• Rating: 5.5 / 6



Believe it or not, progressive metalcore bands are hardly a dime a dozen these days, especially those worth listening to twice. Arguably Between The Buried And Me were the first band to marry hardcore to progressive metal, what with their chaotic but still quite original self-titled debut²⁰⁰² followed by an even more progressive The Silent Circus²⁰⁰³ which had inspired the genre explosion from which August Burns Red had emerged with their Christian representation on their Thrill Seeker²⁰⁰⁵ debut which was followed by Messengers²⁰⁰⁷ and Constellations²⁰⁰⁹. If you’re wondering about the band’s name, some attribute it to a horrifying story about former lead singer Jon Hershey’s ex-girlfriend, August, setting fire to his dog house, while his dog Red was in it, in likely retaliation for the break-up. The often told story ends with the newspaper headlines reading “August Burns Red” and the band taking their name from there. However, searches of newspaper archives from Lancaster, PA from 1989 to 2005 do not show that any such article was written and the whisper is, of course, that the story came from the band member’s imaginations because it was more outlandish than what really happened, but I always had a simpler theory that August, being (as it happens to be at the time of this writing) a very hot summer month, often, well, burns red, especially, if you forget to apply sunscreen on your body. In any case, I think it’s one of the best sounding names in metalcore, a genre where bands often have more than one word in their name but too often their name makes little sense. As for August Burns Red the band, it frequently changed members losing Hershey even before the debut, and Josh McManness and Jordan Tuscan later and then throughout Leveler²⁰¹¹, Rescue & Restore²⁰¹³, Found In Far Away Places²⁰¹⁵, Phantom Anthem²⁰¹⁷ and Guardians²⁰²⁰ (not counting the Christmas album August Burns Red Presents: Sleddin’ Hill²⁰¹²) which had solidified the lineup as lead guitarist John Benjamin “JB” Brubaker (lead guitars), Brent Rambler (rhythm guitars), Matt Greiner (drums), Jake Luhrs (lead vocals) and Dustin Davidson (bass) before this, their 9th original album, Death Below²⁰²³ released on March 24th. Meanwhile, what can be said with certainty about August Burns Red Anno Domini MMXXIII?

For starters, 9 or 10 albums into their 20 year career August Burns Red (henceforth: ABR) maintains the progression of their past accomplishments and infuses their music with more hooks and melody than ever while driven by some seriously Panteric riffing with a diverse sound that can additionally be described as having elements of Killswitch Engage (the most, if only for the guest vocals of Jessie Leach on the perfect “Ancestry”), Darkest Hour in the first song proper “The Cleansing” or (the dormant since 2013 but strongly rumored to be gearing up for a come back) God Forbid from IV: Constitution In Treason²⁰⁰⁵ (Tightrope, Backfire) as well as melodically death metal Omnium Gatherum or In Mourning style or even Malice²⁰⁰⁷ Through The Eyes Of The Dead sounding (Backfire), again melodeathly a’la Dark Tranquillity (in “Tightrope” with guest Born Of Osiris guitarist Jason Richardson), Lamb Of God (Revival), The Black Dahlia Murder, As I Lay Dying and Unearth (Deadbolt), with the deathcore of All Shall Perish (The Abyss, featuring JT Cavey from Erra and Texas In July) or Chimaira (Dark Divide), all of which are known as excellent song writers so ABR takes from the best influences in that department. Jake Luhrs’ vocals may not stand above the usual screaming metalcore standard operating procedures but his cleans are a pleasant addition to the table particularly in “The Cleansing” (where they resemble Darkest Hour’s John Henry’s) and the Opeth-ian closer “Reckoning” but that could just as well be due to Underoath’s Spencer Chamberlain guest singing on the latter. Dustin Davidson’s bass is a monster, especially on the fantastic “Tightrope” and “Dark Divide”, the weirdly jazzy melodeathly “Fool’s Gold In The Bear Trap”, the unnerving Fear Factory keyboard-driven “The Abyss” as well as the masterful closer “Reckoning” and he works seamlessly with Matt Greiner’s drums particularly engaging on the excellent “Revival” (the ending sync practically the perfection of Dino Cazares and Raymond Herrera on Fear Factory’s Demanufacture¹⁹⁹⁵), the huge tom tom like “The Cleansing” and on “Dark Divide” (with the main riff very similar to Killswitch Engage’s “Life To Lifeless” or even Killswitch Engage’s protoplast Aftershock from “Impenetrability” and, interestingly, guitar squels recalling late 90s nü metal like Factory81 no one remembers) for an excellent sounding result. And then there’s the magnifiscent guitar duo John Benjamin “JB” Brubaker and Brent Rambler whose performance ranges from absolutely amazing to virtuosic, especially on “The Cleansing”, “Tightrope”, “Revival”, “Dark Divide” and “Reckoning”. On a 53:53 long album, of the 12 tracks, 2 are instrumentals, 3 are arguably perfect (Ancestry, Dark Divide, The Abyss), and 4 are excellent (with “Tightrope” very close to perfection it may just be perfect) and the production absolutely slays, true hardcore where hardcore, true metal where metal, all of the above leaving very little to complain about.

While almost all tracks deserve at least a 5/6 score there is one track which is comparatively almost a filler, “Fool’s Gold In The Bear Trap”, almost an instrumental but eventually with vocals, brimming with unrealized potential a’la Haven²⁰⁰⁰ Dark Tranquillity but prematurely expiring into the excellent “Backfire”, so short it would have made more sense as part of either its successor or its predecessor, “Tightrope”, which may also explain its comparative inferiority, it being sandwitched between two near perfections. And, on that note, what’s up with those instrumentals, anyway? Whereas I can understand under certain circumstances (which will be revealed momentarily) why the opening spoken word instrumental “Premonition” and the first song proper “The Cleansing” share the similar effect God Forbid had on the legendary Determination²⁰⁰¹ record with the opening instrumental “Dawn Of The Millenia” and the first song proper “Nothing” revealed to be basically the same song due to the reprisal of the former at the end of the latter, cool effect, but why it’s never one track in those cases is boggling my mind, unless the first track proper were a video single then I might understand, but it isn’t in either case, anyway, so go figure. But why is the true instrumental “Sevink”, which is clearly reprised in the subsequent “Dark Divide” not one track? What’s this incessant and unfortunately prevalent need to dissect into tracks pieces which work better as parts of their better brothers? Is that to make us sound more progressive than we would not have otherwise? In all the cases I observed we are already dealing with very progressive works so why the emphasis? All right, do it, if you must, but only if the two are truly different tracks, please. Otherwise it really detracts from the listening pleasure especially on electronic devices which tend to separate tracks by a split second break rather than play the album as a whole. And Death Below²⁰²³ is a seamless record like Between The Buried And Me’s Colors²⁰⁰⁷ or Killswitch Engage’s The End Of Heartache²⁰⁰⁴ (both of which it sounds like) with the only tiny break between “Dark Divide” and “Deadbolt”.

All of the above flaws listed comprising a considerable length a paragraph might seem as though I have overrated the record, but I don’t see it that way. Death Below²⁰²³ is an excellent and masterfully written record and August Burns Red are fantastic musicians and excellent songwriters and so my criticism is detailed and aimed at producing an even better result next time. In the end, I do think these guys have what it takes to stand next to Between The Buried And Me side by side as stalwarts and examples of innovative progressive metalcore and they’re not that far behind Misery Signals. I mean, everybody knows Misery Signals is the genre second to none in every aspect, right?

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