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Misery Signals - Absent Light[23rd July 2013]
[Basick Records]

01. A Glimmer Of Hope
02. Luminary
03. Reborn (An Execution)
04. Carrier
05. Shadows And Depths
06. Lost Relics
07. Two Solitudes
08. Departure
09. The Shallows
10. Ursa Minor
11. Everything Will Rust


Five years is a long time between albums for any band (except Tool, of course) but in the incredibly crowded sphere of metalcore, it is positively an eternity.

Milwaukee-based quintet Misery Signals had taken a few years out on hiatus and in the process lost a couple of long-standing members: guitarist Stu Ross  and bass player Kyle Johnson. However, Kyle has subsequently returned to the fold.

Upon regrouping, the band launched a crowdfunding campaign to bankroll the production of Absent Light. Fortunately for them, there were enough fans with long enough memories willing to contribute for the band to raise more than double their original, modest target amount.

With the album in the can, the band have subsequently found a home in the illustrious Basick Records roster.

Absent Light could probably be best described as a progressive metalcore album. The band have added some extra elements to the standard metalcore mix, like the liberal use of a string section and plenty of riffs that stray from the 4/4 path. But, unfortunately, it remains a rather unsatisfying listen.

The band have fallen into a common trap, in that “Luminary“, the first full track after a perfunctory introduction, is by far the strongest of the set. In fairness, it is a good song; it flows well, develops nicely and contains at least a couple of pleasingly lip-curling chuggy moments.

But the net effect of putting it at the top of the running order is that the remainder just feel like less successful variations on a very narrow theme. A sense of deja vu very quickly permeates throughout the album.

Nowhere is this felt more acutely than in the vocal performance of Karl Schubach. His roar is uniform to the point of monotone. Even his phrasing never ventures far from a less than inspiring template. This is at odds with the more progressive elements of the tracks, and passages that could be lifted by a vocal melody are instead dragged back towards a flatline.

As I say, there are a fair few quite pleasing riffs on the album, but there are also just as many that feel fussy and over-complicated. The individual riffs are also not well served by the songs they comprise.

The writing process, at times, feels like a Burroughs-esque result of chucking the riffs in the air and gluing them together in whatever form they landed. The riffs are rarely given space to breathe or develop, so the forward momentum that can make songs greater than the sum of their parts is often squandered.

A particularly splendid breakdown in “Departure” is not capitalised upon, string interludes appear with little relation to what precedes or follows them, and many of the tracks, rather than ending, seem to just….stop. The overall effect is that Absent Light feels more like a riff parade than a collection of songs.

We are given a glimpse of what might have been in album closer “Everything Will Rust“, where a guest vocal spot from Fredua Boakye of Bad Rabbits demonstrates how some much-needed melody can elevate a track, but it is a case of too little, too late.

Metalcore seems to be in broadly the same predicament as thrash was at the end of the eighties. It has painted itself into a corner and is running the risk of becoming a parody of itself. Absent Light contains some fairly brave attempts to break through the narrow stipulations of the genre, but they are let down by the over-complicated and fiddly songwriting, and the rather unimaginative vocals in particular.

This is something of a disappointment. With Absent Light, Misery Signals have proved they are more than your average beatdown-by-numbers metalcore band, but in being too conservative in some respects, and trying to be a bit too clever for their own good in others, they have produced an album that doesn’t convincingly hang together.


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