At times, the Chicago-based rock quintet Absentstar might as well be Nickelback. Much of their major label debut Sea Trials favors the muscular emoter song-type that Chad Kroeger and company have consistently parlayed into chart-topping gold. The elements of this template are predictably familiar: restrained verses, histrionic choruses fueled by power chords, and overheated bridges. The opener “Half Life” zealously follows this course, complete with lead singer Derek Ingersoll’s schlocky musings: “Before you give it away / You gotta take a little back / Find another way”. “Don’t Lock Me Out” shifts from quiet to quaking and back even more bombastically as Ingersoll again strikes earnest notes.
Absentstar live and die by this kind of heavy-handed drama. Too often Ingersoll plays the emotionally damaged and desperate role. He and his bandmates are best on the offensive, when they trade sanitized production for dirtier textures and rev up their inner angst. The highlight, “Life Support”, would have been a seamless fit on My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade: the crunchy buzz of its throwback riffs, the dark rhythm, and Ingersoll’s elastic vocal. With its similarly grinding guitar-work, “If You Like It” is a solid companion piece, even if the calmer passages should have been axed. The lesson for Absentstar is clear: they need to tone down the wounded everyman shtick and paint their drama black.