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Album Review

August Burns Red – ‘Guardians’ [Album Review]



Pennsylvania’s twice Grammy-nominated melodic metalcore heroes, August Burns Red have long been a force for positivity and hope within heavy music. Seventeen-year veterans of a scene that has become saturated with metalcore-by-numbers bands, they have maintained their position at the top thanks to a sophisticated, technical sound and commitment to a loyal fanbase. Latest offering Guardians will be their ninth studio album, released 3rd April via Fearless Records.

The underlying theme of Guardians is about being able to reach out to someone; we all need a protector who can save the day, and maybe we can also be that samaritan for someone else. The theme comes through lyrically (“We need a defender who bends so we won’t break.. I would do anything to make it through, but it takes two. One is me, the other’s you..”) but also musically; through moments of shimmering poignancy, anthemic backing vocals, spoken word interludes and brief but telling switches into a major key.

This caring message is one that the band members practice as well as preach, their Christian roots never alienating them from a more universal audience. August Burns Red live shows are notable for their almost joyful atmosphere, with JB Brubaker shredding in flip-flops and vocalist Jake Luhrs frequently addressing the crowd. Luhrs is also the founder of HeartSupport, a mental health charity, and the band has recently set up a new video-rich website to entertain fans during corona lockdown.

None of this caring and positivity takes away from the heaviness though; indeed this is probably August Burns Red’s heaviest offering to date. The breakdowns are huge, the heavy sections in “Defender” and “Extinct By Instinct” breathlessly intense, and even the reflective outro “Three Fountains” has massive riffs. A key part of ABR’s signature sound has always been JB Brubaker’s progressive, melodic licks, and Guardians is no exception, although all the band members are given room to shine here and notable is Matt Greiner’s spectacular, frenetic drumming.

It’s the complexity that has always kept August Burns Red ahead of the metalcore pack, and with Guardians they have pushed themselves further than ever technically. The album was written over the course of a year, with long breaks in between sessions to allow as much creative latitude as possible. The result is tight song-writing, textured layers and a structured yet unconventional approach. August Burns Red have never felt constrained by the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-breakdown standards of metalcore. There are some big chorus moments – for example, the anthems in “Bones” and “Lighthouse” which both have poignant, almost nostalgic qualities – but the listener is to be constantly surprised. Breakdowns and time signature changes come unexpectedly, melodies are woven in from nowhere. This is an album that rewards repeated listens with new discoveries each time.

August Burns Red’s music flows so effortlessly, it’s easy to forget that within a type of music characterized by harsh noise, aggression and minor keys, injecting positivity while maintaining heaviness is no mean feat. But the group continues to deliver, and Guardians sees them at the top of their game. This is the album we need right now. ABR’s core message of “bang your head with a smile” is more important than ever in these troubled times.

Guardians Track Listing:

1. The Narrative 4.09
2. Bones 4.16
3. Paramount 4.49
4. Defender 4.21
5. Lighthouse 4.14
6. Dismembered Memory 4.09
7. Ties That Bind 4.19
8. Bloodletter 3.40
9. Extinct By Instinct 4.43
10. Empty Heaven 4.26
11. Three Fountains 6.22

Run Time: 50 minutes
Release Date: April 3, 2020
Record Label: Fearless Records