I'm going to have reviewed more Armon Nicholson albums than there are Star Wars novels before the end of my reviewing career. With Misery, the second album from his Licrest project, we once again follow Armon into the depths of what seems to be a very doomed and depleted heart. Where death doom is concerned, this is far more on the doom side, with only the vocals and a few chug chugs breaking into death metal territory. The flickering death metal influences, noticed at random across the release such as in "I Want To Watch You Die" give some attitude to what otherwise is a platitudinous and disappointing follow up to the strong Devoid of Meaning debut. Even with the strengths here being once again the lead-work and melodic play, the rest of the album feels generally unfinished. It's a seventy-percent cooked release in my opinion, especially with other elements appearing momentarily elsewhere in short spurts and not being utilized to their full potential. Misery is more stagnant than Devoid of Meaning and it kills me to say so but with some new elements appearing, perhaps it is setting the stage for an impressive third release, where integration of Licrest's death-doom sound and the string sections, pianos, and atmospheres which fleetingly reveal themselves here, will be given a stronger compositional role in the arrangements.
In addition to being a bit stagnant, Misery also drifts in and out of being less grandiose and more petty. While the lyrics aren't available in the actual physical copy of the release, similar to Devoid of Meaning - an issue which I originally voiced concern over - Armon's growls at times border on crystal clear snarls and so when choruses such as "I'd rather die than make-up with you" or the very first verse in the very first song which informs us that "You make your suffering a fucking competition" come across as angsty, it drags the overall vibe of the release into the nether realms of amateurism. Sure, personality and a quality of individual passion are imbued, but the quality of that passion and that personality more likely than not would be perceived more in a negative manner by the audience. The lyrics throughout can be questionable but if you're critiquing the album as a window into Armon's life, maybe such insights would be important. I don't think that's the case in almost any situation though. The album can actually be viewed much like Fleetwood Mac's Rumors then: as Armon's break up album. Though I'm not too familiar with Armon's personal life, the album's contents suggest a tumultuous existence but I know that Armon is quite a nice and genuine person to chat with and makes some awesome home-made guitars.
Anyway, I would generally characterize the album as angry yet stoic. Musically, I found this Armon's most consistent effort of any of the projects which he has sent my way. While at it's most simplistic level, we have thick, generally slow doom death riffs that crawl at a pace not much faster than Ataraxie's average speed but some new sounds have also made themselves known. The first notable element is the clean vocals which appear in three of the eleven tracks but first show up in opening track "Regret." Throughout Misery we also hear much improved drum programming and percussion composition. Piano and strings show up in the interlude tracks "A Starless Sky" and "Fading Away Into Nothing" as well as the prologue, "Exhale." With these new components offering a large opportunity for depth in the arrangement, it's unfortunate Armon didn't take advantage. Generally, a lot of these songs sound similar. Incorporating the strings and the piano and some additional clean vocals (maybe) could break up the monotony of Misery a bit and help differentiate between songs. As an example, "Exhale" almost feels like it should be a full length track instead of an afterthought. It has a beautifully crafted introduction with the piano and it moves into some heavier riffs but feels like it should be more than a two-minute album conclusion. The faster moments at times sound like Dark Tranquility's Damage Done such as in "Forever Lost." A lot of the material is built around the concept of the 'grand chug' which is intended to be more powerful than these chugs actually are.
I think this is overall a step backwards for Licrest but it sets the stage for what could be a great leap forward by introducing new elements to the sound but not fully incorporating them. "Like a Flood of Anger," for example, has the most unnecessary usage of one of these new elements - the clean vocals - when they are stuffed awkwardly before a chorus section which would be stronger on it's own to contrast the earlier parts of the track. The clean vocals take away from the melodic hook of the chorus, by poorly cueing the section. The clean vocals here also sound strained and not entirely confident. This is one of the few moments where Armon's technical musical ability is not up to par. As far as the rest of the instrumentation goes, his guitar playing, bass playing, growls and drumming are all done extremely well. He's done a great job on the engineering side as well and though I liked the slightly harsher feel to Devoid of Meaning better the smoother guitar tone works well and, if some of the other instrumentation were better arranged here, the less aggressive tone would have created the feeling of a decently done death doom album with Gothic overtones, a tragic theme (were the lyrics much better), and maybe captured the ears of fans of Paradise Lost's mid 90's albums. A track like "Misery" with it's big harmonized central instrumental section would be served well with building it with additional elements like the string sections and piano. The additional textures would strengthen the impact of what is intended to be dark and beautiful and would draw attention to sections that deserve attention.
Armon got the consistency and sincerity right here, even if it was at the expense of the overall album. I'm looking forward to what is next for Licrest. I think it could be a top album given the contenders around it. Keys would be to maintain the strong foundation of death doom, work on maturing the lyrical themes and better investing in details to create a complete sounding album.