REVIEW: AUGUST BURNS RED – “Phantom Anthem”
Since their inception in 2003, Pennsylvania metalcore band, August Burns Red, has been paving the way for younger bands in their genre. Their debut album, ‘Thrill Seeker’, indicated that they were really onto something but, being a newer band, hadn’t quite discovered it yet. It wasn’t until their sophomore effort, ‘Messenger’s, that they really began to come into their own. Now, over a decade later, ‘Messengers’ is still one of the most prolific and well-respected albums in the genre, hands-down. Through that time, they’ve tried a lot of different things with their music but it all seeks to capture the essence of who they are as a live band. While older bands in the genre have gotten softer over time, they continue to explore just how much aggression and ferocity they can bring to their fans, always staying true to who they are as musicians. While they had nothing to prove to the fans with their signing to Fearless Records, they certainly stepped up their game when it came to writing their debut for the label, ‘Found in Far Away Places’.
This is the first time the band tried a more atmospheric approach, focusing heavily on guitar melodies and even including some faded clean vocals. Having written one of their best albums to date, they knew that they’d have to pull out all of the stops for the follow-up… and so we come to the reason this article is being written. ‘Phantom Anthem’, set for release on October 6th via Fearless Records, sees a return to the more straightforward, aggressive and fun sound that they’ve been known for.
One of the things that will be noticed straight off the bat is that this album seems to focus a lot more on the talent of guitarists, JB Brubaker and Brent Rambler, featuring a lot more solos and riff-centric tracks. This becomes immediately apparent when the main riff in “King of Sorrow” kicks the listener in the teeth. Rather than bring you in subtly, this album opens the flood gates from the get-go and remains relentless until the end. One of my favorite tracks on the album, “Lifeline” features a more melodic guitar section, showing some contrast but not straying away from the heavier nature of the release. The listener is hit with a surprise clean guitar section about midway through the track, leading into a killer solo that builds up to an explosive and climactic return to the chorus. Throughout the run-time of ‘Phantom Anthem’, it is to be noted that these two refuse to back down from their strengths as technical guitarists either (see “Generations”). While that display isn’t as forward as, say their work on ‘Levelers’ was, its still prominently there on many of the tracks on the album. The track also features a country-esque riff with a jungle-like rhythm, over a spoken-word part from Luhrs.
Vocalist, Jake Luhrs, has mastered his mid-range screams and seems fairly content with that. If you’ve been a fan of his vocals to this point, its safe to say that you’re not going to change your mind. The great thing about this is that, because he’s so comfortable in that range, you can immediately tell when he’s working on other aspects of his vocals. His lower-register growls have made monumental progress over the years, which you can hear in tracks like “Kingdom of Sorrow” and “Float,” but its apparent that they are not his primary focus in his delivery. However, one of the things I found most interesting is that he’s been experimenting more with his higher-range screams, really showing just how much of a potential range he has.
As a whole, this album is the best thing that August Burns Red, has written in their 14+ year career and shows that, unlike many bands in this genre, they are anything but boring and formulaic. While their methods are tried and true, they always find a way to hit a sweet spot for fans and potential fans of the band. ‘Phantom Anthem’ will especially appeal to those who have been longing for a return to that grittier, more aggressive sound that was showcased on earlier albums. It will keep listeners on the edge of their seats and headbanging from beginning until end. They’ve just raised the bar for the metalcore genre, as they’ve done so many times… can they do it again? Only time will tell… what I’m certain of is that you should pick up your copy of ‘Phantom Anthem’ when it releases on October 6th!