I think it goes without saying (even though I’m saying it…) that if you’ve heard and enjoyed an August Burns Red album, then you’re going to enjoy Leveler. While there are new elements to be heard and applauded throughout, Leveler is very much the next logical step in the progression of a band that started out way ahead of everyone else.
Like a lot of fans involved in any facet of our independent music scene, I lead a sort of sonic double life. While my preferences tend to lean more toward the more melodic (or in some cases, a-melodic) Indie Rock side of the spectrum, I find myself regularly delving in to some of the last decade’s most influential, passionate, and talented Hardcore bands. It took me a while to understand that music is multi-faceted – every genre is simply another side of an infinitely complex coin. When we’re younger, we often find ourselves pledging foolish allegiances to one style of music or another, and use that define our actions, clothing, and attitudes. What we fail to realize is that a majority of the bands making music within our genre’s of choice are, quite simply, fans of music- not just Hardcore, or Metal, or Indie, or Hip-Hop. In talking with Matt Greiner, drummer and founding member of August Burns Red, we discussed bands and albums that he was listening to at the moment – his first suggestion? – Fleet Foxes. We then talked about our mutual adoration of Christian post-everything band mewithoutYou. It was with that information in mind that I went in to listening to Leveler for the first time, allowing me the chance to think of August Burns Red as something other than a talented, well thought out, technically proficient Metal/Hardcore band.
Make no mistake, though, this is very much an August Burns Red album – all of their signature moves are intact and as strong as they’ve ever been. Taking cues from their last release, Constellations, the album spends it’s time moving – most of the time at breakneck speed – through a collection of songs that range from riff driven Punk Rock and Metal tinged tracks to punishingly heavy Hardcore epics. It’s between these more recognizable elements that the band manages to find ways to organically incorporate new, very much non-Hardcore pieces in to their most current musical puzzle. “Empires” starts the album out in typical August Burns Red fashion – riffs, breakdowns, Jake Luhrs incomparable vocals – but transforms into something almost light and airy with the addition of non-Metal guitars and beautifully done gang vocals. “Internal Cannon” highlights one of the strangest – yet oddly appropriate choices on the album: a quasi-mariachi, Spanish guitar influenced anti-breakdown. It’s a great segment and lends a tremendous amount of texture to what could have ultimately been a rather throwaway track. “Divisions” and “Cutting The Ties” find the band in familiar territory, but with the addition of some enthusiastic yet quiet lulls in the tracks before, they come off as fresh and even more punishing when the thundering breakdown of “Cutting The Ties” is unleashed. “Pangaea” is quintessential August Burns Red, highlighting the fleet fingers of guitarist JB Brubaker and Brent Rambler, while letting drummer Matt Greiner flex his considerable muscles as the song changes speeds and tempos without ever looking back. “Carpe Diem” is a relatively slow track – though no less intense for it’s lack of speed. It’s a nice segue, though, as it manages to calm things down ever so slightly before the album barrels ahead. As well, it’s a track that highlights the bands newfound – and ultimately necessary – understanding of quiet – and, dare I say, subtlety – as again, the placement of the track within the whole of the album is quite obviously a purposeful one.
“40 Nights” is a fast-paced track with a good amount of solid breakdowns that makes for a great mid-album track, as it throws you back in to the album proper after the deep breath of “Carpe Diem.” “Salt and Light” is a mid-paced, relatively bright track, offering riffs a plenty. Bassist Dustin Davison is the highlight of the track, showing a bounciness and playfulness as Luhrs screams “We sing for you!” over airy guitar lines. “Poor Millionaire” is the band’s self-proclaimed heaviest track they’ve put together, and I’m hard pressed to disagree. It’s unrelenting, full of cacophonous drums and absolutely full-tilt breakdowns, with the finale of the track offering their most ominous take on their particular brand of Metal/Hardcore to date. “1-16-2011” is a brief, quiet interlude in the same vein as “Carpe Diem,” that leads in to the albums final two tracks. “Boys of Fall” finds itself filled with dueling guitars (as happens on several occasions during Leveler’s running time), and plays at multiple tempos, while offering up some of the albums best breakdowns during and between Brubaker and Rambler’s rollicking guitar theatrics. It has a slightly rougher feel than a majority of the albums tracks, as well, adding a visceral intensity to the track that, again, adds great texture to the album as a whole. “Leveler” ends the album in rather typical August Burns Red fashion, taking all of their best elements and assets and combining them in to a 4+ minute trek through everything the band has to offer.
There’s a reason August Burns Red is where they are today – they’re talented, sincere, and passionate – and Leveler is further proof of those facts. With each of their releases, though, the band has remained true to their fundamental musical values – copious, lightning fast snaking guitar lines, unrelenting energy, and a continued intensity from the beginning of each album to the end – and has managed to not just progress for themselves, but for their fans. Stagnancy and stubborn adherence to formula and ritual is dangerous in today’s evolving independent music scene, and it’s with that in mind that the band chose to add quiet, thoughtful, and subtle elements in the midst of all the chaos and blunt force. Leveler is undoubtedly an August Burns Red album, but simultaneously manages to add new elements to the bands repertoire while allowing the band to enthusiastically and proudly prove to the Metal/Hardcore community that they are, quite simply, unstoppable.
Leveler will be released June 21 in stores and online via Solid State Records.