Reviewed: February 2009
Released: 2007, Solid State Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
Admittedly, Christian metalcore is not a genre that I am well-versed in, nor do I particularly care to be. As I Lay Dying is about as far into the blessed waters that I care to tread, having been completely turned off by similar acts Norma Jean and Evergreen Terrace in the past. That being said, one of the best live bands I saw in 2008 was Pennsylvania’s August Burns Red. The arm-in-arm prayer in front of the drum riser prior to their set was a bit of an eye-opener, but…whatever. It’s the music that matters, right? Picking up their latest record, MESSENGERS, offered a less than refreshing take on metalcore but all the same, this record simply smokes. Produced by Tue Madsen (The Haunted, Born From Pain), the sound is crystal-clear and may be the heaviest album of the year (trust me…turn this mutha up!). Jake Luhrs’ vocals are as abrasive and aggressive as they need to be and the guitar team of JB Brubaker and Brent Rambler really cut some killer lead runs. There isn’t much here that hasn’t been heard before from bands like Unearth and the aforementioned As I Lay Dying but August Burns Red definitely presents a pretty stellar case for keeping metalcore alive on MESSENGERS.
While the band members may stick to the straight and narrow, the music on MESSENGERS is unrelenting heavily and goes right for the jugular without ever letting up. Clean vocals and sing-songy choruses? Not here, folks. Don’t let the choir-boy lyrics fool you either, because the intensity of new vocalist Jake Luhrs cuts through any pre-conceived notions one might have. “Up Against The Ropes” showcases some impressive drumming from Matt Greiner and rapid-fire riffing from Brubaker and Rambler. “Back Burner” is stuffed with bruising fury and biting riffs, with a monster breakdown plunked right in the middle. The effective use of breakdowns is key in metalcore and while many bands tend to use them as a crutch, August Burns Red never rests a song on the breakdown, instead using it as an instrument to propel the song forward. “The Eleventh Hour” gets down and dirty with well-placed pinch harmonics and melodic leads but Greiner’s restrained blast beats and technical fills really take the song to another level. They aren’t overly flashy but a close listen reveals a whole lot going on in the drum department. Even “Black Sheep,” with its speedy, tremolo-picked intro, and “Truth of A Liar” cut through the metalcore dross that is everywhere today and stand out in what is a fine record all around.
MESSENGERS could do for August Burns Red what FRAIL WORDS COLLAPSE did for As I Lay Dying five years ago. This is a monster of a record that has plenty of crossover appeal outside the Christian metalcore genre and could move the band into some bigger tour slots. Of course, metalcore has gone beyond its shelf life for some time now, so it could also be a case of coming too late to the party but for what it’s worth, MESSENGERS is easily the best metalcore album these ears have heard this year.
KILLER KUTS: “Up Against The Ropes,” “Back Burner,” “The Eleventh Hour,” “Black Sheep”
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