August Burns Red is known for their metal vibe, melodic guitar riffs, unique time signatures, and visceral unclean vocals. Their latest edition to an epic 15 year discography is as heavy as ever, with so many technically aggressive licks and heart-pounding vocals it requires a seatbelt to listen to the album front to back. Guardians is a joy ride in the middle of a hail storm. Buckle up, and let’s take this project for a spin.
ABR pops the clutch and burns out of the gate with “The Narrative,” a frenetic song that takes on mainstream media with a dire warning that “They drown out what’s important / Drop the blindfold / Your values are bought and sold.”
Frontman Jake Luhrs adds his trademark unclean vocals throughout on each track, never backing down from the deep throat screams for which August Burns Red has become well known. On “Bones,” Luhrs shows off his range, from high-pitched screams to the depths of bass in his vocal chord as he sings about how helping others and being benevolent is in our bones.
Consistent throughout the track is the skill demonstrated by lead guitarist “JB” Brubaker as he throws down riff after riff. All of the players are insanely talented, which is evident in how highly complex the arrangements are on these tunes. “Paramount” has mixed time signatures, but rhythm guitarist Brent Rambler and bassist Dustin Davidson navigate the variance with ease.
Drummer and founding member Matt Greiner serves as the glue with driving tempos. His command of the kit is notable on each track, but particularly on “Defender,” which features moments of silence followed by thunderous re-entry. About halfway through the song, Greiner nails a number of runs.
Thematically, Guardians is a series of reminders about core beliefs that might resonate with more truth in 2020 than ever before. “Lighthouse” sums the album up in one neatly wrapped song, recognizing the hurt and loss present in the world while admitting that we have a role in demonstrating love and compassion, taking care of the poor as we represent “the one who’s crucified.”
With each track, the listener is taken on an eye-opening journey as we see catastrophe and pain present in the world. Not only are we part of the solution, but we can’t do it alone– we are made to live in community with God and each other.
Heavy songs like “Dismembered Memory,” “Bloodletter,” and “Extinct By Instinct” deal with these conflicting themes of pain and hope, while “Ties That Bind” is an uplifting song about how we are refined through trials. This song is sure to help a lot of people given the season we are navigating in 2020.
Trials are the ties that band
They hold us together in the darkest of times
Hardships can be used to harden our bonds
We’ll learn from our grief and carry on
We won’t be faithless
We will be tenacious
We’ll gain our strength
From our failures
“Empty Heaven” deals with loss and pondering the possibility of capturing just one more moment to learn about the mysteries of the universe. The closer, “Three Fountains,” begins with a beautiful instrumental, a breath of fresh air as these players are so tight and talented. Not surprisingly, they don’t hang out in ballad land for long, as this tune is as heavy and hard as the ten that preceded it. Lyrically, the track is about how things in life aren’t black and white. Sometimes it’s okay to pause, and reevaluate life from afar.
Guardians is an eleven track thrill ride, taking listeners on a journey to experience life in the valleys and mountaintops, to the brink of death, while ultimately closing with a story that yields to hope. Musically, Guardians is nothing less than what we’ve come to expect from this hard rock band from Lancaster, Pennsylvania: impressive guitars, tight drums and bass, mixed time signatures, and unclean vocals screaming the truth about love and hope.
This is among the most impressive metal releases so far in 2020, and it has a solid chance to stay in that conversation as the year progresses. Guardians is a must-hear album for both returning fans and those new to August Burns Red.
Related Artists: Fit For A King, The Devil Wears Prada, Silent Planet