August Burns Red – “Death Below”


August Burns Red, the long-running metalcore outfit from Lancaster Pennsylvania, is back with their latest offering, “Death Below.” Known for their cover of video game themes and a Christmas pop album as well as their well-celebrated metalcore offerings, they have been around since 2003 as a part of the new wave of American heavy metal. They have been a constant beacon of the metalcore genre since their inception, iteratively shaping their craft over the last 10 studio albums to a melodic progressive style. Although not marketed as a Christian band, all members are professed Christian and this comes through in various lyrical themes of their releases.

“Death Below” is a clear specimen of why ABR are masters of melodic metalcore. Beyond the usual organized chaos that is metalcore, they have a progressive sensibility to make “Death Below” a more refined listen than the typical album. Each time I listened, something new popped out.

My first listen picked up exclusively the metalcore vibe, but subsequent listens showed more depth. A great example is the song “The Cleansing.” The song starts off with the usual metalcore style in a clear minor key which is what makes it sound foreboding. Then, shortly before the five minute mark there was sudden shift into a major key making it sound hopeful. The cool thing was that the lyrics reflected that shift from an impending destruction to a hopeful resistance.

Although the songwriting has a progressive approach, ABR doesn’t veer far from well-defined rubrics of what they do well. The songs are like a patchwork quilt, where tempos, rhythms, and instrumentation can change quickly from one beat to the next. Unlike other bands I’ve reviewed, there is an element of cohesion among the various sections to call it a complete work rather than disjointed sections slapped together. The main contrasts are between the technically rhythmic sections, technically melodic sections and breakdowns/buildups.

The rhythms for many of these songs are beyond my comprehension on how the musicians keep them straight. Excellent technical playing on asymmetric, off-kilter, syncopated, and otherwise incomprehensible patterns. Drums, bass, and rhythm guitars are right in line on time every time. It is chaotic for sure, but it is intentionally well-orchestrated.

Lead guitars are pretty melodic and oscillate between arpeggiation and technical patterns. There is a slight middle-eastern tinge to many of the lead lines that help pull the various songs throughout the album. For example, many of the later songs I could tell some harmonic continuity to “The Cleansing.” The solos were pretty melodic and had a good balance between technical ability and musical sensibility. The guest solo by Jason Richardson on “Tightrope” was an impressive technical display which stood out.

The breakdowns often go down to just the bass and drums and gives an opportunity for the bassist to come through. Bass playing is rhythmic and lays down the basis of harmony rather well. Three tracks are prolonged breakdowns as intros into the next track and provide an oasis from the swirling chaos and technical playing in the metalcore-type sections. The chords and motives used in the “proper” song usually pull from these short tracks. and you can hear it as one complete song.

Vocals are on point for metalcore. They vary between deeper death growl to “yelling in key” to pseudo-black metal screaming. There are a couple of places where the vocals have a hint of melody that I found refreshing. The guest vocals from Jesse Leach are a welcome addition in “Ancestry” and elevate the rather rare ABR chorus to an anthem. “Backfire” also has cool gang vocals that shift the focus to the vocals.

The lyrics for the most part are quite personal and cathartic. Dealing with themes such as forgiveness and redemption, we can hear a bit of the Christian world-view come through. The opening two tracks (which are basically one song) provide something different where it is story telling from the perspective of a prophet who has seen an evil vision. Overall, decent material for lyrics.

If there is a drawback to the album, it is that ABR delivers quality metalcore and not much else. For a meat and potatoes metalcore lover, “Death Below” should be your next feast. For those that are looking for the next new or intriguing listen, this may not be it. Aside from the rather cool harmonic shift in “The Cleansing” there wasn’t much innovation for the genre. This is not a true criticism, but a caveat for some listeners expecting an out of the ordinary ABR album.

Coming into this review, I did not listen to ABR all that much, but I have come to appreciate what they bring to the metal scene. A definite recommend for those looking for a solid progressive metalcore album and for those not familiar with ABR. For those that have been around the scene for a while and are more familiar with ABR’s back catalog, this may feel like old hat. There is no denying their ability and the quality of the release though; ABR has provided a rock solid album that is worth the listen.

Rating: 9.0/10

Written by Sean Bailey

1 – Premonition
2 – The Cleansing
3 – Ancestry (feat. Jesse Leach)
4 – Tightrope (feat. Jason Richardson)
5 – Fools Gold in the Bear Trap
6 – Backfire
7 – Revival
8 – Sevink
9 – Dark Divide
10 – Deadbolt
11 – The Abyss (feat. JT Cavey)
12 – Reckoning (feat. Spencer Chamberlain)

August Burns Red is:
Jake Luhrs – lead vocals
JB Brubaker – lead guitar
Brent Rambler – rhythm guitar
Dustin Davidson – bass, backing vocals
Matt Greiner – drums, piano

Jesse Leach (Killswitch Engage)
Jason Richardson (All That Remains)
JT Carvey (Erra)
Spencer Chamberlain (Underoath)

Release Date: March 24, 2023

Record Label: SharpTone Records

2005: Thrill Seeker
2007: Messengers
2009: Constellations
2011: Leveler
2012: August Burns Red Presents: Sleddin’ Hill (Review)
2013: Rescue & Restore (Review)
2015: Found in Far Away Places (Review)
2017: Phantom Anthem
2020: Guardians (Review)
2023: Death Below

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Video below ‘Ancestry’

Lyric video for ‘Reckoning’

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