22 July 2013
by Tom Doyle
It’s been some five years since Misery Signals last committed their distinctive brand of melodic heaviness to record. While much has changed in their particular corner of the musical landscape in that time, the anticipation for Absent Light is still, if not at fever pitch, then certainly at a simmering summer sweat. That the band’s star remains as high as it has in their half decade of absence is in no small part due to 2008’s Controller being a masterclass in textured, expansive, intelligent metal, conceived with the loftiest of ambitions and executed with a finesse that few have matched before or since. Yet, as with all prodigal sons, there are questions over the impact time apart will have – will Absent Light herald progression or a stoic adherence to the templates of previous glories?
The answer to the second of those questions becomes apparent quite quickly once you hit play on Absent Light. The Milwaukee quintet have refrained from too much self-reinvention, instead opting to stick to their dexterous style of metalcore which allows the twin fulcrums of Ryan Morgan’s melodic fretwork and Karl Schubach’s bellicose roar to shine. The relationship between these two elements is crucial to Misery Signals’ appeal, and throughout these eleven tracks they are balanced to near perfection. Opener ‘A Glimmer of Hope’ offers a precis of what is to come with a deft and warm-toned opening solo guitar, leading inevitably into the sort of call-to-arms vocals that’d inspire plenty of mosh pit veterans to come out of retirement.
Elsewhere, the twinkling opening bars of ‘Carrier’ launch into crisp and layered riff work that brings to mind the likes of Hopesfall and Shai Hulud, topped off with a frenzied and euphoric final third which is enough to get even the most hardened cynic fist-pumping with glee. ‘Shadows and Depth’ is a superlative example of how to combine musicality with heaviness in a manner more inventive than a mere dumb two-dimensional juxtaposition, while ‘Lost Relics’ cranks up both the pace and chaos to startling effect, its “YOUR TIME WILL COME” refrain in particular a genuine pulse-quickener, whether it’s your first or fifteenth listen.
Yet perhaps the most astonishing thing about Absent Light is how well balanced it is over its entire duration. The second half of this album is at least as strong as the first, with penultimate track ‘Ursa Minor’ especially bringing the sort of melody to the table that the band have often hinted at being capable of. The only possible gripe is that such ambitious rise and fall is not realised with the widescreen aplomb that having Devin Townsend behind the desk lended Controller, but it is a far from insurmountable issue when the level of songwriting, arrangement and musicianship is so very, very high.
Listen to a stream of the entire of Absent Light by Misery Signals:
Despite such an extended time away in a music scene that seems to shift minute-by-minute rather than year-by-year, Misery Signals have returned with an album that feels ferociously modern yet archetypal of their sound. Even though it has been a long time coming, it would be wrong to describe Absent Light as a comeback – it is merely a brilliant continuation of everything that made the band exceptional in the first place.
Sounds Like: Hopesfall, Shai Hulud, It Prevails
Standout Tracks: Ursa Minor, Carrier, Lost Relics