Review Summary: The formula for success
It's no shock that August Burns Red have become a prominent figure in the metalcore scene since their formation in 2003. At this point in time, we've come to know what to expect from them as they've been reliant on almost the exact same formula with very few tweaks to their style since their debut. Of course this has led many of their detractors to complain that they've released the same album over and over again. Normally, this would be true, as the idea of relying on the same ideas several times over after every album would cause a band or artist to get stale and boring after a while. The audience gets smaller, the review scores get lower, and only the most dedicated fans would defend them at the cost of their sanity. However, August Burns Red have remained at a surprisingly steady pace since their previous two albums Rescue & Restore
and Found In Far Away Places
were received to high acclaim from both audiences and critics, and even a Grammy nomination.
Because here's the thing: August Burns Red, no matter how many times they repeat themselves, are fantastic at what they do and they just keep improving. Jake Luhrs' vocal performance seems to have aged like a fine wine over the years since his debut on Messengers
, JB's and Brent's guitar work and Dustin's bass has steadily evolved after every album, and Matt's drumming has gotten more and more energetic every year. Over the years, their records have them increasing the ambition and dialing up the progression after every album while making small changes to keep it interesting. Phantom Anthem
, the group's seventh studio album (eighth if you include Sleddin' Hill
), of course, has them continuing that progression. If there is one major change to Phantom Anthem
compared to the band's previous records, it's that there is more of a 'back to roots' style. While R&R was focused more on technicality and FIFAP had ambition and experimentation, this album more or less utilizes more effort on the guitar work and melodies, a similar approach found on Constellations
. The guitar solos and song intros deliver a more uplifting vibe on songs like 'Float' and 'The Frost', carrying more of an emotional heft that is helped by Luhrs' vocals. There's even some moments of “clean” vocals (they aren't exactly clean vocals, but they aren't the harsh screaming that Luhrs usually does) such as in 'Coordinates'. Of course that's not to say that ABR haven't backed down on their breakdowns either. The heaviness is still as present as every other record they've come out with, as the opener 'King of Sorrow' readily shows with its ferocious, neck-breaking guitar work, lead single 'Invisible Enemy' with it's breakdown-induced introduction and 'Quake' with it's near-perfect mixture of melody and brutality throughout the song's runtime.
is yet another solid statement onto August Burns Red's fourteen year career as one of the most distinguishable metalcore acts out there. Some are certainly going to claim it as another formulaic album to an already formulaic discography, but in ABR's case, there really is nothing wrong with that because the band manages to keep improving after every record. The changes are small but significant which causes the music to evolve ever so slowly within time. Sure, August Burns Red might change their style in the near future, it's practically inevitable. But for the time being, Phantom Anthem
manages to deliver a satisfying 54-minutes of neck-snapping, hardcore metal goodness that will certainly make an impression over this year in metal.