Review Summary: Taking energy from their previous works, Misery Signals have succeeded in giving fans something akin to Of Malice and the Magnum Heart and Mirrors while bringing in new ideas to give a truly delightful album.
Five years ago Misery Signals released their third album, Controller
; it would go on to become another seminal release in the metalcore genre though not long after its release the band entered hiatus and was all but dead. The state of the band only worsened when founding members Stu Ross and Kyle Johnson both left the band. Fast forward to early-mid 2013 and the band announced their IndieGoGo campaign, after a few years of little activity, to raise money to record and produce their fourth album, Absent Light
. During the aforementioned campaign the band kept mostly quiet but had a few videos floating around that were taken by friend and former 7 Angels 7 Plagues vocalist Matthew Mixon. Even just his involvement in the record was sure to keep fans intrigued and anxious for the coming release. Misery Signals on Absent Light
Karl Schubach - Vocals
Greg Thomas - Guitars
Ryan Morgan - Guitars
Branden Morgan - Drums
Kyle Johnson - Bass
When you begin the album and the sounds of "A Glimmer of Hope" begin to bring you into the album you get this great feel that this is really going to be something
. The song definitely starts out quieter and calmer than any previous opener for the band. As it progresses, Karl comes in with his trademark growls and also there is an orchestral arrangement that fits perfectly with the vibe of the song. It is then abruptly cut, one of the albums few faults, to start into the second track and first single, "Luminary". The track excellently gives a taste of what's to come, but what the listener probably won't expect is the speedy delivery of the track. It is easily one of Misery Signals' fastest and most punishing tracks. Closing out the song is a by-the-books breakdown that leaves no survivors. The highlight of the song is easily drummer Branden Morgan's extreme talent, he is constantly pushing out intricate beats and showing everyone his incredible ability. He is known for practicing constantly, even while on tour he has been known to practice for four hours a day. His dedication to his craft is surely shown in "Luminary".
What is still present in the band's sound are strong melodies backed by nice dynamics. Ryan Morgan still has a niche for providing melody in even the heaviest of tracks. The biggest reason why Absent Light
is easily recognizable as a Misery Signals album is the chemistry of the Morgan brothers. Their knack for easily working together and fleshing out ideas leads to the bands unparalleled flow and organic sounding progression in the songs. Greg Thomas stated in the first video done by Matthew Mixon last summer that, "They have what we call the 'Morgan Mind-Meld', where they just understand each other with absolutely no communication at all." Despite the Morgan brothers doing what they do best the album still feels fresh and new. This may be due to newcomer, Greg Thomas or their unwillingness to become irrelevant. I feel most listeners would believe it to be a combination of both. To hear one of Greg's contributions to the album see mark 2:40 in "Shadows and Depth", it presents the victim with a relentless riff only to be continued into a churning passage that keeps building. This style of riff is scattered throughout the album and without Greg I do not believe we would have heard any guitar parts of this style as they were simply never present in any Misery Signals songs beforehand.
About halfway through the album, at track six we have "Lost Relics" which was the second single from the album and features guests vocals from Todd Mackey of With Honor. The song touches on subjects of greed and martyrs, with lines such as "Warning themselves by the ashes and embers of martyrs//Martyrs that they never understood" and "Far too consumed by the allure of wealth to be concerned for the backs on which they stood". The album as a whole touches on quite a variety of subjects, some philosophical or religious, others are more personal, dealings with death and dying. Lyrical quality is high as for the norm on Misery Signals records, though like Controller
, some of lyrics can be a bit abstract.
As we begin track nine, "The Shallows", we are instantly punched in the face with drop-tuning guitar riffage and ferocious drum beats at a frightening pace. Thirty seconds into the song we are presented with a very tasteful guitar solo(something only once heard before in the Misery Signals discography; see "Homecoming", the last track on Controller
), that is backed by a stuttering rhythm to lead into one of the albums finest moments. Punishing rhythm work below an intricate melody accompanied by Karl's roaring vocals blast throughout your given listening device with stunning force. The song continues into a quieter section that features percussion from Ryan and Branden's father, Rick Morgan. His percussion really adds quite a lot of depth to the section making it a very impressive transition from loud to quiet and back. "The Shallows" is without a doubt one of the strongest tracks on the album and is likely the best representation of the album as whole. At this point in the album you really get the feeling that Morgan Bro's & Co, have done this one perfectly. They have progressed enough to make things interesting and fresh while keeping enough of their previous sound to keep previous fans happy without writing anything remotely stale.
In "Ursa Minor" we are given another taste of Karl Schubach's delightful clean singing. The track begins similarly to "The Shallows", albeit with a more hardcore vibe, it then expertly transitions to a clean pseudo-jazz section that features his singing ability. "Ursa Minor" unfortunately is the first track where we really get a good feel for the bass playing on Absent Light
. Before the track it is hard to tell what Kyle Johnson is actually doing because he is mostly inaudible, save for a few moments, though he does have a stellar performance on "Carrier", "Ursa Minor" and "Everything Will Rust". The album was produced mostly by guitarists Ryan Morgan and Greg Thomas, they have done a pretty solid job though leaving a bit to be desired after the crystal clear and crisp production done by Devin Townsend on Controller
. The production is not as raw as Of Malice and the Magnum Heart
, not as clear as Controller
, but thankfully not as bad as Mirrors
. One last complaint about the production, in particular the drum engineering; is the china is not as crisp and detailed as could be and the kick drums are overly-compressed leading to a somewhat plastic sound. Though the production is not anywhere near bad so it does not impede the album's overall score.
Overall the album is pretty much everything the typical Misery Signals fanboy could have wanted. Especially after five years since their last effort. It perfectly meshes sounds from all their previous works while bringing in new elements to make a truly superb album. Where they lost former guitarist Stu Ross, they gained Greg Thomas who certainly brings some new and exciting ideas to the table that has expanded the bands sounds in more ways than one. The album is as spastic and unrelenting as their debut Of Malice and the Magnum Heart
, while being as heartfelt and beautiful as Mirrors
. As far as musical content goes it isn't that similar to Controller
, but it takes clear production values and a few other things such as larger shifts in dynamics and use of other non-rock instrumentation from it. If there is anything to be learned from Absent Light
, it's that Misery Signals aren't going anywhere and they are as alive and kicking as ever.