For Fans Of
I admit that I absolutely adore August Burns Red. I have loved this band for a very long time, and will likely love them for a very long time to come. I even considered them to be my favorite band of all time for a solid chunk of my high school years too, seeing them live multiple times and even meeting them several times. That being said, I found myself slightly disappointed by 2017’s ‘Phantom Anthem.’ While there was nothing particularly wrong with it, it did feel like a watered-down version of the August Burns Red that had been growing somewhat tiresome over the years. It’s no secret that August Burns Red hasn’t been friendly to the idea of change barring the instrumental adventures on ‘Found In Far Away Places,’ and for a time, they didn’t need to. But after hearing the ‘Constellations‘ sound with only minor tweaks and additions for five albums in a row, the timing felt right for August Burns Red to throw a wrench into their tried-and-true songwriting formula. So here we are in 2020, wondering if a new decade will bring in a new era for a longtime metalcore frontrunner act. And I knew from the moment ‘Defender’ dropped that something was a little different this time around. Turns out, I was correct in that assumption.
Before anyone goes too crazy thinking ABR are pulling a wild overhaul of their entire sound, think again. While ‘Guardians’ does bring about a refreshing change of pace for the band, it doesn’t stray too noticeably far from their usual niche either. In fact, many of the “new” elements brought into the songwriting on this record are actually continuations of ideas that we heard way back on 2007’s ‘Messengers,’ which will make older fans very happy. Though this LP is no “Messengers 2.0,” there are certainly a few songs that sound like they came straight from that era. For starters, the wonderfully riffy ‘Paramount’ has sections that sound almost like a sequel to ‘Back Burner,’ showcasing immensely catchy Drop C riffing and a crashing china cymbal that sounds straight out of a time machine. ‘Dismembered Memory’ follows this trend, with stupidly technical drum-work and punishing breakdowns.
This heaviness is a common trend throughout ‘Guardians,’ being one of their heaviest albums in years. ‘The Narrative’ wastes no time getting right into it, with iconic and memorable riffs and immense performance from menacing frontman, Jake Luhrs. I might even go as far as to say that this could be August Burns Red’s strongest opening track of all, beating out timeless classics such as ‘Empire’ or even ‘Truth of a Liar.’ As long as we’re talking about the heaviness on ‘Guardians,’ we also cannot ignore the absolutely massive ‘Bloodletter,’ which is filled to the brim with perfectly over-the-top chugs and massive breakdowns; pure ABR, baby.
However, despite ‘Guardians‘ being very heavy for a typical August Burns Red release overall, another noticeable addition on is the addition of the rare clean vocal section. Before core nerds get their pitchforks and torches, hear me out; all of these sections are well done and fit so well into their respective songs. ‘Bones,’ for example, features a soaringly anthemic chorus, which makes for an extremely memorable hook for the album’s pacing. Elsewhere, ‘Lighthouse’ showcases some of the most melodic sections that August Burns Red have maybe ever written, cementing itself as an instant classic in this veteran group’s catalog. ‘Ties That Bind’ follows close behind, featuring some big ‘Rescue & Restore’-sounding guitars and a huge breakdown to contrast the sonic beauty of the melodies. While not overbearing or gimmicky, these melodic passages appear just often enough to provide a colorful contrast to the devastating heaviness ‘Guardians’ displays.
Another wonderful quality to ‘Guardians’ is the impressive performances, with each member performing at their absolute peak. While trading over-the-top technicality for a more groove-based and rhythmic performance, guitarists JB Brubaker and Brent Rambler showcase unique chemistry that’s sadly, rarely seen in metalcore. Their back and forth six-string warfare on tracks like the exceptional ‘The Narrative’ shows how well they complement one another, and how their talents work together to create the very dynamic sound that this band is known for. The slow-burning finale track, ‘Three Fountains,’ allows bassist and key songwriter Dustin Davidson a chance to take the spotlight, with catchy, baritone grooves that propel the track towards an emotional conclusion. Matt Greiner proves why he is still undoubtedly the best drummer in the genre across ‘Guardians,’ with tracks like the fantastic ‘Defender’ seeing just how charismatic his scene-renowned drumming can be. Yet the real show-stealer on this record is the incredible Jake Luhrs, who pushes his vocal capabilities to newer, darker levels and territories on tracks like ‘Lighthouse’ and ‘The Narrative.’ Luhrs shows that there is nothing he cannot execute with perfection on ‘Guardians,’ revealing his most impressive vocal range yet.
The lyricism on ‘Guardians’ follows the concept of helping others and being conscious of the world around you. This is a theme that they maintain throughout the majority of the run-time, albeit with a wide array of emotions and angles. ‘Defender’ shows an honest need for someone to be there for you in your hardest of times. “I would do anything to make it through, but it takes two; one is me, the other is you” is one of my favorite passages on the entire record, mostly because of Jake’s emotional delivery. ‘Paramount’ follows a similar theme, with lines like “walking through fire, you have a friend. Stuck in a nightmare with a right to make it out. You have hope, you have us. We can put it all back together,” speaking about how surrounding yourself with the right people can help you through those trying times.
Heavier tunes like the pummeling ‘The Narrative’ take aim at those who wish to satisfy their own greedy needs at the expense of society, particularly politicians who will push any kind of false narratives they can to gain the votes of the masses. “You’re a thief of a different kind, one who preys on others fighting to stay alive,” roars Jake during ‘Bloodletter,’ which follows a similar lyrical theme. Ultimately, the lyrics over the course ‘Guardians’ is one of the more cohesive sets that ABR have written in years, uniting under the blanket of helping others and denouncing those who lack that kind of caring, empathetic attitude. Now more than ever, that’s what the world needs.
I found it difficult to find points of criticism, there are a couple of aspects that became apparent after repeat listens. With the quirky instrumental interlude sections that August Burns Red have become very fond of in recent years being almost completely gone here, some songs do have a hard time differentiating themselves. While on their own they make for some of the best songs on ‘Guardians,’ the three-song stretch of ‘The Narrative,’ ‘Bones,’ and ‘Paramount’ can start to bleed together and feel like one long metalcore song. This happens in other moments too, with ‘Dismembered Memory’ being a brief break from the fairly similar nature of ‘Lighthouse’ and ‘Ties That Bind.’
Also, whilst still very technical, the guitar work on ‘Guardians’ can come off as slightly simple for the esteemed likes of August Burns Red. What with ‘Bloodletter’ in particular being noticeably filled to the brim with repetitive chugging measures. Nonetheless, these minor flaws are few and far between.
‘Guardians’ feels like an album that was written for any longtime lover of August Burns Red. There is truly something for everyone on their seventh record, pulling influences from every previous era of the metalcore band’s history. In any other circumstance, I’d say that this was pandering and a cynical cash-grab, but no, it honestly feels as if August Burns Red is really enjoying writing music like this. You can hear the sheer passion and drive behind each song and every note played, and Jake Luhrs’ energetic vocal delivery is the real icing on the cake. This is the album that many people, the band included, have been waiting on for years. As someone who had slightly fallen off of the August Burns Red bandwagon of late, I am over the moon to say that ‘Guardians’ was a great reminder as to why this band is so wildly popular, and why I still love them as much as I do. I’m back on the wagon now!
Ties That Bind
Extinct by Instinct
‘Guardians’ is out April 3rd: