Album Review: AUGUST BURNS RED - Guardians
Artist: August Burns Red
Review by Jake Patton
When you reflect on the path and trajectory of the metalcore genre from the early 2000’s to now, it’s very easy to draw some parallels. Many notable acts from this era who saw success early on in their career have stayed at the front of the curve since then by innovating their sound and image as the years and albums have gone by. August Burns Red are one of these acts, and have embraced this notion of growth and adaptation throughout their career. This has seen their sound change from the more standard metalcore tropes of their earlier offerings into something which is more all-encompassing, and has seen the band collect two separate Grammy nominations as a result. This growth has ultimately culminated in their latest offering ‘Guardians’, which sees the band firing on all cylinders and releasing another world class album.
While I’m sure sounds quite cliché, Guardians is well positioned to become a shining light during the current global crisis. With so much uncertainty in the world at the moment, it’s always important to have something to look forward to, and an album which is steeply rooted in the notion of hope, and having someone in your corner during the hard times is certain to reverberate very strongly with fans at this time.
Musically, you can tell the band has taken massive inspiration from many sources with Guardians. Throughout its 11 tracks, there is a wide variety of soundscapes on offer, but all mixed with the same flair that August Burns Red are renowned for. There is a real depth on show here, with really heavy breakdowns, and delicate harmonic leads coursing through the lifeblood of the album. The band has self-professed that this is their most collaborative effort to date, and it’s easy to see why as each track feels like it has been cultivated with care from the ground up in a way which brings a cohesive diversity across the albums entire runtime.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of Guardians was its reliance on differing time signatures. From track to track (and even within the same track on occasion), the band has embraced a multitude of different time signatures. This diversity in timing, mixed with diversity in sound ensures that no two tracks are the same. This is perhaps best on display during tracks like Ties That Bind which gallops its way through several genres and time stamps, or Extinct by Instinct through its progressively-minded passages.
The individual performances of each band member are obviously key in bringing this sort of an album to life. While the vocal performance from Jake Luhrs, or the lead guitar of John ‘JB” Brubaker invigorate many of these songs, it was actually the rhythm section comprised of drummer Matt Greiner, bassist Dustin Davidson and rhythm guitarist Brent Rambler that impressed the most. Tracks like Defender, Paramount and Bloodletter simply wouldn’t work without the thick bass/rhythm guitar riffs of Rambler and Davidson, or Greiner’s percussive beats. Without the powerful platform that this trio had created, it would have been very difficult for these other elements to succeed, and the band has hit a home-run in that regard.
I really hope Brubaker had an absolute ball recording this album. There is so much to love about the different lead sections on almost every song on Guardians that it’s impossible to imagine it not being a joy to record. Album opener The Narrative has an almost haunted house vibe to its core riff, but then a track like Lighthouse adopts a more typical sound before Ties That Bind throws in an awesome tapping passage, and each part feels uniquely his.
Vocally, Luhrs has improved over his performance in Phantom Anthem. There is still a powerful fry to his vocals which really makes them unique, and his bellows when pulling off a more guttural growl are really remarkable. His performances on some of the later tracks, particularly album closer Three Fountains, is hauntingly good, and when you consider all of the band’s previous album’s this is easily his strongest offering. While there are times where the enunciation of the screamed vocals can become a little garbled—likely due to the layering done in production—this is a minor criticism and doesn’t detract from the overall performance.
Those few minor vocal blips aside, production quality on Guardians is impeccable. Somehow, the band has struck an incredible balance between its thicker rhythm sections and its more melodic leads which really accentuates all aspects of their sound. Normally this sort of balancing act sees one element overpower another and ultimately causes a track to never feel quite as cohesive as it could, but August Burns Red seems to have found the right balance across all of these elements. There were no occasions on Guardians where it felt like any element was out of place and it’s a true credit that the mix was perfected as good as it is.
All things considered, Guardians is what many people need right now. It’s an adventurous and uplifting album which demonstrates that even in the darkest of times, some lights can shine incredibly bright, particularly with it’s lyrical themes of hope and perseverance, which are sure to strike a chord with many fans. August Burns Red have created something really special with Guardians and as a result have continued on their well-established course of releasing incredible album after incredible album.
Guardians is available now via Fearless Records/Caroline Australia and on all major streaming platforms.