Brent Rambler takes us back to 2009 & August Burns Red’s ‘Constellations’ ahead of their October Australian run where they’ll be performing it in-full.
Listening to ‘Constellations‘ now ten years after it’s initial release, it definitely sounds like it came from that 2009 era of metalcore; breakdowns and all. However, August Burns Red’s much-loved third album still holds up well by modern standards; it’s stood the test of time more than most other metalcore records. Misery Signals‘ ‘Controller‘, Underoath’s ‘Define The Great Line‘, Parkway Drive’s ‘Horizons‘, I Killed The Prom Queen’s ‘Music For The Recently Deceased‘, and Bleeding Through’s ‘Declaration‘ are all good releases that hold up very well now, and ‘Constellations‘ is no exception.
This is all because it’s got great songs to it’s name! ‘White Washed‘, ‘Meddler‘, ‘Indonesia‘, ‘Thirty and Seven‘ – all bangers! Time will pass, but the awesome tracks that litter this satisfying LP still persist; they still mean so much to so many today. From the wicked songwriting and song structures, to the killer performances that each member delivers, it’s a special release for not just many August Burns Red fans, but for the larger sub-genre too.
Hearing from rhythm guitarist Brent Rambler on a rainy day in the States during a 24-hour downpour, I learn straight from the horses’s mouth about what he personally loves about ‘Constellations‘ ten years after the fact; both lyrically and sonically. Because as I’m told, in a retroactive sense, this LP actually became the gateway, the road-map if you will, for August Burns Red moving forward into the band that we now know them as.
“For me, it’s the start of what would really come to sound like August Burns Red ten years later. ‘Messengers’ was obviously just such a balls-to-the-walls record, and then we put out ‘Constellations’, and it has elements that you can see in us now. Like more instrumental songs and having more parts to our songs too. ‘Constellations’ is our best selling record of all time, and it was great to see people be more accepting to a slightly different sound from us than they were used to at that point in 2009. I still have such a personal connection to it.”
Much to admiration of fans around the world, August Burns Red are taking ‘Constellations‘ and it’s dozen tracks to many different regions, from America to the U.K. with the band hitting Australia come October in-between. (Thanks Destroy All Lines!)
This album tour is all for the fans, and that means the band must do their best. Which also means there’s one key thing on the collective minds lately: practice, practise, practice! Especially given the fact that songs like ‘Crusades‘ have never been played live before. Funnily enough, all of this rehearsing has actually shown Brent that what he and lead guitarist JB Brubaker wrote a decade ago still gives them a run for their money.
“Obviously, I’ve been practising this record on guitar a lot lately, and it’s still fun but also challenging to play to this day. It’s still fun for us, to get to play the songs live as we wanted them on-record, as we rarely get to do that outside of this touring scenario. It’s so cool to see bands doing album from start to finish, hitting all of those deep cuts. That’s the other thing that I look back upon fondly: that we wrote all of this ten years ago and it’s still difficult now. Because it’s a little bit outside of the box and there’s not always things that would go how you think; there’s weird changes across the record and things you have to think about it. But this stuff really helped get us from where we were, to where we are now.”
Even to this day, the trickiest part on the album for Brent remains the full-length’s second track, ‘Existence‘. He tells me why.
“So there’s this part in ‘Existence’ that’s just a weird pull-off riff about halfway through, after the first big breakdown [1:23 onward]. It’s like a tongue-twister of a riff; a finger-twister. One thing that’s odd about ‘Constellations’, and I only noticed this as we’ve been rehearsing it lately for this upcoming tour, is we do these backwards pull-offs. Where if you’re looking at the neck of the guitar, the pull-offs start at the higher fret, then you’re going down to a lower fret and pull-off. And that’s not really a common thing. You’re normally going in the reverse direction, as we also do over this record. But that specific riff in ‘Existence’ is just laden with them, and it’s filled with “okay, I’m pulling off this way, and now this way, and then when I come back, it’s gonna be a little bit different“.”
