form Misery Index, with guitarist Sparky Voyles likewise switching allegiance soon after. After a series of EP's and lineup changes, the Baltimore-based band released its first full-length, Retaliate, in 2003. The Dying Fetus roots were obvious, but the songs were more compact and the lyrics more literate. The linchpin of the album was drummer Matt Byers, whose blistering, seat-of-the-pants drumming recalled Dave Lombardo on Slayer's Reign in Blood. Three years have passed since Retaliate, and expectations run high for its follow-up.
Discordia doesn't disappoint, although it departs from what made its predecessor successful. Death metal and grindcore elements are still present, along with dollops of thrash and hardcore punk. What's new is a sense of melody. The riffs are newly hummable, a change similar to what Neuraxis did on last year's Trilateral Progression; songs are based on hooks now instead of pure brutality. The result is songs that are more memorable. The tremolo-picked riff in "Dystopian Nightmares" is catchy to the point of perkiness; "Conquistadores" operates likewise, but balances melody with a heavy, chugging breakdown.
This is not to say that Misery Index has gone soft—far from it. Adam Jarvis' drumming is jawdropping, just in a different way than Byers'. Like Byers, Jarvis is blindingly fast, even by metal standards. But Byers was like a runaway train about to jump the tracks, whereas Jarvis is controlled and precise. Even as he unloads one amazing fill after another, one gets the sense he doesn't break a sweat. The band follows suit with a tight, well-oiled attack. Appropriate to the new Misery Index is new production values: the sound is polished, clear, and heavy, with satisfying bottom end. The drums are a little on the compressed side, but then again, that seems to be standard in metal these days.
Of special note are Netherton's lyrics. His death growl is a strong lower midrange that's enunciated enough to reveal syllables but not enough to reveal words. That's where the lyric sheet comes in. "Unmarked Graves" decries passivity in the face of genocide: "And the world stood watching / Regret, nausea, and rage / 'Never Again' was the phrase / Lest not our conscience we betray / As we stood passive in our guilt." "Outsourcing Jehovah" takes on globalization and consumerism: "From labor market hell, straight to well-worn shelves / Would Jesus shop at Wal-Mart if the crosses were on sale?" The most haunting protest comes from "Breathing Pestilence": "Ghosts in concrete veils, haunt Katrina's winds / Gasp, as charcoal air fills lungs as black as tar / And they drown…" It's a shitstorm out there, and Misery Index is the soundtrack.