Review Summary: I would summarize this as Misery Signals' most dark release yet, which is good and bad. The bad part is the absence of Stu Ross and his resonating, punky backing guitars. On the upside, it is still classic Misery Signals thanks to Ryan and Branden Morgan
Every hardcore and/or metalcore band these days are in general, a carbon copy of just a few other great bands. Phil Anselmo said it best in his interview in front of the student body at Loyola University in 2009. He said that in the 90's, a band would take their favorite 10 bands and "rip em' off to all hell", but within that architecture, they will find their own sound signature.
He then commented that today's bands rip off their favorite 2 bands, and it just won't work that way. I think he hit the nail on the head. The metal industry today is, let's face it, a huge slew of amateurs with a few defining bands among them that are wholly original. Killswitch Engage, Opeth, Meshuggah, and Mastodon are just a few to name. Although being probably the absolute most underrated melo-hardcore/prog. hardcore band out there, Misery Signals is a name that stands atop all the rest as well. They have done something in the field of hardcore music that only bands like Converge or Shai Hulud had done prior. They were a product of a tragedy, as most Misery Signals fans know. They had an extremely potent start with a band called 7 Angels 7 Plagues. Eventually they split up and in 2002 formed Misery Signals with a new voice (Jesse Zaraska) and ridiculously fast, early Fear Factory-era type drummer.
Now, I'm not going to go through the entire Misery Signals catalog. This review is for "Absent Light" only. If you are new to this band and want to hear something life-changing, listen to their feature lenght debut, "Of Malice and the Magnum Heart", which single handedly revved their hype up past the stratospheric breaking point and blasted themselves front and center into the genre with ridiculous time signatures, heart wrenchingly honest and non-trivial vocals and lyrics that don't care about rhyming, just getting the pain expressed, and an insane symbiotic relationship between 2 guitarists (Stu Ross and Ryan Morgan). Just listen to the last 2 minutes of "Five Years" and you'll view that previous statement of mine with immense clarity.
Since that album came out in 2004, Misery Signals have released 3 more albums: "Mirrors", their most ominous and atmospheric-sounding release. Then came "Controller" in 2008, their second Devin Townsend-produced effort with beautiful production values (even if a bit over-produced) that was their heaviest, crushing effort to date, and now, after a five year hiatus which had many fans believing the band was finished, the extremely dark and progressive "Absent Light". I would call this the culmination of everything they've done so far, but Stu is no longer with the band, so they couldn't come to complete fruition. Nevertheless, new back up guitarist Gregory Thomas does a fantastic job filling that position. This album is almost structured lyrically and musically with a dark and deep arch, one about something personal to singer Karl Shubach and Ryan Morgan, whom co-writes much of the lyrics. Lyrically, it is their most personal effort since "Malice". Musically, they pummell you with time signatures that your brain has trouble computing even after 5 listens through, which is a testament to the synergy between brothers Branden and Ryan Morgan, the former being drummer and the latter lead guitar, if you want to call it that.
Misery Signals doesn't write long, bland, and aimless guitar solos, or over-concentrated and watered-down breakdowns. No, they are true professionals and musicians. The musicianship in this offering, which includes subtle orchestral pieces and gorgeous xylophone-induced euphoria in "The Shallows", which includes one of the best song endings of their career, is musicianship that even the most seasoned veteran heavy bands would bow down to. I'm not going to break this entire review down song-by-song because it's better listened to as a whole. It begins with "A Glimmer of Hope" and ends with "Everything Will Rust". The album is much like a David Lynch film. It enthralls you with it's dark beauty, blows your mind with complicated breakdowns that jump so quickly back into a linear song structure that your head will spin, and has at times goose bump-inducing melody that grabs you by the throat and never lets go.
Is this the best album of their career? It's too early to say. I think the absence of Stu caused Misery Signals to lose a little bit of themselves because he and Ryan had such beautiful chemistry (Just listen to "Sword of Eyes", "Five Years", "The Stinging Rain", or "Labyrinthian") that can never be replicated.