“I remember JB and I were going over it on our last tour, and he said “Ugh, there is just so much to remember!” Which is exactly how I felt too. It’s a long part, everything is different, and you’re constantly going in directions that you don’t expect to be going in on the fret-board. That riff is quite the twister!”
Well, at least it’s only the second song. Once he hits ‘Oceans of Apathy‘, then he’s in the clear!
Brent laughs in agreement when I bring that up. “Most people would think ‘Oceans…’ would be the difficult one. But sometimes, the things that sound super easy aren’t all that easy, and the things that sound really hard often aren’t all that hard. ‘Existence’ is a great example of that.”
When it comes to the messages offered in ‘Constellations‘, there’s a lot of thoughtful, positive view-points presented to the listener. There’s discussions of over-coming mental hurdles and self-doubt with ‘Thirty and Seven‘; “your mind is a mountain before you“. There’s reflections of modern day religion and how a church in of itself isn’t sacred on ‘Existence‘; “the walls of a church do not make it holy/it’s what’s authentic that completes the sum of its parts“. And there’s talk of loss and impermanence on ‘Crusades‘; “as the days go by, it’s getting harder to hold my head up high” and “I used to think I’d last forever.”
“Lyrically, the songs are great too” reflects Brent.
“That was one of the first records that I had any personal involvement in with the lyrics. There’s a lot of lyricism that hits close to home, that are quite deep. It’s fair to say that it still means a lot to me. It was a really big moment,” he states.
The guitarist still has a real connection to this record, especially ‘Crusades‘, which is a major point of anxiety for him heading into this tour.
“‘Crusades’ was written about something else originally, but then my grandfather passed away two weeks before we went to the studio to record. To me, the end of that song with the clean guitar, always felt like a funeral march. So I went away and wrote some more original parts and brought it back to the band, saying: “I know we already had the lyrics for this but can we change it to this?” The band loved it and were happy to change it, as it still fits the song really well. I was even saying to my wife that we’ve never played ‘Crusades’ live before, and now we’re touring this album, so I don’t know how it’s going to go for me. It’s about my grandfather dying and now I’m going to play it for the first time ever on this album tour. That’s a big personal part of it for me.”
However, the album also has it’s harsher, more pointed moments; more angry and bitter lyrics that Brent still feels to this day.
“‘The Escape Artist’ and even ‘White Washed’ are two of the most scathing songs I’ve ever written lyrically. Just the other day, after maybe 12 plus years, I randomly saw the guy that I wrote ‘Escape Artist’ about, coming out of a beer store with a six-pack. As I’m leaving, I see the guy that I wrote this song about just walk into his car and drive away. I just thought: “oh my god, I haven’t seen you since high-school and I wrote this really scathing song about you.” But it resurfaced feelings about why I wrote that song in the first place. And I still mean it, I still felt it.”
Personally, I always viewed ‘The Escape Artist‘ as the band trying to communicate that starting off a conversation or a debate with hatred and ire towards the other side won’t accomplish anything. It’ll just be a stand-still of opposing opinions, no one budging or really listening. But as it turns out, that’s not really the case. Thankfully, Brent extrapolates a little on how ‘The Escape Artist‘ was first born.
“The guy I wrote it about was always extraordinarily religious. And a lot of that song is about one of the best people that I know who wasn’t religious, where he came up to them – and the exact quote is insane – and this guy said: “Man, it’s such a shame that you aren’t religious, as you’re such a good person but you’re still going to hell.” Just point-black said that to them and I was standing there with my jaw on the floor. So that’s where the whole song came from. That line, “Your mouth is like a grenade, blowing everyone away” is me saying that what he just said won’t turn anyone onto anything he says or believes in.”
“So when I saw this guy the other day, I thought “Yep, still don’t like ya!“”, laughs off Brent.
One of the big stand-out tracks from ‘Constellations‘ is ‘Indonesia‘, a song that hasn’t gotten the live stage limelight all that often for the band’s tours. However, there’s also two versions of it: the original album version which features Tommy Giles Rogers from prog-wizards Between the Buried and Me doing clean vocals, and then there’s the Interpunk 7-inch vinyl version that has no such guest spot. (A release that also, oddly enough, comes with ABR covering NOFX’s ‘Linoleum‘.) So how’s it going to go on when this world tour kick off?
