Scream Blast Repeat is not dismissive of Metalcore. Any genre of music with crunchy guitars, hostile vocals, lightning drums and a whirlwind of energy merits our attention. We’re not bothered if bands have neck tattoos, silly facial piercings and look like Myspace scene kids from the late 2000s. You get judged on the strength of your music alone. If you’ve no time for Cephalic Carnage, Converge and Burzum, we won’t hold that against you. This also extends to Christian bands. It’s all about the intensity of your art and the strength of your output.
In the case of August Burns Red, we have five Christian dudes who are masters of their instruments and passionate about their Metal. They come with no gimmick or taboo-busting image. Behind the clean looks, trimmed beards and smiling eyes is a sound that draws on Dillinger Escape Plan, Textures and At The Gates and hopes to keep alight a Metalcore flame not yet extinguished.
Now on their ninth outing, August Burns Red keep within the Melodic Thrash template developed over their last few albums and ensure the tempo never waivers. ‘The Narrative’ is straight out of the traps like a greyhound with rabies, incorporating technical riffs and Hardcore yells with a brief flurry of blast beats. ‘Paramount’ grinds through vintage Meshuggah with some imaginative lead work illuminating the melodies. Paul Waggoner of Between the Buried and Me is an obvious influence on ‘Ties That Bind’ while ‘Dismembered Memory’ belches out syncopated chugs with classical guitar scales over the top. It’s certainly not sterile.
The main problem with Guardians is the predictability. This is no-nonsense Metalcore with little concern to explore beyond the righteous rage of vocalist Jake Luhrs’ tonsils. And a Metalcore release with only four breakdown riffs on an entire album is criminal. Yes, we know it’s a stereotype, but who doesn’t like a good reset midway through a song to emphasise the heaviness of thick guitars and double-bass triplets? The serving on ‘Defender’ is like Chimaira at their best with its forceful machine-gun blast for the mosh pit faithful. It leaves you wanting more, not less.
Still, the arrangements are hard to fault. Producers Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland have captured a fine mix, with the drums and bass never fading under the hurricane of guitar distortion. But the lack of anthemic choruses is noticeable by track seven. For all the restless energy, there is not one song that has you finger-pointing in unison with the words. Album closer, ‘Three Fountains’, is the closest we get to a band venturing out of their comfort zone with a gaze at the Prog Metal landscape. ‘When you forget who you are/ You don’t just lose your soul/ You become like everyone else,’ roars Luhrs in his finest moment of reflection.
The gatekeepers who despise Metalcore and lament its shallow emphasis on image over substance have no reason to hate August Burns Red. This is a solid record even though it’s a bit safe at times.
Release Date: 03/04/2020
Record Label: Fearless Records
Standout tracks: The Narrative, Paramount, Three Fountains
Suggested Further Listening: Textures – Polars (2004), Chimaira – The Impossibility of Reason (2003), Phinehas – Dark Flag (2017)