Misery Fatigue is the long-awaited debut EP from Wellington, New Zealand hardcore band Stress. The band’s spent months dropping hints and updates about their first recordings online, and recent live appearances have further stoked anticipation. However, truth be told, Stress’ debut isn’t what I was expecting at all.
First things first, it’s worth mentioning that Stress are a subterranean supergroup, of sorts, with members drawn from well-regarded bands like Spook the Horses, Akaname, and DIAL. (FYI if you’ve not heard DIAL’s self-titled EP, you should remedy that – it’s an AmRep-worthy classic.) Obviously, supergroups are generally appalling and you’d be right to wonder if Stress isn’t another uninspired and ego-driven disaster-in-waiting. However, the good news on that front is that Stress’ music is clearly fuelled by like-minded passion, not unwarranted hubris.
One thing’s for certain, every musician in Stress has a proven track record when it comes to forging strident soundscapes, which is why I was surprised that Misery Fatigue wasn’t as filthy or abrasive as I’d imagined it would be. To be clear (and fair), that’s not a criticism of the EP. It’s more of a reflection of my expectations, which weren’t unfounded.
The serrated guitars and dirty, cacophonous production of comparable NZ bands like Bridge Burner or Tuscoma mean their musical visions leach all sorts of harsh and ill-tempered noise. Stress sound fucking angry too, but their music is sharper and more surgical than it is caustic and jagged. That cleaner angle of attack surprised me, but it obviously won’t be an issue for plenty of other listeners. We all favour different sonic characteristics over others, after all, and while I was hoping for something more feral, Stress’ music is still unquestionably violent. What the band do well is give hardcore’s hackneyed tropes a very wide berth. Instead, Stress channel fierce shock waves of lyrical and musical intensity with a similarly nonconformist approach like their influences Breach, Knut, Converge and kin. It’s hybrid hardcore – like the dissonant chaos of Hexis, This Gift is a Curse, or Dödsvarg etc – with post-hardcore, post-metal, sludge and noise rock all mixed and mangled in stampeding maelstroms.
Misery Fatigue tracks like “Decay” and Judas” hurtle along at breakneck speed, with Callum Gay’s throat-shredding vocals (one of the most frenzied features here – and definitely a high point) cutting through the relentless riffs of guitarists Ben Dentice and Otis Chamberlain. “Strangelove” and “Hex” deliver unbroken barrages of vitriolic hardcore too, with pounding drums and bass, and “Hex” ramps up the corrosive undercurrents I crave.
The EP’s final punishing track, “Civil Gutless”, exhibits all of Stress’ greatest strengths. “Civil Gutless” is barely a minute long, but the razor-storm of grinding noise intensifies its high-pressured brutality with every passing second, showcasing all that Stress can be – volatile, ferocious, devastating. There’s a lot to like about Stress’ red-lining methodology, but as the band point out on their Bandcamp page, their debut was, “written, recorded and assembled ad-hoc and intermittently” in three countries over a 3-year period. The band also note that Misery Fatigue is “somewhat a Frankenstein” given it was constructed in parts, with limits on time and resources, over an extended period of time.
Truth is, you can hear all those factors at play in Misery Fatigue, and it doesn't sound or feel as raw or instinctual as much of the live-wire punk I generally feature around here. The EP certainly has crushing-sounding songs, but it’s no surprise to discover they were pieced together over a 3-year span. If that sounds like I’m suggesting Misery Fatigue is a letdown, that’s not the case.
Misery Fatigue is just very different to what I was expecting – and we’ve all been there before. The EP has its flaws, but they don’t take away from its tenaciously aggressive tenor. Misery Fatigue’s raucous ingredients also have plenty of creative potential, and the EP's savage fits of apocalyptic rage will no doubt appeal to both punk and metal fans.
Stress definitely deliver all the gut-punch hardcore they promised on debut. However, I have to admit, I’d love to hear further music from the band that’s recorded in a far more quickfire fashion. I'm a firm believer in the benefits of capturing raw intensity at its source, and Stress clearly have all the skills and passion to produce even more visceral and unhinged music.
No question, Misery Fatigue is a solid debut. Fingers crossed Stress make good use of their first EP's momentum for furious future gains.