August Burns Red

Constellations

Written by: BL on 19/06/2009 02:38:08

It is fair to say that this band is one which at one point, were one of my personal highlights of a now decadent genre that is metalcore. Their 2005 debut "Thrill Seeker", while underground enough for most people to pass by at the time of its release, was then a standard-raising, mathematical, visceral and thoroughly breathtaking album. After a change of lead vocalist and bassist, they released "Messengers" in 2007 to my mixed response. It was a decent record, but in my book it failed to live up to the standards of their first offering, and as things became more predictable, their peers started catching up (some of whom would even cite August Burns Red as an influence). But two years on and these Pennsylvanian boys are back with "Constellations", claimed by the band as their most experimental and creative record to date. With the production helm at the hands of Jason Suecof, it's a step up from "Messengers" which suffered annoyingly from a lack of clarity when the sound got a bit busy (and with this band things are always busy). Personally I still think that they sounded best when Adam Dutkiewicz handled the production and mixing, as with "Thrill Seeker" though.

For those familiar with the band, essentially things remain fairly staple to what you're used to hearing from them. However, there are a few key areas where things have changed or been broadened upon, and to mixed results. The first and most obvious one is the introduction of guitar solos. Having a passage to show off your guitar lead skills is hardly a new thing, and perhaps guitarists JB and Brent have decided (no doubt encouraged by Jason Suecof) that it is about time they show off their ability to string together lead wizardry as well as the usual technicality present in their riffing (since guitar solos rarely have any other purpose). But strangely, the solos aren't as special as they could be considering how good these boys are at guitar. They're nothing out of the ordinary for technical metal and barely make you think, "wow that was crazy". This is a problem, considering that they don't add anything else to the music, and I feel that more could have been done to at least make them a bit more mindblowing. I was glad though that at least the riffing is still as good as it gets for metalcore: tremolo picked, tapped, harmonised, galloping, leads, chords or a combination of the previous - you name it, they've got it ("Rationalist" actually has one of the best riffs I've heard in recent memory from 1:32 onwards, considering the shred-a-licious intro).

The next change is a bit more subtle and a bit harder to describe, and the casual listener might not even pick up on it: and that is that the usual neo-classical influence found in the riffing has somewhat been slightly toned down and is now combined with more conventional melodies. "Marianas Trench" features a lot of bright melodic guitar work (a lot of clean guitar also); somewhat more conventional than anything the band as done in the past (think of the clean section of "Too Late For Roses" from "Thrill Seeker" for a reference). Toned down though doesn't mean gone, so there is still a lot of great neo-classically inspired dual-guitars all over the place. Another facet of theirs (somewhat hated by those who frown upon metalcore) are the breakdowns. These are still ever-present, but if you know them well you would know that none of them will sound alike and often make heads turn with their mathematic construction. Often on top of these parts are riffs and leads to keep things interesting and well clear of the generic zone. And don't worry, there are no dissonant or horror chord breakdowns.

Vocally, Jake Luhrs sounds slightly more commanding and powerful than on "Messengers". His improvement is mainly with how he now sustains his screams better, and there is also a marginal increase in his screaming range. "Indonesia" is the final big change to ABR's sound because it features the only passage of clean vocals on the whole album (not considering the spoken passage of "Meridian") and their entire discography for that part. I was rather surprised to hear them as firstly to me this is a band a bit too consistently aggressive to employ clean vocals, and secondly because they're not that good. It seems out of place and lacking power, tune and conviction. I would not be unwelcome to clean vocals as many metalcore bands have them, but I think in this case they would need improvement to work in the future. And what about the other instrumental departments? Well Matt Greiner has churned out another great drumming performance. Blast beats, clever cymbal and tom usage in his fills are just some of the highlights you can find throughout. The bass guitar is a little weak in the mix but at parts you can still make it out enough to know its there. However it takes second stage to everything else anyway since it holds hands with the rhythm section at all times and never really comes into its own (only on the first track where you can hear it clearly galloping with the bass pedals).

With these changes in mind I felt that this record is better than "Messengers" with better and more fluid songs as well as more variety. Though I don't think it matches the sheer impact "Thrill Seeker" had but then I don't think they ever will, they were younger and more raw with their sound back then. But at least they are maturing, becoming better musicians and song writers while, like they said, taking a creative step forward and a chance too. I only hope that they can improve on clean vocals if they decide to utilise them again and improve their guitar solo work so that I can feel my brain melt the next time (at the very least match the prowess of the other guitar work). Four years ago they proved that they can light a genre on fire and keep the metalcore boat afloat for years to come, and some things haven't changed in that respect at least. I say if you like metalcore in any form, you should get this record.

8

Download: Marianas Trench, Rationalist, Meddler
For the fans of: Unearth, As I Lay Dying, Misery Signals
Listen: Myspace

Release date 14.07.2009
Solid State Records

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