I still remember the first time I heard August Burns Red. I hadn’t been into metalcore for very long, but I was pretty impressed. After having listened to them, I was looking forward to “Rescue & Restore.” The Pennsylvania-based band once said something that I really appreciated, and I think this shows through in their music. Guitarist JB Brubaker said “Christianity is a religion, not a style of music.” Their other guitarst, Brent Rambler, once said “It is important to us that people know that we are indeed Christians… without having us stand up there and ram it down people’s throats.” This is exactly my sentiment when it comes to Christians making music. It shows through in the band’s lyrics, which are often deep and thoughtful.
The album was hyped up a lot by the band. Brubaker said “I know we always say this, but this will be our most ambitious album yet.” So I had high expectations. My opinion upon listening to it? It’s ok. Not bad, but not fantastic either.
First of all, the album is pretty strong lyrically. Vocalist Jake Luhrs punches out fist-pumping anthems for the abused underdog, something that’s very relatable; and he does so in a way that gives hope, which is something that is often missing in this genre. However, the album musically is a bit disappointing.
Metalcore in general has become a bit boring. They all have the same kinds of chord progressions, thick drums, and throaty screams. The band touted this record as experimental, but only a few tracks are really experimental. “Spirit Breaker” features a cool strings section in the intro and “Creative Captivity,” my personal favorite, has a Chinese harp, bongo drums, and even a trumpet finale. A few of the other songs contain some other small experimental endeavors, but this is largely it. Some of the other songs are fairly memorable, but for an album taunted as August Burns Red’s “most ambitious album yet,” I would have expected more than a few songs straying outside of the norm. Still, it is consistent.
1. Provision: This song has a complex lead guitar that grabs interest from the beginning. It’s a kind of technical metalcore that a friend of mine likes to call “math metal,” and it makes for some of the best metalcore around. The song is about a man who was taken advantage of but tries to find the silver lining. 4/5
2. Treatment: This one is mostly bland, but two minutes in features a really cool interlude of acoustic and classical instruments. Unfortunately that 45 seconds or so is the only cool part of the song. Most of the rest of the song is atonal breakdowns and screaming without much range, although there is a cool melodic solo towards the end. The song lyrically a message of approaching things with an open mind, but that can be lost among the muck and the mire of the atonal mess. 3/5
3. Spirit Breaker: This one is very strong. It begins with a very somber clean guitar, followed by a strings sections, which continues when Luhrs and the guitars come in. This fresh instrumentation, along with a distinguishable lead guitar, sets this song apart. The bridge slows things down even more, as we’re left with clean guitars and drums as Luhrs reads a letter. Up to this point the song has spoken of being broken down, but Luhrs speaks of hope: “Yesterday I saw the sun shining. It appeared for a few minutes just after two.
For a moment I found myself smiling, as if those short rays of light were enough to get me by. Maybe that was enough.” 5/5
4. Count It All as Lost: I really like the lead in this one, but Luhrs vocals get a little overboard at times with the higher-pitched screams. The bridge again gives a clean guitar interlude, which is a refreshing thing for the group that we haven’t often seen on previous records. The song sings of lost love, with Luhrs screaming “I need you here.” And “I need you,” but with more negativity, saying “Count it all as lost.” It’s one of the more negative songs on the album, which interrupts one of the things I like best about the album, lyrically. 3/5
5. Sincerity: This is the only song on the album that doesn’t contain clean guitars, but it still manages to reach diversity in tune. That’s partially helped by a really cool high and somewhat slow lead played at times in the background, which rivals Avenged Sevenfold in melody. The song is another fist-pumping anthem for the abused, as Luhrs screams “Have a little compassion,” along with cries of “We will remain.” 4/5
6. Creative Captivity: This one definitely takes the cake in terms of experimentation. It’s mostly instrumental, and Luhrs’s vocals are mostly in the background. Brubaker said the song is about how boring metalcore has become and how musicians need to break out of the genre’s slump. If they’re going to pick this song to do it in, better make it memorable and interesting, right? The song begins with a Chinese harp and picks up with a really cool clean guitar lick, and later on features bongo drums and closes with a trumpet finale. Trust me, this is one you won’t easily forget. 5/5
7. Fault Line: I like the lead on this one. My main bone to pick musically is that, like many times on this record, once the vocals come in the song goes from a cool lead to becoming more atonal and lacks range. The song speaks of getting through difficult times with a loved one. Luhrs says “without you I’m worthless,” which I have a bit of an issue with. The song speaks of mutual collaboration in problems, saying “together we’ll get through this,” which tells me the song is speaking of a loved one on the same level, not God. Love songs typically put loved ones up on a pedestal that I believe only God should occupy, which is inherent in the phrase “without you I’m worthless.” Still, the song again has hope and resolution at the end of a hard time. 3/5
8. Beauty in Tragedy: This one begins boring and never really picks up for me. At this point, I’ve seen some cool stuff pulled off in this album and I know they’re capable of wowing me again, but I’m left with a filler track. Once again in the album, Luhrs slows down and speaks. It was cool the first time, but now I’m thinking “you know you’re allowed to sing, right?” Still, the song has a really cool message: “There is beauty in tragedy. The heart won’t stop beating, for the end is a new beginning.” That redeems it in my book for any lack musically. 4/5
9. Animals: This one has a kind of Egyptian feel, which is cool, but it’s more of an angry song, which leaves me feeling similar to “Count It All as Lost;” I think it distracts from the overall theme of the album, which is hope in the face of despair. 3/5
10. Echoes: This one opens with a really cool clean guitar lick. It creates more of a somber tone, which is continued as Luhrs screams “I can’t take much more of this.” It’s the setup of much of the album: an abused underdog. Again, this one offers an attempt of reconciliation: “We will stay together” and “The open road is what I need to breathe freely. Free me.” 4/5
11. The First Step: I usually look forward to the ending song, but this one is probably the most atonal on the album, which is disappointing after “Echoes,” which was a pretty cool song. It’s a darker song too. Luhrs screams “we’re so scared,” and says near the end “your lies will become our truth.” I interpret this as a defeatist sort of resignation, but it’s difficult to discern exactly what he’s saying here. That vagueness hurts the ending to an otherwise strong album, lyrically. 2/5
My recommendation: if you’re an August Burns Red fan, buy the album; you’ll like it. If you’re a metalcore fan but not necessarily an August Burns Red fan, I’d just buy a few songs from it. The album is pretty strong, but does have a few weak spots, and you’ll probably only find yourself playing those songs if you buy the whole album anyway.
Musical Rating: 7/10
Lyrical Rating: 9/10