If there was one thing that I could pinpoint in my life that first attracted me to music, it would be the cathartic expression of hardcore. The distorted walls of noise, pounding drums, and anguished screams all pointed to something that I felt but couldn’t really articulate myself. Bands such as Modern Life Is War, Suffocate Faster, and Comeback Kid opened the proverbial door to a world where I was not only understood as an angry teen, but it also gave me the ability to adopt and embrace the bitter cynicism that I felt at that time. It ended up turning it into a positive, strangely enough; I would go to concerts and scream along with angry and disillusioned fans while not feeling so directionless and alone for a few hours. The raw power and unified feeling in the crowd just made me come alive, in a way that I couldn’t ever fully describe. As my life changed around me, I started down different roads in terms of musical exploration. Hip-hop, death metal, post hardcore, and ambient started to dominate my listening, yet I always kept an eye out for melodic hardcore bands that brought something unique to the table.
Pale Blue Light is an exercise in everything that I grew up listening to, with a smattering of different influences that elevate the album to a completely different level. Manners have created something that is depression personified; from the desperate howls of the lead vocalist to the startlingly black metal-influenced tremolo-picked guitar sections, the mood of this release is as varied as it is emotionally impacting. Album opener “Boiling Point” starts off with gorgeous guitar melodies and then veers into a mid-paced example of what can be expected throughout the album; somewhat raspy, screamed vocals with lyrics ripped straight from a personal journal entry. The thunderous double bass that rears it head on “Wallflower” is matched in intensity only by the plaintive screams of “I don’t want to be faceless, nameless/But I can’t stand to change this/So I guess I’ll remain this/The haunted and wasted”.
The intensity of Pale Blue Light never lets up; it is monolithic-sounding in that aspect. Even when the album takes a breather (beginning of “Equinox”), it never loses the dark undertone. There are plenty of heavy moments to be sure, but the inclusion of a bleak atmosphere is what gives this album such a personal meaning to the individual listener. As the last seconds of “Living Will” fade out, I can’t help but compare the feeling I am left with to the equivalent of getting to the end of your favorite book. You read through the book multiple times, not because the story within changes, but rather because different emotions and ideas can be taken from the same pages. This is not a perfect album in any critical sense, and many people will state that this is just another excellent melodic hardcore release. It’s imperfections is what speaks to me in a way that an album has not spoken to me in a very long time. The despondent lyricism doesn’t make me more depressed, but rather makes me feel like I am not alone when those thoughts tap me on the shoulder at night. In this case, Manners has succeeded in creating an album that highlights the harsh realities of life in a way that is addicting and endlessly listenable. Pale Blue Light is nothing and everything all at once; a not-so-gentle reminder that not only is life difficult, but that you are not alone.
1. Boiling Point
3. Family Portrait
4. Nothing to Fear
8. The Sun Won’t Rise
10. Living Will