Metalcore veterans August Burns Red return with their ninth album Guardians; an 11-track indication that less is more.
Prior to release, the Pennsylvanian five-piece spoke about how this album was more of a collaborative effort between all members, which has quite rightly allowed all instruments to thrive. In particular, Matt Greiner’s drum patterns are fiercer and more prominent, while JB Brubaker’s riffs are clean yet still aggressive. So many elements have been improved and intricately designed to portray each member’s skill and technicality. However, with so much to focus on, it translates as chaotic and overbearing as it’s all showcased at exactly the same time.
The state of production also contributes to this issue. Rather than allowing one instrument to momentarily take the spotlight when appropriate, producers Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland (who have both worked on previous August Burns Red records) have merely allowed all these sections to pile on top of one another with Jake Luhrs’ vocals lost underneath. The message behind Guardians is supposedly centred around lyrics of hope and positivity so it’s a shame they can’t be made out for the majority of the record.
However, the downfalls of Guardians can’t completely be blamed on production. Although August Burns Red are known for their hectic time-signatures, when combined with the poor mixing here, the ever-changing pace doesn’t exactly enhance much. ‘Dismembered Memory’ is a prime example of where it’s taken to the extreme at times as the jittery riffs and snare beats catch you off-guard, while ‘Bloodletter’ pairs unengaging melodies with an unwarranted tempo change. The repetition is also an issue for the most part as the defining elements of almost all songs are lost amongst everything else, especially as they don’t conform to standard song structures. Usually unique and innovative features that give an August Burns Red song its charm, too many pace changes and indistinct riffs placed in an incomprehensible order just reinforces the need for clarity. This simply results in the album being almost entirely flat, following a one-note routine.
Few songs do allow for variety to shine through, however, and are like specks of gold through the gloom. ‘Extinct By Instinct’ has a Latin-style mellow section where string melodies are held over twinkling acoustic plucks before plunging into a well-contrasted and perfectly balanced djent-filled segment. ‘Lighthouse’ also adds variety as guitarist Brent Rambler assists with vocal duties along with Luhrs as their different scream styles allow more focus on an otherwise unappreciated element, while the distribution of lines also helps give a sense of structure. Spoken-word is also used, creating a Counterparts-like contrasts as the instrumentation disperses. One of the strongest tracks on the record, it features varying tempos, melodies and styles that actually complement one another.
Although Guardians contains everything August Burns Red are usually praised for, they’re often shrouded in poor production, and repetitive, standardised melodies that fail to make the majority of its tracks coherent or distinguishable.
Guardians is out now via Fearless Records.