It only dawned on me recently just how long Misery Signals had been gone when I got my hands on this record. I remember blasting Controller, their last record from 2008, back when I was in high school and metalcore was still a thing that was relatively new to me; but even then I was familiar enough. At the time, odd-time signatures and key changes were a thing I had yet to experience with a band of this magnitude. MS never really closed the door after their hiatus and restructuring, only opening one long after they had reconvened and assessed what they were really about.
Enclosed in the pretty packaging and somewhat vague album title are songs with the same gritty flair of years past, but with a production polish that only guitar players Greg Thomas and Ryan Morgan can attain with such conceptual understanding of their material. The record hits hard right where it needs it, and in other locations, steps back from any cliché that could be wildly overthrown. The “heavy vs. soft” argument is immediately invalidated after five minutes of this record, as single “Luminary” is as destructive as ever, biting heads off after an onslaught of breakdowns. It rings both familiar and chaotic for this band, but has enough technical and ambient prowess to silence any critic. Huge and unwavering, each song is identifiable, but it will take a few listens in order for them to do so. This calling card is typical MS, and that is where their only flaw lies. Rather than reinvent themselves like many bands feel called to do, they decided to pick up right where they left off, except the energy that may have felt stale before is freshly energized and invigorating – no matter where it lies (“Two Solitudes,” “Carrier,” “Departure”).
As in any standard format, where bands like MS stand out is with their ability to write outside of any harmonic comfort zone. Although this isn’t anything new for the band, stretching limitations is necessary and challenging to balance catchy and conformity with dissonance and asymmetric dynamics.
Post-rock airiness and symphonic character are rampant on the record, but mostly in rather undistinguished ways (“A Glimmer of Hope,” “The Shallows,” “Shadows and Depth”), from slippery guitar melodies that rise and fall in wavy reverb to the individual notes that seem to only appear distantly in the back of the mix, purposefully, in both senses of the word. Righteously, though, with contrast being present in many tasteful examples, MS are also at their best with a clean buildup over a ridiculously heavy breakdown that allows time for the right parts to settle into your brain before you assert your steering wheel with the finger-tapping menagerie it deserves (“Lost Relics,” “Luminary,” “The Shallows”).
Lyrically, the poetic nature of Karl Schubach’s lyrics are hard to follow concisely because of the fronted nature of his topics; whether they are concerning death or solitude, they can be rather ambiguous, likely for good reason. This duality of self-awareness and expression sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. On tracks like “Ursa Minor,” where he is painting rather vivid imagery (“Sleeping beneath the sleet/Palms to the dirt/No lunar glare to mark our course” ), it flows with ease, while on others like “Reborn (An Execution),” it can be rather tedious to decipher. There are also several guest vocalists on the record, whose contributions are different in size but are greatly appreciated nonetheless. The feeling of wholeness is very much alive throughout the record, and it makes more and more sense as it works its way around to the end.
By the time the closer “Everything Will Rust” has gently poked its head, the peaceful melody that accompanies it has all but sealed in that Misery Signals have not lost the spark they once had. In other words, the Absent Light has returned. Their role in music is as important as it ever was, and the few discrepancies that are there are quickly outweighed by the many positives. In that idea, the door was never really closed, and it is all still familiar – with a new light perhaps, but certainly not absent.