Following up hard and unrelenting on 2017’s Phantom Anthem, August Burns Red are raking in the praise on what has been called their “heaviest album yet”, Guardians. Well-known by now as a slightly proggy and casually Christian metalcore staple, ABR’s course to out-heavying themselves started a year ago after a few initial tracks guitarist JB Brubaker and bassist Dustin Davidson suggested to vocalist Jake Luhrs didn’t meet his exquisite standard of slamming bangerdom, prompting the Burners to up the ante and really come out swinging.
The upgrade is plainly evident in the opener “The Narrative”, where laser-like drumming and mathematical riffing leads up to and ultimately gives way to a curb-stomp of a breakdown halfway through the song. “Bones” continues this trajectory while channeling more traditional ABR stylings, as does “Paramount” with more clean vocality to ear-pleasing effect. The comparatively simple “Defender” offers a polished contrast to the bulk of August’s material, while “Lighthouse” builds on the clean singing of “Paramount” with the end result of a memorable chorus (not to mention a funky, airy bridge section with a spoken-word interlude).
The clean-to-heavy dynamic synthesis takes a back seat on the gaggle of tasty leads and merciless breakdowns known as “Dismembered Memory”, scaling back in the melodious “Ties That Bind” and launching right back into slam mode on the aptly titled “Bloodletter”. “Extinct By Instinct” offers a more restrained break, tinges of Spanish guitar and all in between riffy beatdowns, while “Empty Heaven” reintroduces clean vocals with anthemic results. “Three Fountains” closes the show, building and layering before jumping headlong into one last nimble-footed (and fingered) mosh-out complete with samples of all of the glorious versatility demonstrated within #9’s bounds.
Guardians is a demonstration of growth, progress and sophisticated heaviness for August Burns Red, a great step in the direction of moving away from the narrow bounds of what metalcore is, or is at least purported to be. The record has all you could ask for from a band of ABR’s ilk: Neck-snapping breakdowns, vivid and colourful lead work and harmonies and well-coordinated trades between clean and guttural vocals; all done with a classy touch setting the Burners away from the rest of their contemporaries. Good work, and hopefully more to come is what can be said for this record here.