A decade has passed since the release of the first TIMES OF GRACE album, but chief protagonists ADAM D and JESSE LEACH have the unassailable excuse of having been otherwise occupied with a resurgent KILLSWITCH ENGAGE during that period. In truth, this was always a low-key project, at least in the sense that it seeks to explore the darker limits of Leach's lyrics and, as showcased on debut "The Hymn of a Broken Man", a more purposefully esoteric and adventurous musical approach than that high-profile day job arguably allows. The difference between the first TIMES OF GRACE record and this, its long-awaited follow-up, is immediately and abundantly apparent, however. Where the debut seemed to take the KILLSWITCH blueprint as a starting point, infusing that familiar sound with elements of post-rock and grunge, "Songs of Loss and Separation" goes the whole way, stripping the vast majority of recognizable ADAM D guitar tropes away, and replacing them with a fluid but focused hybrid of glowering, gritty alternative rock and shimmering, post-everything melancholy.
At their most accessible, TIMES OF GRACE could be mistaken for SLIPKNOT in dark balladry mode: Leach's voice is a revelation throughout, but most notably on the album's more overtly radio-friendly moments, brooding alt-country opener "The Burden of Belief" and the bittersweet "Bleed Me" among them. But it's the moments when superficially simple ideas suddenly explode into vivid, multi-layered splendor that mark "Songs of Loss and Separation" out as a significant leap forward for this extracurricular endeavor. "Far From Heavenless" is gloomy as hell, but epic and weirdly uplifting too; with Leach lost in a poetic reverie, as cudgeling, mid-paced riffs conspire to heighten the drama, amid a scintillating slow-build of widescreen dynamics. "Medusa" is brilliant too: constructed around a monstrous, mutant blues metal riff of ZAKK WYLDE-like hugeness, and blessed with a soporific, slow-motion swagger, it's like some ingenious, heartfelt upgrade for the skewed doom of "Dirt"-era ALICE IN CHAINS, with Leach's scabrous roar as a welcome bonus. Most affecting of all, the closing "Forever" takes TIMES OF GRACE to sun-blasted desert plains, encapsulating the morbid drift of all that's gone before across six minutes of wonderfully melodic but terminally angst-ridden melodrama.
The downsides to all of this are that "Songs of Loss and Separation" is remorseless in its tear-stained tonality, and that Leach's earnestness occasionally becomes overwhelming, even if his sincerity remains unquestionable. Fortunately, the songs are nearly all of such quality, and so emotionally fitting for these turbulent times, that even sneering cynics might struggle to keep the tears in.