Review Summary: August Burns Red are creeping out of the incestuous metalcore scene and doing things just a little bit differently.
Sometimes at night I lie awake and wonder: have August Burns Red earned their status as metalcore’s reigning buzz band, or did they inherit it by default? It is true that just about every second-wave act that’s sniffed commercial success (Atreyu, Trivium, Avenged Sevenfold) has unceremoniously ditched the genre, but it is testament to the genre’s enduring popularity that it can continue to churn out bands in the same vein. But where does that leave August Burns Red? Following the release of 2007’s Messengers
, it would have been hard to argue that they were doing much to differentiate themselves from the throng, let alone lead it, and they seemed scantily equipped to rejuvenate an increasingly self-cannibalising genre. Constellations
is unlikely to usher in a metalcore renaissance, but is a progression- though not entirely progressive- from the formulaic and relatively uninspired Messengers
Metalcore is a much-maligned genre, sometimes deservedly so, but it’s a problem of saturation and over-exposure rather than an intractable structural fault. The difference between really good music and painfully generic music can just as often be inches as miles, and Constellations
is stark proof of this: the differences between this album and the last are few, yet the effect is immeasurably better. For a start, while Constellations
is still packed full of breakdowns, they’ve at least allowed themselves to think outside the formula a little bit. On rousing opener ‘Thirty And Seven,’ they tease listeners with a false-start breakdown before launching back into the chorus riff, delaying gratification for a short while (even if the eventual breakdown is disappointing); elsewhere, on tracks like ‘Marianas Trench,’ they weave in guitar parts with the breakdown rather than allowing it to halt the song’s progression entirely; ‘Oceans of Apathy’ and closer ‘Crusades’ drop the intensity entirely and work in bluesy middle eights rather than breaking up the songs with predictable chug-a-lug sections.
As well as these structural improvements, the band members have stepped up their individual performances. Drummer Matt Greiner is the most audibly improved: his newfound sense of adventure is evident at just about every turn on Constellations
, from the glitchy blast beats that simmer beneath the surface of ‘Indonesia’ to the tasteful fills with which he eases into ‘Marianas Trench.’ Even if his presence does become a little overbearing on the quieter songs (‘Marianas Trench’ is the exception that proves the rule), it’s good to hear him out of his shell. Likewise, the depth and variety of the guitar lines on Constellations
is far in excess of what the group have produced before: particular highlights are the weaving dual-guitar lines of ‘Paradox,’ the tippy-tappy guitar solo that elevates the otherwise generic ‘Existence’ and the lush, doomy chords that open instrumental piece ‘Meridian.’
Vocalist Jake Luhrs doesn’t do an awful lot to distinguish himself- he doesn’t do clean vocals, but as a growler he is more or less intelligible the majority of the time, allowing some insight into the group’s lyrical themes. Much has been made of the group’s Christian faith, however at times on Constellations
they seem to fall over themselves to be overtly vague, to the point of saying very little at all. ‘Thirty And Seven’ boasts the awkward line “it’s so much easier to fight this war when you’re the last in line,”
and it’s hard to imagine a more awkwardly mixed metaphor than this one, from ‘Oceans Of Apathy’: "Everything true and complete is cut out and cut out and swept under the floorboards / Left to drown [...] in an ocean of apathy."
Dying, particularly by drowning, is a common theme throughout much of the album, and the best moments occur when August Burns Red are at their most stark. ‘Marianas Trench’ sees Luhrs imagining himself drowning in the earth’s deepest and most grammatically incorrect ocean trench, while ‘Indonesia’ sees him ponder a challenge to his faith when death comes knocking: "How does a man wrap his mind around eternity when he cannot even explain his own composition? Don't you see it's bigger than you."
There’s another, unfortunate, side to Constellations
that reinforces all of the negative stereotypes. Tracks like ‘The Escape Artist,’ ‘Rationalist’ and ‘White Washed’ embody the sort of unimaginative, meathead rock the genre’s become known for, with the latter offering up this gem of a chorus: ”Don't say another word / You've crossed the line / I won't hesitate to put you in your place”
Nevertheless, most of the signs point towards a band that are broadening their horizons and striving to shake up any complacency within their sound. Between The Buried And Me vocalist Tommy Rogers provides a bridge vocal to ‘Indonesia’ that is eerily reminiscent of Dirt
-era Layne Staley, and it exemplifies neatly just where August Burns Red are at right now: they may not be doing anything new or innovative, but they are creeping out of the closeted, incestuous metalcore scene and doing things just a little differently from everybody else out there.