For the last several years, when you heard the name August Burns Red, you knew what you were getting. Album after album, their sound was uber consistent with its classic metalcore riffs, tight drumwork, and strong vocal performances. But, even with this consistency, it quickly became stale as they continued to tread the same waters without deviation. The output was there, the freshness not so much – but ‘Death Below’ changes that. After years of following the same path, August Burns Red sounds revitalized, showing us the dominant force they used to be.
With openers “Premonition” and “ The Cleansing,” the band jumps head first into the record, showcasing exactly why ‘Death Below’ feels so fresh. While many of the classic tropes of their sound are present like the gritty chugging rhythms amplified by the omnipresent melodic leads and driving drum chops, the integration of unique sections bring a sense of innovation that has been lost in recent years. From the intense blackened blast beat intro to the open and somber clean bridge, August Burns Red adds more to their songwriting and provides a dynamic that elevates their music to a greater degree. This trend of staying true to their output while adding just enough variation to keep the record invigorating continues throughout. The clean grooves of “Fool’s Gold In The Bear Trap” quickly give way to an eruption of intense screeches and a cacophony of drums and guitar progressions, giving a stark contrast between their subtle tranquility and abrasive aggression. Likewise, “Revival” and “The Abyss” transition between furious riffage and atmospheric breaks that give the slow moments more room to breathe and the heavy moments all the more punchy.
Where ‘Death Below’ truly excels, however, is in the moments where you can feel the band entirely revitalized. Jake Luhrs sounds stronger than ever, utilizing his entire range to bring an intensity to the record. From his abrasive highs on “The Cleansing” to his deep mids and lows on “Backfire,” his vocals add an extra level of emphasis to the intensity of ‘Death Below.’ The guitar work of Brent Rambler and JB Brubaker bring both the aggression and the melody seamlessly together. While tracks like “Ancestry” and “Tightrope” show off their common style of riffs, the infectiously groovy intro of “Revival” and the haunting, slow melody of “Deadbolt” serve as moments that display a more innovative approach to their songwriting. The chemistry between bassist Dustin Davidson and drummer Matt Greiner are clearly evident throughout as they build upon each other and lay the base for the record. In the calmer moments of tracks like “Reckoning,” the foundational progressions of the bass supported by the subtle, yet fulfilling, drum rhythms bring a refreshed sense of groove for August Burns Red.
Though ‘Death Below’ doesn’t necessarily reach the same highs of their prime, it certainly exceeds expectations. After a couple middling release cycles, August Burns Red’s impact was running dry as they rehashed what worked before. However, with their newest effort, the band takes new chances and expands upon their foundational formula, crafting one of their best records in years. With this return to form, this is the freshest August Burns Red has sounded in nearly a decade.