August Burns Red – ‘Guardians’

By Dave Stewart

If you’re a fan of metalcore, the chances of you already being familiar with August Burns Red are incredibly high. The Pennsylvania natives have spent close to twenty years going from strength to strength, pushing themselves to be better musicians on every single record and lassoing hordes of fans to rally around them with the results. They’ve made themselves a vital component of the genre, with tonnes of bands citing them as an influence and musicians all over the globe admiring their technical prowess on their never-ending quest for progression.

From their furious 2007 breakthrough ‘Messengers’ to the stunning 2017 album ‘Phantom Anthem’, they’ve transformed themselves from rage-fueled brutes into hard-hitting powerhouses, all the while keeping a firm grasp on a sound that is unmistakably theirs. 2020 sees them tighten that grip with new release ‘Guardians’ – their eighth full length album, their second release through Fearless Records, and arguably their most adventurous effort to date.

If you came here wanting to experience some classic August Burns Red moments, there are plenty of tracks that embody everything they’ve established over the last two decades. Album opener ‘The Narrative’ does a perfect job of setting the tone for the entire record, immediately showcasing the fine technical guitar work of John ‘JB’ Brubaker, Brent Rambler and bassist Dustin Davidson, the sensational drums of the legendary Matt Greiner, and the unmistakable passionate vocal delivery of front man Jake Luhrs. It’s fast, it’s complex, it’s heavy, it’s melodic – they’ve made their intentions for the record clear, and this is just the beginning.

‘Bones’ hurtles straight into frenzied riffs and blistering drums, only taking the occasional opportunity to relieve some of the pressure before reapplying it all without warning. ‘Paramount’ does something very similar, doffing its cap to the ‘Messengers’ era with unexpected tempo changes, ethereal guitar melodies and world-ending breakdowns. ‘Dismembered Memory’ sees every member of the band flexing their technical muscles, ‘Extinct By Instinct’ is an indulgent and delectable delight, fleeting between emotive and aggressive delivery at a moments notice, ‘Ties That Bind’ boasts their effortless ability to blend the beautiful with the brutal – there’s a lot to fall head over heels for here, and that merely scratches the surface.

If you’ve been dying for them to release something so heavy it makes you want to fold yourself in half, then ‘Bloodletter’ will have you head-butting your toes in seconds. Undoubtedly their heaviest track to date, it opens with a spine-tingling menace that slowly becomes more sinister as it builds towards a seismic finale. ‘Lighthouse’ puts vocal melody at the centre of the stage, injecting an anthemic infectiousness into the track as it continuously soars higher and higher. The star of the show, though, is ‘Empty Heavens’, a six minute epic that is possibly their most impressive song to date. It takes you on a beautifully turbulent journey as the lighter elements of their music battle the dark, like the sun trying to break through stormy skies.

This is yet another storming release to add to their already stellar back catalogue, but what did you expect? Everything that you’ve come to know and love about them is here bigger and bolder than ever – the smouldering riffs, the seething vocals, the mind boggling drums that make drummers everywhere want to rage-quit their instrument. Inject the welcome addition of more clean vocals to the mix and it hoists the music to an all new level, introducing an extra layer of melody to their already rich blend of tones. It’s not as punchy as some of their older records, but it doesn’t need to be. This is the perfect representation of how they’ve grown and what they’ve learnt over the years.

‘Guardians’ is a must have not just for fans of the band, but for fans of metalcore. August Burns Red are truly one of a kind and this record demonstrates that not only are they still growing, but they also still have plenty of tricks up their sleeves. If you don’t know them yet, this is the perfect album to get to know them, and then there’s plenty of homework to do. If you do know them, you’re going to love this.

DAVE STEWART

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