Review Summary: A live album, one egg short of the tour-de-force-live-experience omelet.
“A-B-R! A-B-R! A-B-R!” The crowd’s chants crescendo in the opening minute of this metalcore band’s first live album. The three letters are an abbreviation for the band’s full name, and they testify to a cult following. Teenagers cover themselves head to toe in clothing, covered in the band’s vaguely metaphorical name. Whether or not they understand the metaphor, one thing’s for certain, the kids dig it. So it’s no wonder a metal band with such mass appeal decided to splice in a live album between full-length projects. If you’re a diehard August Burns Red fan, there will be no persuading you--you’re already drooling in front of the TV, worshipping the God-fearing, small-town boys as we speak.
For those still teetering on the fence, read on.
Back Burner is the only logical follow-up to the mantra that bombards the opening track. It is truly your quintessential “face-melter”; your “soul-slaying-breakdown,” if you will. But any casual fan has already invested time in ABR and has discovered their limitless crash-induced breakdowns, their occasional blast beats and their growling vocals, inundated with authoritative lyrics. The live performance is what’s in question here, and essentially, Home plays out exactly like anyone could have expected it to. It’s one-part Constellations, one-part Messengers and one sliver Thrill Seeker. Some older fans will be happy to hear ABR grace the crowd with the speed-metal track “Your Little Suburbia Is in Ruins,” and they cap off the album with their marathon of a 7-minute track “The Seventh Trumpet,” an undoubtedly epic song that could probably stand to shave two minutes off its over-indulgent length.
The purpose of this CD and DVD seems to be to communicate to fans, new and old alike, that this band is a tightly knit group of guys who are just like everybody else. They have a strong faith, they have talent, and while they share rides on scooters through downtown Atlanta, they’re also having fun all at the same time. Their passion is often evident in the DVD portion of this bundle. They seem devoted to their music and fans. Lead vocalist, Jake Luhrs, is shown many times talking to fans face-to-face after every performance. There is no doubt that something drives these guys on other than commercial success.
But nonetheless, this bundle of joy from Tooth and Nail mostly feels like just that--a commercial exploit. What’s the point of any live album? To pull a listener into the experience of a band’s live performance from the comfort of . . . anywhere. And August Burns Red certainly has that energetic charisma for just such a performance. Yet Tooth and Nail and their subsidiary Solid State often feel that they have to produce and perfect each and every album like their whittling a block of wood into the Statue of David. Any true rock fan--whether it be metal, metalcore, hardcore, punk, etc.--wants to hear that everything is not perfect. There is a certain melody to the sound of dissonant chords, a missed beat or a faltering note. ABR has given us a well-crafted, well-produced studio album with Home when we could have just as easily listened to any of the three major records they just released. I mean, as soon as the music starts you don’t even hear the crowd! It’s like the band plays the first note of the song and someone throws the “Crowd/Cheers/Claps” volume control down to zero.
On a similar note, Jake Luhrs’ vocals seem to falter too often. Some dissonant chords and some missed notes might make for a solid live album, but a voice that constantly sounds as if it’s running out of breath (even on the opening song) is just plain obnoxious. If you watch the DVD, you’ll realize that it is mostly due to Lurhs’ high level of energy and connection with the crowd, but still, it’s hard to not feel a little perturbed when he misses the entrance vocals to certain choruses and breakdowns, and it’s especially painful when he has to awkwardly rush through “The Seventh Trumpet”’s spoken interlude, “And as I raise my head towards the heavens and take one last look at the moon. . . .”
There is little questioning August Burns Red's talent or passion. They have already released three critically acclaimed albums, two of which were chart-toppers, and the DVD half of this package has a few funny moments and a nicely filmed video of their whole performance in their hometown. But as far as live albums are concerned, ABR or some accountable producer has seemed to miss the point. Near the end of the DVD, before their main performance, guitarist JB Brubaker has an accidental slip-of-the-tongue and says, “I’m excited. I’m sick of waiting. I just want to get it over with.” And sadly, I agree.