Review Summary: Gatekeepers to the nonexclusive.
I’ll say this about August Burns Red - they’re one of the most consistent acts to have ever graced the Pennsylvanian metalcore scene. Take a look at the band’s artwork for example; with the exception of the group’s 2004 and self-titled EP’s, both the band’s moniker and the respective release name have always been pushed to the top left of the art. To add to my thoughts, despite the staggering fall in grace of some (read: most) of early 2000s metalcore standards across the genre, August Burns Red have more or less maintained a modicum of commercially viable, if not especially exciting music. My point? Consistency, not excellence. These Pennsylvanian metalcore enthusiasts may have stayed largely the same in regards to their lineup and style of the course of the last two decades - but Guardians
largely milks every generic nuance out of the metalcore genre without [ever] achieving even the same middling standards as Found In Far Away Places
, Rescue & Restore
or Phantom Anthem
August Burns Red’s Guardians
however bucks the trend of releasing inoffensive, passable metalcore that’s found in much of their earlier releases. Instead, the band’s eighth studio effort milks a sour note out of a washed, generic soundscape that offers nothing to metalcore as a whole and, more importantly, lessens the August Burns Red brand. It seems (if you allow me to spend a second quoting fellow contributing reviewer (and all-round great guy, Johnny[OfTheWell]) “August ain't gonna burn itself... Am I right?”) that Guardians
is in fact a burning record; built on a foundation of collective musical hemorrhoids, prolapsing on the type of music most bands are trying to innovate, change, (or otherwise) improve on. The crux of the matter, however, is that August Burn Red’s overly consistent approach to their 2020 piece leads to a less than okay performance disgorged onto the awaiting fanbase. Whether it’s the predictably bland opener, “The Narrative", or the supposed banger a la “Defender”, August Burns Red’s Guardians
formula is weakened by the band’s usual lack of innovation, made worse by the record’s complete lack of punch.
itself isn’t offensively bad in its design - but it is more offensive within its own mediocrity. For most of the album, the bass is often non-existent, compressed into nothingness behind lack-lustre melodies and less than imaginative lyrical motifs which meander from one tired confidence building endorsement to the next. Heavy hitting tracks like “Bloodletter” fail to create an impact as the album’s terse production undermines the song’s need to combine breakdowns with potency. Much of the same detriment can be attributed to that of Jake’s vocals, especially in regards to the lower harsh screams that dominate the verses. The only silver-lining here (if you could call it as such) is that the higher screams are not impacted, one way or the other in the face of the album’s clinically flat mastering. “Empty Heaven” takes on a particular Architects influence to its vocal performance and despite Jake’s well-executed lines, the track itself fails to rise above the rest of the issues that command the group’s eighth full-length. But it’s hard to lump all of Guardians
’ problems into the “production issues” basket.
Unfortunately, there’s a combination of issues castrating what could
have been a career defining release. At fifty minutes, Guardians
is too long as most of the songs here bleed too well into the next, rehashing too similar ideas and lyrical content. Add to that the group’s natural gravitation to fill out ideas with overbearing legato or breakdown flurries without significant variation and we have another easily forgettable metalcore experience.
’ redeeming values are few and far between, I feel I would be doing the album some disservice to not mention the record closer, “Three Fountains”. Despite some cringe worthy faux cleans from Jake, the track itself emits tones of hope and intertwined melancholia, wrapping August Burns Red’s newest music into a bundle of sorts. Again, “Three Fountains” is hamstrung by a mixing that doesn’t lift the contrast of heavy riffs to the lighter, more melodic notes - but hints at the potential this album would
have had with a few major adjustments. Overall, Guardians
is disappointing - not because the expectations were placed out of reach, but because it failed to reach them at all. Guardians
had all the potential to achieve the quality of the band’s previous records, and even a slight chance at surpassing them. Alas, the group’s penchant for a non-exclusive sound doesn’t stand as resolute as their eighth album’s namesake.