August Burns Red – Guardians (Album Review)

Central Pennsylvania’s finest, August Burns Red, are back to blow your mind with Guardians, their epic ninth full-length. The album drops on Friday, April 3rd, 2020, thanks to the good people at Fearless Records.

To an outsider, the heart of Pennsylvania’s Amish country might appear to be the least likely locale to produce one of Metal’s heaviest hitters—but it has given birth to one of the finest. Lancaster’s August Burns Red are twice Grammy-nominated masters of their craft and have been rocking hard for 17 years now. Hard-working, dedicated musicians, the quintet have delivered eight full-lengths throughout this time, including the seminal 2007 release, Messengers, 2009’s Constellations, 2015’s Found In Far Away Places, and, most recently, 2017’s Phantom Anthem. To add a cherry on top of all of their success, the little band who could (and do!) have continued their 15-year tradition of hometown holiday shows by launching their very own Christmas Burns Red Festival.

So, what’s next for Vocalist Jake Luhrs, Guitarists JB Brubaker and Brent Rambler, Bassist Dustin Davidson, and Drummer Matt Greiner? With the help of long-time producers Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland, the Pennsy boys are ready to present their ninth full-length, Guardians. With a loose theme of reaching out for help and finding a savior, the album explores music as a helping hand, but also the idea that we are each our brother’s keeper, and, by extension, part of something much greater than ourselves.

The 11-song Guardians immediately launches into Brubaker and Rambler’s exemplary guitar theatrics with the multi-layered explosion of “The Narrative,” a vicious plea anchored in the band’s masterful musicianship. They continue this into the frenetic banger “Bones,” a hope-filled look at the nature of humanity which allows Davidson a moment to shine before the barrage segues into soaring choruses full of melodic guitar licks. Then, reaching the pinnacle of the album’s theme—the promise that we are not alone, that we all have someone to lift us up when we are at our lowest—“Paramount” blends gang vocals and those deliciously melodic guitars, coalescing into a barrage that is guaranteed to get the pit going wild at live shows.

On the timely “Defender,” sonically brutal verses culminate in powerfully atmospheric, triumphant choruses that urge teamwork and unity—because love transcends all. Meanwhile, going for a more melodic approach, “Lighthouse” shines a beacon of love, inspiring each of us to be a good samaritan and lend a hand where we can. All of this sets the scene for two more phenomenal offerings: the arpeggio-laden stomper “Dismembered Memory” and the anthemic “Ties That Bind.”

Brutal stomper “Bloodletter,” with its beautifully weeping guitar solo crafts a mood that continues into, but only gets heavier for, the maelstrom of “Extinct By Instinct.” Here, Luhrs howls over occasional blast beats, soaring guitars, and jack-hammering rhythms. Next, the pulsating wall of sound of “Empty Heaven” draws the listener back in with its careful nuance before, ultimately, they conclude with the over six minute journey of “Three Fountains.” Beginning as a languid, hope-filled trek across the sonic landscape, the track travels across diverse terrain as Luhrs reflects on what it means to forget who you are. A powerfully epic saga of loss, a cinematic tale of redemption, it ends the collection on a superbly impressive note.

A little grittier, a little heavier, but still maintaining the band’s phenomenal musicianship, Guardians provides yet another example of why August Burns Red are at the uppermost echelon of their craft. Upholding the band’s artistic pillars of tightly wound technical proficiency, airtight grooves, and pensive lyricism, their latest allows the skilled quintet to deliver a sense of sanctuary in troubled times, to poignantly remind each of us that no man is an island unto himself.

Thus, if Guardians was to offer a motto, surely it would be “I would do anything to make it through, but it takes two. One is me, the other’s you.” For this, Cryptic Rock gives Guardians 4.5 of 5 stars.

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