Leveler (Solid State Records)
It seems like only yesterday that everybody and their poorly coiffed little brother was jumping on the metalcore band wagon. A few bands were really innovative and interesting for a hot minute. Several other blew up big in the second wave when commercialism set in and got a foothold (always happens no matter what style). Many fell off and some are still alive and kicking. AUGUST BURNS RED is one of the bands that is still out there not only mining the style, but actually doing a decent job of keeping the flame alive. If they keep putting out albums like Leveler they should be able to keep the torch burning for a while longer at least.
The lead off track “Empire” encompasses everything the band does well in one song. Churning rhythms, excellent guitar work, solid drumming and impassioned bellows of frontman Jake Lurhs. The changes between metalcore, hardcore and even some thrash elements are buoyed by the bands talent for melodicism. Even the pop-punk style, one measure sing-a-long that would be cheesy by any other standard, works here in spades. Second track “Internal Cannon” is even more impressive. After a minute or so of pummeling riffs and beats the song shifts into thirty seconds of an Afro-Cuban jam that would be more at home on a SOULFLY album. They do a beautiful job of shifting back and forth between metal and other genres quite easily and when the band cites BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME as an influence you can see why. The vast majority of this works in part due to the talent of guitarists JB Brubaker and Brent Rambler. Brubaker in particular is the standout with his fluid leads and he handles the majority of the songwriting as well. The production of Jason Suecof has really brought out the subtleties in everyone’s playing, but being a guitar guy, he has really cultivated this area of the band especially well. “Divisions” is another quality track. The band blends typical riffs with atypical motifs and textures that other bands have trouble pulling off. It also features another throat shredding vocal part from Lurhs who really conveys the feelings behind his lyrics and may explain the bands’ die-hard following. “Cutting the Ties” is my favorite song on the album and will surprise the listener with black metal (!) flourishes at times that surprised me considering ABR’s Christian pedigree. Irregardless, the band is not afraid of experimentation and they certainly are the heaviest of all of the their peers in the field. Drummer/programmer Matt Grenier certainly sets the pace and is an integral part of what the band being stylistic chameleons. One thing I also need to single out is their selective use of the now thoroughly played-out bass drops. They only use them sparingly which is appreciated because the predictability and saturation of this gimmick is starting to make me nauseous. “Pangea” is another excellent track with more sinewy lead work from Brubaker who has turned in his best individual effort to date. Other standout tracks are “Salt and Light”, the drumming workout of “Poor Millionaire” and the title track that closes out the effort. Without reinventing the wheel musically or themselves, ABR has raised their songwriting and playing to a new plateau.
by Keith (Keefy) Chachkes