August Burns Red

Phantom Anthem

Written by: AP on 11/03/2018 18:15:32

Metalcore once ranked among my favourite genres, and even though my interest in it has waned over the years, some of the artists that impressed me back then continue to have me in their thrall today. One of these revenants is the Lancaster, PA-based August Burns Red, who show no signs of abating their technical wizardry, nor the complexity of their music on their eighth and latest studio album, “Phantom Anthem”. If anything, the band’s songwriting seems to have grown even more eclectic and progressive-minded, which results in some of the finest material they have put together yet.

Metal is sometimes thought of as a direct descendant of classical music, and August Burns Red is among the outfits that lend validity to the idea. The two guitarists, John Benjamin Brubaker and Brent Rambler have a special fondness for lacing the quintet’s music with baroque-style arpeggios that are deployed in lieu of riffs in the traditional sense and often occupy most of the guitar space in a given track. This remains a central theme across “Phantom Anthem”, which has a distinct neo-classical feel about it, and it really cannot be stressed enough how much talent the two of them are again seen to possess; in the time it would take most aspiring guitarists to work out just one or two bars of the opening track, “King of Sorrow”, Brubaker and Rambler would have conceived a full album’s worth of dizzying technicality and then made it look like child’s play to pull it off live. But while their creativity continues to provide enough source material for a master’s thesis in musical theory, it would be just as rewarding to undertake a study of the rhythm section, which consists of bassist Dustin Davidson and drummer Matt Greiner. The two are, in effect, forced by their six-stringers to be extraordinarily inventive with rhythm, and as a result, it is rare to find a completely ordinary 4/4 pattern driving the proceedings in a given song. “Lifeline” is a good example, as it affords a lot of space to both of those instruments to shine — first amidst the rapidly scaling melodies at the beginning, and since during the jazzy instrumental passage that extends through the middle of the song.

There are myriad moments to enthuse about on “Phantom Anthem” and “Lifeline” is certainly one of them. But the mantlepiece must nonetheless be “The Frost”, whose uplifting, almost celebratory tone is quite reminiscent of Protest the Hero; it witnesses August Burns Red at the apex of their ability to create effective marriages between the ultra-melodic and the ultra-technical, and exactly like the aforementioned “Lifeline”, all of the five musicians are left room to show us what they’ve got. This of course includes singer Jake Luhrs and although his four colleagues often inadvertently make vocals surplus to requirements, his contributions should not be understated. Fittingly, in “Coordinates” it is his powerful screaming that “The unanswered questions leave the greatest impression!” that leaves the greatest impression — and this is after the song has already left the listener gasping for breath once amid the thunderous double pedalling, urgent staccato riffage and Luhrs’ growling that:

The mark of the man is not where he stands / Where he stands, where he stands when all is right in the world / It’s what he does when the chilling wind / The chilling wind, chilling wind threatens to break down his door.

As also stated in the preamble to this review, both the novelty of August Burns Red’s ideas and their skill of musicianship warrant describing it as a progressive metal band. But their roots are still firmly grounded in the metalcore scene out of which they emerged, as the wealth of dense chugging and devastating breakdowns on offer in tracks like “Hero of the Half Truth” and “Generations” can attest to. This is a vital element in the band’s music because — ironically — it provides respite from the demands placed on the listener’s mind by the noodling melodies and syncopated rhythms. And seemingly like everything else that August Burns Red touches, they are not simply breakdowns, but the best breakdowns that you are likely to find in the genre apart from Parkway Drive. They form the final piece in the puzzle of what, in my opinion, makes August Burns Red the ‘complete’ metalcore band — an opinion, which is made even more convincing by the strength of this album. Fifteen years into the career, it is a pleasure to find that the Pennsylvanians have neither grown jaded nor elected to compromise on the aspects that made them such a revelation on their 2005-début, “Thrill Seeker”; if anything, the band seems to become better with every new release.


Download: The Frost, Lifeline, Coordinates, Dangerous
For the fans of: Between the Buried and Me, Parkway Drive, Protest the Hero, Texas in July
Listen: Facebook

Release date 06.10.2017
Fearless Records

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