August Burns Red – Death Below
Label: SharpTone Records
Release Date: March 24th, 2023
I remember the first time I ever heard August Burns Red. I was a sixteen-year-old mohawked metal fiend that had scrunched myself in the back seat of my buddy Frank’s Chevy S10 in 2007 to attend a local hardcore show with three other sweaty teenaged dudes; sandwiched against a freshly installed subwoofer. Frank began scrolling through his iPad attached via aux cord to the car’s stereo system and asked, “August Burns Red or August Burns Red?” before we even got a chance to laugh he clicked play on “Your Little Suburbia is in Ruins” off of their debut album, Thrill Seeker. I attribute that day as one that I lost a quarter of my hearing in my right ear and also one that I discovered one of the greatest metalcore bands of all time. They’ve come a long way since that first blistering record. They’ve released nine successful studio records, three live records, three remix records, and three DVDs.
On March 24th, the band debuts their tenth studio record, Death Below, and it will demolish your world and give you hope at the same time. The album kicks off with an introductory track, titled “Premonition”, that goes from clean guitars and tom work building to a climax with spoken word poetry from vocalist Jake Luhrs. That ticks into the next track, “The Cleansing”. This track immediately gives off black metal vibes (unblack metal perhaps) that ABR pulls off so flawlessly while peppering in their metalcore flavor. It dives straight into the breakdowns we all know and love while gathering up the groove to serve up a clean-fry vocal delivery. But it changes again and dives back into hell for a back and forth that has the listener turning their heads like a hound to a dog whistle. There’s a riff toward the end of this track that has an ethereal element when played in chorus. It takes you from hell to heaven, and I think that’s the intent.
The next track, “Ancestry”, features the mighty Jesse Leach of Killswitch Engage singing the chorus. This is a track for the metalcore fan. They all are, but this one is especially fun as it’s ripe with technical groove riffs and builds into breakdowns. That chorus is a two-stepper’s dream. The next track is “Tightrope” featuring the shredding of guitarist Jason Richardson of All That Remains (formerly Chelsea Grin and Born of Osiris). When I think of August Burns Red, I’m already thinking “shredders” but Jason Richardson said, “hold my beer” with his contribution to the track. The man’s a virtuoso; point-blank. The album starts to wind down at this point as we approach the halfway point. But while we’re winding down, it doesn’t mean we are letting up. At the beginning of “Fool’s Gold in the Bear Trap”, we get some beautiful bass work from Dustin Davidson who lays out a groove that guitarists JB Brubaker and Brent Rambler surround with stunning clean tones; rich with wet effects. However, much like the name suggests, it’s a pretty thing that gets ugly quickly. Mat Greiner’s toms begin to pick up, and we descend back into Hell with the blast beats and shrieking black metal vocals. If you’re not paying attention, you won’t even notice they’ve moved on to the next song, titled “Backfire”, because it transitions so seamlessly. This is a circle-pit track if I ever heard one. It has great repeating groove riffs with smooth leads that keep your head banging.
The next track, “Revival”, keeps that pit energy going with a chugging drive of riffs that will have you icing your neck before too long. The album hits reset with a transition piece, titled “Sevink”, before diving back into a groove piece, “Dark Divide”, that clearly has roots in Gojira and Soulfly influence with pick scrapes and gruff hollers that would make Max Cavalera wipe his tears away with his gnarly dreadlock (I’m sure he has it in a drawer somewhere). “Deadbolt” takes me back to their sophomore album Messengers. It’s always so awesome to see how a band that has a long and rich history still sounds unequivocally like themselves. They always have that element, whether it be guitar tone, vocal cadence, or whatever it may be that makes you immediately think of their name when you hear it. This song has all of that. From the specific style of breakdown to the intricate leads playing over top; I could easily take this back to sixteen-year-old me, and he’d do his weird little slam dancing in the kitchen. “The Abyss” features JT Cavey (Erra, formerly of Texas in July) and it leaves the listener entranced with a consistent beat and key that has multiple different moves within it. No matter how far they stray from that central point, it always manages to tie in and work within the sequence. It’s like jazz in a very non-jazz way.
Following this track is the album closer, “Reckoning”, featuring Spencer Chamberlain of Underoath who provides his higher-pitched screams that compliment Luhrs’ lows beautifully. This song is probably my favorite on the record from a spiritual standpoint within lyrics. It’s no secret that this band has its roots in Christianity. Luhrs still does public testimonies. That’s also evident in Chamberlain’s career going in the opposite direction, and yet, there’s an ability to keep this message of love, positivity, and brotherhood despite the forked paths these two frontmen took in their careers.
Lyrically, this album deals with heavy topics like mental health and doubt while remaining hopeful in the end. My favorite lyric comes from this final track. It says, “I set my sights on the impossible. Endless debt making Grace unstoppable.” It’s a reflection that there’s something bigger than us keeping the ship moving despite all the numerous roadblocks that life throws our way. It’s just one of the many reasons this band remains so consistent while still growing through the years. They’re willing to branch out and try new things while remaining grounded in their message of love and positivity, and that’s a beautiful thing.