Punk-metal fusion isn’t exactly new. In fact, headbangers have been co-opting punk’s stripped-down aesthetic since Reagan was popping jelly beans in the Oval Office. Yet few have combined death metal and D.I.Y. with as much aesthetic success as Baltimore’s Misery Index. Without a doubt, the trio has chops to burn, but let’s talk lyrics first: There’s nothing on the band’s new Retaliate that would impress anyone who owns, say, a Stephen Malkmus album; the disc’s goodness lies in what the lyrics don’t do. There are no corpses, no serial killers, no evil deities. Instead, there’s just good old-fashioned punk-rock pique. Can’t stand post-Sept. 11 zealots? Good. Neither can the guys in Misery Index, as they make perfectly clear on “History Is Rotten”: “As patriots empowered/They coronate themselves/Breed us on their lies.” And then there’s the anti-racism song, “Angst Isst die Seele (Fear Eats the Soul),” which bassist/vocalist Jason Netherton had the good sense to base on one of Fassbinder’s best flicks: “Outside the world keeps turning under the sun/While inside a soul is boiling over.” Obviously, there’s nothing fancy going on here. But also nothing that makes me wish Retaliate were all instrumental. And speaking of instruments, there are only three of them—which keeps the songwriting nice and tight. True, there’s plenty of room for inefficiency within any power trio (see: Cream), but Misery Index doesn’t mess around with wanky solos or song structures (see: Motörhead). Every muted power chord, minor-scale countermelody, and sludge-piercing pick squeal serves the forward momentum. Listening to drummer Matt Byers’ sheets-of-sound blast-beats on “The Unbridgeable Chasm” or six-stringer Sparky Voyles’ guitar-shop-champ fret runs on “Bottom Feeders” makes it clear that these guys could do whatever the hell they want. That they choose to keep things simple and direct is what separates Misery Index from the death-metal masses. —Brent Burton