Review Summary: August Burns Red are still living up to the hype. Apparently, God has a lot to scream about these days.
If anyone has popped this album in after Messengers or Thrill Seeker, you will immediately noticed a different in production. I knew this album was going to be a big one for ABR, either one way or another, and it took me quite a while to decide which. At first, the songs sometimes sounded a little cookie cutter for them, a few parts that you say "ok, here comes the ABR noodling over blast beats" and yes, it does in fact do that in some places, but the riffs are just friggin' good enough to make you look past those parts. Because their noodling is iconically theirs, and their hookier breakdown riffs are solid and get stuck in your head for quite some time. But their is a change and a growth on the horizon. It's not just Messengers II with a different take on production. They get more melodic, they explore new territory that they haven't before and get a little lighter without losing their edge. And personally, I think it's their best effort to date.
Returning to the production, the first thing I notice is the obviously darker guitar sound. The high end has been filered off significantly compared to their previous efforts, and I wasn't sure if I liked that as much. It fits, but personally, I like a lot of crunch in my guitar, but this is purely preferential. The drums, however, are a vast improvement from Messengers. The kick and snare are now distinguishable from each other. The snare had too much body and the kick had too much click on Messengers to the point where sometimes, I couldn't tell the different if he was going balls-out. This album has a much more organic sounding drum sound. The snare still has a lot of low end, which I love, but the kick sounds less like Bury Your Dead and more like an actual drum. The bass is still semi-buried, as it is in a lot of metalcore, but it lays down the low end without being overbearing.
The album starts out strong with 2 songs showing ABR doing what they've always done well. Great shredding, breakdowns galore, lots of speed and energy. They still show a bit of melody in Existence that foreshadow the rest of the album well. The real change starts for them in #3. "Oceans of Apathy" shows how they can totally regress into a delay-laidened, semi-clean riff, and still blow it up 10 seconds later into crushing hooks that leave you breathless. "White Washed" is a another mix of the new and old. The intro keeping the tempo down, and then returning to their usual fast-paced shredding.
The standout track on the album, Mariana's Trench, shows the true growth and maturity of this album. It starts out very melodic, and stays melodic yet heavy throughout, giving it an almost "The Bled" feeling (circa The Silent Treatment) while staying very ABR at the same time. Don't you worry your pretty little head, it gets crushing and brutal. Actually, some of the most epic breakdowns are found in this song. I feel like Meridian should also be lumped in with Mariana's Trench because it has much the same feel, giving them a chance to be slow, thoughtful, and never losing intensity. The building intro really grinds and churns from beauty to dirty and back again. Even though this song never really goes into a regular verse-chorus, I feel like it's a very big part of the album. Really lets them explore some ground they clearly are chomping at the bit to utilize.
A lot of the other songs, such as The Escape Artist, Paradox, and Rationalist aren't too stand out, but they are still solid songs. August Burns Red just doesn't write crap filler. Even the songs that don't stand out have riffs, hooks, breakdowns, vocal lines, something, that gets stuck in your head. They still have standout moments in every song if not for entire stand out songs. I do feel, however, like I should touch on their single. Meddler is an amazing song and exactly where ABR needed to go with a single. It's more approachable than their marquee "Composure" to the general public while still being able to be credible to the masses of pretentious scenesters who look down their noses at anything with marketability. It has the shreds and a solo or 2 to give it real feeling, but still a hookier, poppier, guitar line to keep it accessible.
All in all, I'd say ABR is far from over. This album spread itself out really quite well. Every song seems to have something to keep you coming back. As much as I find myself wanting to pick and chose songs to listen to on this album, I often find myself just listening to it from start to finish as soon as I pop it in.
I guess metalcore isn't dead?
(*waits for all the arguments*)