August Burns Red – Constellations

by Brian Willett

At a time when the music scene is dominated by the likes of the Jonas Brothers and Auto-tune is everywhere you turn, intensity and talent seem to be lacking.  So where do you turn when you’re sick of poppy love ballads and over-produced, unemotional radio-friendly “anthems”?  Look no further than August Burns Red.

The band, which formed in March of 2003 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is set to release their third studio album, Constellations, on July 14.  Earlier this year, August Burns Red was on an explosive tour with As I Lay Dying and Misery Signals.  The band is currently headlining a tour with Blessthefall, Enter Shikari and iwrestledabearonce.  But despite all the intensity on the road, the real fireworks are on Constellations.

The band makes it evident that no punches will be pulled from the first crushing note of “Thirty and Seven,” as heavy percussion and driving guitars set the stage for the rest of the album.  The lyrics are deeper than your average fare, as well – vocalist Jake Luhrs sings, “You are infatuated with what consumes you…stop acting like there’s no other option.”  The pedal is pushed through the floor for the entirety of this one, with pinch harmonics, tremolo picking, and machine-gun percussion providing a perfect introduction for the rest of Constellations.

The next track, “Existence,” begins with some great riffing from guitarists JB Brubaker and Brent Rambler.  The two form a perfectly complementary pair, with heavy power chords on one end of the sonic spectrum, and soaring single-note melodies on the other.  “Existence” flows into a chugging breakdown early on, and Luhrs produces more profound lyrics, such as “The walls of the church are not what makes it holy.”  August Burns Red also shows off its flair for balance, adding a tastefully short, but impressive solo around the three-minute mark, before building to an epic climax at the end of the song.

If the following song, “Ocean of Apathy,” does not get your head banging and your feet tapping, you should probably check your pulse.  This song features an addictively catchy riff through the intro and verse, and an intense breakdown with more great guitar work and pinch harmonics.  After that, August Burns Red returns to the first riff, expanding it and exploring new sonic ground.  Then, out of nowhere, the band drops everything and leaves an undistorted guitar to strum along, accompanied by a jazzy riff.  This interlude is just a brief pause for breath though, as the guitars, percussion, and screaming vocals return in full fury to wrap up the track.

“Marianas Trench” is perhaps the most ambitious track on the album, beginning with some beautiful, undistorted picking.  This melody continues and is joined by a tremolo-picked riff and percussion, building into a jaw-dropping, electric intro.  But before you can bask in the greatness of that section for too long, an equally awesome verse riff is introduced and vocals and percussion follow.  Perhaps the greatest part of the song though, is the solo, which is short and sweet, but will linger in listeners’ heads for weeks.  Once again, August Burns Red showcases both taste and talent, not shredding just for the sake of shredding, but laying down a pleasant and technically impressive solo that fits perfectly.

But the band makes sure that you don’t think they’ve forgotten how to be intense, as “The Escape Artist” follows “Marianas Trench” in explosive fashion.  Even the lyrics fit with this theme, as Lurhs screams, “Your mouth is like a grenade, blowing everyone away. How many have you pushed away, and how many have you saved?”  The percussion here is excellent, supplying plenty of syncopated rhythms and tempo changes, while Lurh sings “Don’t judge until you’ve taken it all in, cause in the end you’ll pray to stay above the flames…Open your closed mind and close your open mouth.”

The rest of the album features plenty of highlights and much more intensity. “Meridian,” though, departs from this, beginning very slowly and building gradually and dramatically.  The track is instrumental, and is a masterpiece, featuring soaring guitars and great rhythm.  Constellations ends on the same note it began, with the great finisher “Crusades,” another intense adventure.

Overall, Constellations is a magnificent effort, a great listen that is technically impressive – a rare combination.  The intensity and talent here is second to none.  August Burns Red shows that if you thought rock was dead, you’re dead wrong; Constellations will shoot the band toward stardom.