“I don’t blame you / We all give up eventually,” Karl Schubach screams, cracking like a whip over a combined melancholy assault of guitars and strings. These lyrics, taken from the opener to Misery Signals’ long-awaited latest album Absent Light, perfectly set the tone of the entire album.
Misery Signals is a metalcore band based in Milwaukee, formed in 2002. Up until the release of Absent Light, they had been on hiatus since 2009. Through Indiegogo, they raised $100,000 to record a new album. The large amount of money might sound surprising, but it’s important to realize just how integral Misery Signals has been in the development of the immensely popular metalcore genre and how critically lauded their previous releases have been.
Metalcore is a genre that fuses the aggression of metal with the breakdowns and energy of hardcore punk. Misery Signals is among the progenitors of the genre, predating the likes of Killswitch Engage by two years. Misery Signals has always trafficked in a near perfect balance between hardcore and metal, albeit with its own twist of positivity and abrasive melody.
One of the greatest strengths Misery Signals boasts are their complementary music and lyrics. Schubach’s lyrics are always worth listening to, and the production on the album, along with his surprisingly intelligible delivery, means that the listener need not read along with the music (or listen to it hundreds of times) as one must do with many metal albums in order to understand what exactly is being said. Schubach poetically touches on topics ranging from very personal struggles with friendship, changing personalities, the fallacies of life, the sad state of the world, the hypocrisies of religion, death and- on the song “Carrier,” which might be the most intense and heart-rending performance on the album – the effects of rape on its victims. It all adds up to a bleak mosaic of a person struggling to find the light, the “glimmer of hope…sailing against the sorrow,” in a world gone dark in so many ways.
This darkness can be felt in the music. It wavers from overtly positive, almost pop-punk riffs (the otherwise dreary “Carrier”) to grungy, almost Pearl Jam-esque riffs (“Two Solitudes”) to intense metal assaults and entire orchestral arrangements. Because of this sonic variety, none of the tracks ever become stale or overstay their welcome. Every progressive flourish fits in nicely with the extremely tight songwriting. Of course, songwriting is only half of the musical puzzle, especially in a genre like metal, which prides itself on technical skill.
The instrumentation on Absent Light is somewhat restrained and subtle, showcasing the songwriting without being flashy. The entire album only has one guitar solo. Perhaps the most impressive performance on the album is that of drummer Branden Morgan, who flies all over the kit throughout numerous musical styles. He even gets a chance to flex his improvisational muscle on “Reborn (An Execution)” and “Two Solitudes,” giving the music an almost jazzy feel. The guitars and bass of Ryan Morgan, Gregory Thomas and Kyle Johnson don’t stand out beyond the songwriting department, which is definitely not a slight. Their moderation, songwriting ability and dynamics are what make the music great.
The only real gripe to be had with the album is that Schubach’s vocals grow repetitive over the duration of the album’s 42-minute runtime. Thankfully, this problem is largely averted by sections of instrumental music and the three guest spots on “Carrier,” “Lost Relics” and “Everything Will Rust,” including the wonderful and soulful vocals of Fredua Boakye of disco/R&B revival group Bad Rabbits.
Despite the melodic nature of Misery Signals’ style, this is not an easy album to get into. It can seem incoherent on the first few listens but with several listens it becomes incredibly cohesive. Thank goodness Misery Signals came back to show the masses how metalcore is really supposed to sound. As of now, they are rightfully the torchbearers of the genre.
4.5 out of 5 stars