When metalcore emerged as a genre in the late 1980s, it was hard to picture a future where the genre would ever change and explore new territories. Although some bands have been keen to experiment within the safe confines of their hardcore punk-via-metal, the genre has generally remained static for the best part of 25 years. A select few bands have taken metalcore head-on and produced wonderful, straight to the point records (we’re looking at you, Killswitch Engage and Trivium), others have put their own spin on it (like the geniuses in Enter Shikari), whereas some just can’t do it and produce absolute drivel (what’s up, Ronnie Radke). Thankfully, though, there are still a few bands who know how to do metalcore well and still manage to put some sort of spin on it. Pennsylvania quintet August Burns Red are a good example of this, having just put out new studio album Found in Far Away Places. Whether or not this added spin is good or not remains to be seen, so read on to find out.
The record opens with utmost fury on The Wake, opening with distorted feedback, pounding drums and brutal vocals courtesy of frontman Jake Luhrs. “Wipe away the filth” he growled as menacing guitars intertwined alongside pulsating bass and double-bass drums. As the song picks up in intensity, the drums get faster and more forceful, only making the whole tone even more ferocious. “It’s only a matter of time till you sink in your indifference” screams Luhrs almost indecipherably, making way for a hazy guitar section and fierce breakdown. According to guitarist JB Brubaker, “we wanted to start the record with a bang and this song is a real kick in the mouth”, adding, ”it’s fast and heavy, while discussing how our planet is being destroyed by the gross misuse of our resources, and the general apathy of the human race when it comes to caring for the Earth“.
The more melodic guitars on Martyr (played by the technically skilled duo Brubaker and Brent Rambler) make way for a slower-paced verse which places a heavier emphasis on thoughtful lyrics and vocal intensity. Fuzzy guitars underpin the whole affair, seamlessly combining with Matt Greiner’s speed drumming and Dustin Davidson’s pulsating bassline. Once the first post chorus verse kicks in, the guitars change tone and add a wholly eerie feel to the track. It precedes an almost non-metal mid-section, focussing on an almost funky slap bass section and accompanying oriental strings. This contrast from the commonplace metalcore breakdowns is wonderful, adding a fantastic breather midway through a brutal song. A technically challenging solo a la Bon Jovi eventually leads back into a slowly progressing screamed breakdown, bringing everything back to normal. Identity subsequently comes at you with early Metallica bombast and post-hardcore grunts, eventually discarding the hair metal riffs and trading them in for metalcore-by-numbers drops. The chorus is one of the most melodic on the record, with Luhrs singing of love, despair and ultimate hope with the desperation seeping through his words. “Stop living in denial” he eventually counters post-chorus, before Separating the Seas removes any sense of melody in return for wailing guitars, double bass and Luhrs proclamation of, “you won’t last forever”. This eventually makes way for a change of direction as the tempo changes drastically, something onset by a pounding kick drum. The hair metal guitars subsequently return briefly, before the track dies down and is joined by an orchestral section. The roots of the harmonium and string combination seem buried in Eastern European polka music, gradually speeding up before leading into the most brutal vocals Luhrs demonstrates on the whole record.
Ghosts’ (which features Jeremy McKinnon of A Day to Remember) desert sounds and echoed guitar riff keep the eerie tone of the record well and truly in place, its opening section eventually turning into a prolonged solo which sees all the instruments enter one by one, the line-up eventually completed by Luhrs’ vocals. As per usual, the vocals are somewhat brutal and indecipherable, yet there is just enough contrast and variance in the instrumentals to keep the listener interested. This is one of the most important characteristics August Burns Red bears – their ability to combine classic metalcore elements with enough variance and ability to attract the listener further. Majoring in the Minors leans more towards the post-hardcore spectrum, keeping a constant pace as Luhrs’ vocals are countered by gang vocals and in-your-face instrumentals. Sprawling guitars complement Luhrs vocals nicely, with the frontman at one point declaring, “I’ll be there because I care”. The echoing guitar line eventually helps the track fade out as a brand new melody enters the frame, morphing the track yet again into something completely different. This time round, the band take it upon themselves to incorporate elements of western cowboy rock, a jangly guitar riff being accompanied by light brass, strings and supporting cowbell. Dirty metalcore riffs wipe it away eventually, aiding the track towards an epic ending. Majoring in the Minors is by far the best song on the record, basically encompassing a history of hard rock within its four minute running time. Classic rock shredding features towards the end, making way for Everlasting Ending (fun fact: the track is spelt wrong on Spotify). Everlasting Ending is more of the same metalcore pounding, its riffs forcing their way into your brain like every single drop that came before it. “What do you say when you can’t get back?” asks Luhrs ahead of an anthemic chorus which features the chanted line, “don’t let me down”. It’s sure to be a line which will be screamed back wholeheartedly by fans at live shows, in particular on the Vans Warped Tour which August Burns Red are currently in the process of touring.
As the album slowly veers towards the end, Broken Promises comes in and adds another handful of in-your-face brutality, completely with soul crushing lyrics and volume-to-11 guitars. “I thought family was forever, I though family stuck together” shouts Luhrs in what sounds like a personal attack, one which is only intensified by the accompanying instrumental game of “who can play the fastest?” Blackwood’s jangled opening guitar line sounds almost lifted out of Foals’ more depressing back catalogue, something in particular down to the demure backing strings and ambient noise. It’s all eventually thrown out of the window by powerful drums and extremely fierce vocals, though. Luhrs and his friends all come at you like the fastest animal in the world, ready to pounce on its prey. Once the first onslaught is over, a Metallica-esque 80s hair metal riff helps the track segue into an even faster and more ghastly verse. It’s quite brutal stuff, even by metalcore standards. In fact, it becomes so disastrously heavy on Blackwood that you could consider the band to be making a step towards the deathcore direction. It doesn’t last for long, though, with the jangly opening guitars (now including a faint cabasa and return of the cowbell) leading into another classic, 80s sounding solo. It might sound Bon Jovi to the max, but it still combines effortlessly with the head on force Luhrs and co. proceed to hit the listener with. Penultimate track Twenty One Grams follows, launching itself into a vicious tirade complete with gang vocals, siren guitars and pulsating drums. It’s one of the heaviest songs on the record, focussing less on melody and more on murderous vocals. A slowed down mid-section (complete with a thoughtful melody line) introduces a gang chant which precedes All Nightmare Long-era Metallica solos. The track comes to a close on a simplistic acoustic note, before Vanguard’s electronic synths and drum pads bring the record to a close. It’s the end of the record, yet at the same time it’s also the introduction of new sounds to August Burns Red’s ever expanding repertoire. The synth line eventually becomes an arpeggio-centred mainstay on the track which helps build bridges between eerie guitar jangles and forceful metalcore sections. Halfway through the track, space is made for a drawn-out solo which helps the album come to a memorable end. “Close your eyes, take your time” declares Luhrs emphatically as one of 2015’s finest albums comes to a close.
August Burns Red are the kind of band from whom you never know what to expect, that’s one thing which is very clear. Whereas the packaging clearly states that you can expect a good dosage of hardcore metal, the product itself (which is actually the band’s 7th album) is actually far more varying and diverse. In and amongst the expected drops and riffs you’ll find Spanish guitars, cowbells’, plenty of piano and a sense of accomplishment which comes with being able to combine so many different styles of music into one, easily compressible genre. Found in Far Away Places is one of the best rock albums to be released in 2015, and it’s only just signalling the beginning of a long and illustrious career for August Burns Red. Metalcore is not dying; rather, it’s been given the kiss of life by Jake Luhrs and his extremely talented friends.
Found in Far Away Places is out now via Fearless Records.