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August Burns Red - "Guardians" (CD)

August Burns Red - "Guardians" CD cover image

"Guardians" track listing:

1. The Narrative
2. Bones
3. Paramount
4. Defender
5. Lighthouse
6. Dismembered Memory
7. Ties that Bind
8. Bloodletter
9. Extinct by Instinct
10. Empty Heaven
11. Three Fountains

Reviewed by on April 5, 2020

"“Guardians takes an even bigger leap into honing their talents. They’re like a well-polished freight train that’s painted with thought provoking metaphors.'"

August Burns Red out of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, A.K.A. Amish country, is back again after nearly three years since their last release. Whether you’ve heard of them before or not, you’re in for one hell of a ride. This band has been steadily mastering their style and evolving their musicianship to a ridiculous level of technicality. Few bands are equally as brutal and heavy as they are mellow and uplifting. Lead guitarist JB Brubaker creates a layer of elaborate and precise leads underneath Brent Rambler’s thick, crunchy, impeccably timed rhythm guitars. Bassist Dustin Davidson’s ferocity and deliberate basslines as well as his backing vocals amplify the level of depth in each track. Drummer Matt Greiner’s ability to play perfectly to the everchanging styles in each song adds extra insurance to ensure you’ve got a sonically impressive wall of sound. The icing on the cake is Jake Luhrs and his ability to deliver such powerful voice and lyrical content in such a way that showcases the mood of each song perfectly.

The band’s debut album, “Thrill Seeker,” came out in 2005 and since then you can hear the progression in not just songwriting but also the production value. This band is one of the most consistent in the metal genre. And yet, despite being consistent they’re still evolving and adapting to become more polished and technical with every release. Even the difference between their debut and sophomore release “Messengers” you can hear differences in quality of craftsmanship and the studio mixes. While “Phantom Anthem” saw the band grow from previous albums, “Guardians” takes an even bigger leap into honing their talents. They’re like a well-polished freight train that’s painted with thought-provoking metaphors.

From the first track of this album, entitled “The Narrative,” you can hear that familiar
August Burns Red sound even though it’s matured. Luhrs utilizes his role to try to inspire and does so incredibly well. This song is seemingly aiming its crosshairs at “fake news” and people jumping to conclusions before reading facts. The lines “judgement before evidence – theories before proof” and “power to the people or power to the narrative” intends to push people to seek the truth before making up their mind. It’s also an attempt to unite, as we’re all better off when we question everything but also support one another.

“Lighthouse” makes for the perfect mid-point of an album. It begins with a slower tempo and lyrics about how everyone is hurting or struggling, and people need to seek opportunities to help others when they can. The song showcases the band’s ability to write lyrics rooted in their Christian faith without being preachy. With lyrics like “a monster’s legacy ends the day he dies – the man never forgotten is the one who’s crucified. The treasure is in the tatters – not just another cog in the wheel. Help those in need” clearly is trying to get people to understand that being helpful and positive has a longer-lasting effect than the evils a man can commit.

“Bloodletter” is a standout track given it’s crushing breakdowns and progressively timed riff. To top it off, there’s a killer guitar solo from JB at about the midway point of the song. With lyrics like: “it’s time to bury the hatchet, we won’t bury it in your back, we’re not like you” makes you wonder what inspired this track but Jake (Luhrs) is clear in that, despite being screwed over, it’s important to take the high road. Just as punishing as that track is, it’s followed up by the diverse “Extinct by Instinct,” which begins with a harmonizing guitar lead over Luhrs’ vocal intensity but switches tempo to an interlude reminiscent of a dream or even a nightmare sequence in a movie or video game.

Following that video game idea, “Empty Heaven” begins with an instrumental part that feels like it’s inspired by MegaMan’s soundtrack, but it ups its intensity significantly to a feverish pace. Lyrically it seems to be all about wishing one could turn back time to help someone heal who’s in decline health-wise, or possibly spiritually. To make this song more memorable, JB interjects a solo in the middle of the track to remind me that I really should practice my guitar skills more - a lot more, honestly. Whip out your air guitars, this one is a banger in the second half!

The album’s conclusion is “Three Fountains,” which is nearly seven minutes long, and that’s a damn good thing. Beginning with a clean guitar tone playing a mellow lick, added with Dustin and Matt’s rhythm section it creates a peaceful, sublime tone. The overall feel of this one is a slow burn of chunky riffs at a slower tempo than most of the album but mixed with segments of pure intensity. This diverse sound is here to remind you that this is August Burns Red and they love balancing the melody with heaviness perfectly. This song is about the underdogs and how the world needs to work together, while remaining positive and focused while trying to maintain personal identity, at least from what I took out of the lyrics.

Whether you enjoy intensity, mellowness, intricate guitar leads, or blast beats and crushing breakdowns; this album will not disappoint. Every album August Burns Red releases is another step up in terms of technical ability and intensity as well as its mixing and polished sound. It takes delicate precision to ensure that all the subtle licks, leads and dual harmonies on guitar are never lost over the intensity of the rhythm section. The entire album is extremely well balanced from an audio standpoint and it’s also matured over previous releases in terms of songwriting. While standing apart in its polished aspects, it still is very clearly an album you will know was written by August Burns Red.

Highs: Highly polished sound, crushing breakdowns, beautifully written melodies and lyrics that paint vivid pictures of an uplifting tone.

Lows: I’d say the low point of the album is that there aren’t more songs. This album is outstanding!

Bottom line: If you’ve already listened to them, you’ll love this album for sure. If you haven’t heard of August Burns Red, this album is quintessential August Burns Red and I’m confident you’ll enjoy it as well.

Rated 5 out of 5 skulls
5 out of 5 skulls


Key
Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)