“Well, it’ll all depend how well Dustin [Davidson, bass] can sing it live or if we get one of the support acts to come out,’ says Brent.
“When we play ‘Ghosts’, Dustin does Jeremy McKinnon’s part live. If he can hit the notes, Dustin will do it. If not, we’ll do that alternate Interpunk version. But we’ll see. I have faith that Dustin will be able to do it!”
As some will know, August Burns Red love their video games – that recent Zelda theme cover proved this. Yet back when ‘Constellations‘ came out, rhythm-based games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero were all the bloody rage. Well, until they all suddenly died out in the early stages of this decade after a heyday in the late 2000’s. In fact, ‘Marianas Trench‘ was actually one such track that players could find on Rock Band 2’s downloadable playlist, and as Brent tells me, it was a very cool thing for the band at the time… even if he couldn’t play the song itself on those plastic instruments.
“I remember just thinking how cool it was that I could go onto Rock Band and download one of my own songs to it. But then I remember playing those kinds of games, and thinking: “this is now how this works at all“. The common thing with musicians is that if you’re good at guitar or even drums, then you may not be able to play those games well. Like, I couldn’t even play my own song on it! When the beats come in the game, they’re a little bit early, so that if you’re not used to the song you can anticipate them. But if you’re used to the song, you’d hit the note early, and you’d get those horrible dud, chunking sounds, like you’ve completely missed the mark.”
One thing that’s striking about ‘Constellations‘ when compared with ‘Messengers‘ (which they toured heavily for it’s ten-year anniversary in 2017) is the contrast in mix and production. ‘Messengers‘ is just so full-on all of the time, it never lets up and it’s so loud. It’s almost too much at times and for me, that aspect hinders the song by the end of the record’s run-time.
‘Constellations‘, on the other hand, is the total opposite, which is why I enjoy it more. It’s a smoother, tighter and more well-balanced mix, for the most part, and it isn’t trying to punish your ears at every goddamn turn. Produced and mixed Jason Suecof (with Devin Townsend doing some additional mixing) and with Troy Glessner mastering the release, it’s a better representation of the band’s overall sound. As Brent more or less puts it to me, it’s not an ear-endurance test like it’s predecessor was.
“So, those records were done by completely different people but I do agree with you. On ‘Messengers’, there was a frequency in that mix that is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It’s a piercing frequency that made the cymbals sound like they were at the fore-front of the recording. That’s why it really stands out, and that was great for us, as ‘Messengers’ just sounded so cutting. Then ‘Constellations’ was a more balanced, well-rounded mix; to sit down and really listen to the record. Whereas ‘Messengers’ was as aggressive as possible. It’s like, “how much can you take of it in one sitting?“.”
“That’s the difference, and it’s nothing we did specifically, just that we had two very different producers working with us for those records [Tue Madsen produced and mixed ‘Messengers’].”
When I retrospectively look back on ‘Constellations‘, it’s still a more consistent, enjoyable listen than most metalcore records released since between 2009 and 2019. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if in another ten years, it reaches full blown classic status amongst the heavy music community. It’s not just a solid, defining moment for August Burns Red as a unit, but it’s a massive deal for legions of fans around the globe; a cover that’s been inked onto the skin of die-hards more times than one could count.
It’s my second favourite ABR LP, closely sitting behind 2015’s ‘Found In Far Away Places‘, a record that most likely wouldn’t have been possible unless ‘Constellations‘ paved the way six years prior. This is a record so good that the band who made it are lucky enough to be able to tour it in full across America, the U.K., parts of Europe, as well as us here in Australia. Ten years after it first hit shelves, no less. Time is the ultimate reviewer, the final judge, and if this upcoming tour doesn’t tell you all you need to know about ‘Constellations‘, then I don’t know what will. See you all there.
“Everyone together, we’ll strengthen ourselves“.