Review Summary: A solid progression despite some shortcomings.
August Burns Red have always been a metal band at heart that are willing to stretch themselves outside the enclosed meat-grinder of chug-chug “core” riffs and breakdowns. Thrill Seeker and Messengers established a signature sound of technical riffs, progressing song-structures, dynamic tempo changes, polyrhythmic drum patterns and lyrics of passion rather than hostility. However, there was still the case that the band weren’t breaking out of the metalcore cell, even if they had the ability to keep the genre fresh. Constellations proved a promising succession for the band. It proved they were willing to open themselves to new directions and wider influences, making it their most diverse and progressive album yet. Now, we come to Leveler, another promising step forward for the band, but I do still say “promising” for a reason.
There’s the progressive side to the band that’s tasteful and essential. Take the crowd-singing section in “Empire” reminiscent of 30 Seconds To Mars. Don’t think that this is a bad thing; it feels entirely necessary to the song’s uplifting tone and lyrics about the power of creativity. “Carpe Diem”, my personal recommendation, slows the album down with haunting vocals and memorable lead guitar lines, as the song cites a conversation between ambition and futility, courtesy of Jake Luhrs and now more involved Dustin Davidson. There’s also a great clean section in “Salt and Light”, tuneful enough to be a love song, but yet again it feels necessary and works well with the piece.
However, there is the progressive side to August Burns Red that feels courageous yet somewhat unnecessary. “Internal Cannon” is noticeably their most risky attempt at delving into other genres with some clean salsa style instrumentation. The song introduces as a standard hard-hitting thrash fest and continues so in small sections after the abrupt shift in style. This is ultimately what makes it feel out of place. It’s as if the band wanted to throw a completely out-there idea to the song without justification and without satisfying completion, like they weren’t being risky enough with it. “Carpe Diem” showed a fearless consistency in their song writing, and that is what this track unfortunately lacks.
That’s not to say that the album is focused entirely on being progressive. August Burns Red know how to write a good metal track and their song structures have shown improvement. “Pangea” and “Divisions" are brilliantly constructed songs, that keep steady breakneck paces without feeling overloaded or repetitive. This is what they should be embracing more in their song-writing, rather than adding ambitious shifts to keep things interesting.
What has showed vast improvement among other things is the overall musicianship. JB Brubaker and Brent Rambler have upped their games lead-wise, pumping out solos and licks left and right yet keeping it tasteful. Dustin Davidson stands out alot more providing rumbling bass lines and even some on the soft side as in "Salt and Light". Matt Greiner as usual has remained one of my most prolific drummers, always showing new kinds of grooves and creative fills. Jake Luhrs, who had improved considerably in his clarity and range on Constellations has improved double that on Leveler. He keeps a clear sound while performing low powerful growls such as in “Divisions” to extreme highs such as in the title track “Leveler”.
Overall this is an excellent album from the Pennsylvania quintet and a real sign of things to come in the future. The band is finding new ways to improve their sound and despite some slip-ups, it's a solid effort.