Review Summary: The very incarnation of what great metalcore is supposed to sound like, Constellations comes dangerously close to being a classic within the genre...
Metalcore is an extremely tough genre to execute well. The current main formula--chugging power chords, intense leads, and frenetic drumming--is not difficult in and of itself, as evidenced by the massive amount of bands in the genre. However, making that formula sound any good is
difficult, as evidenced by the massive amount of crappy
bands in the genre. But alas, because the scene kids gobble up those br00tal breakdowns like they're the best thing since sliced bread, there will always be an irritating majority of generic, uninspired metalcore bands to feed the voracious appetites of those unfortunately misguided dupes. The truly great bands in metalcore, however, don't follow this dull and lazy path. They know how to work the formula, crafting their sound until it becomes a distinct work of art, infusing it with enough imagination and variety to really showcase the formula and make it the spine-tingling, heart-pounding experience that metalcore should be.
And with Constellations,
August Burns Red has become a truly great metalcore band.
ABR's first album, Thrill Seeker
had some great moments, but overall there was too much filler for it to really be anything special. Their second album, Messengers
was much more consistent, and introduced the reckless-abandon style of drumming that has become an August Burns Red signature. But the overall sound was just a tad stale: a few too many generic breakdowns and not enough variation for it to be truly exceptional. Constellations,
on the other hand, hits the sweet spot.
Breakdowns are now much harder to find, but the restraint only makes them that much more delicious when they appear. Whereas the breakdowns on Messengers
would have your head bobbing robotically for almost an entire song, they now crash upon you from out of nowhere, with the effect of a raging tsunami on a calm summer's night at the beach. Absolutely breathtaking.
The band also promised us more of a focus on lead guitar for Constellations,
and boy did they ever deliver on that. In a complete reversal from Messengers,
lead guitar drives the majority of the songs on this album. And not just any lead guitar either: we're talking exceptionally
tasteful, technical, and pleasing leads. Metalcore is traditionally mostly riff-based, but this is a perfect example of what results when a band strives for something a little bigger and a little better. The leads on Constellations
are just as prominent as the riffs, and in some cases are actually predominant. This was a risk, but it turns out to be a major reward because the lead guitar is consistently excellent. JB and Brent are obviously highly skilled guitarists, and clearly there was lots of time devoted to crafting the leads and melodies to perfection. If the breakdowns are like a roaring tsunami wave, the leads are like a vigorous riptide: a stimulating current that sweeps you swiftly along, confident and powerful.
Another key area of improvement is the musical diversity shown on the album. In several instances, the full metalcore onslaught bleeds into a mellow, chilled-out vibe that adds immensely to the overall flow and ambiance of the record. This also contributes to the dark atmosphere that the album posseses. To continue with the oceanic analogies, the softer, moodier sections of Constellations
are like a calm sea in the eye of a vicious hurricane. It's like you're a ship riding through a hurricane, and in the midst of the violence and chaos...there appears a calm. And with that, an enormous amount of tension is added because, while the respite from the violence is appreciated, you still crave it. And you know that eventually, the storm will return. But until then, you hang in delightful suspense.
Criticism is tough on an album as enjoyable as this one. There are some moments of filler, to be certain. A few riffs and rhythms do feel rehashed over the course of the record. But the truth is, August Burns Red has stepped up their game so dramatically on this album that even the filler material and the moments of repetition are excellent: these moments are only noticeably sub-par because the rest of the album is filled with superb and even classic moments. As a whole, the album achieves exactly what the band wanted to do: use Messengers
as a basis, and then improve it dramatically in every single aspect.
August Burns Red has not only created their magnum opus, but also have joined an elite group of fellow metalcore bands in setting a standard for the rest of their genre. If they continue upon the trail blazed by this album, their next record will be
a metalcore classic.