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|"I definitely don't feel like we're the 'new guys' in the scene anymore. We have our sound figured out at this point," says
AUGUST BURNS RED guitarist JB Brubaker. "But it was time to break some rules."
Since the release of AUGUST BURNS RED's 2009 breakout album, Constellations - which landed the metal juggernauts at #24 on the Billboard 200 - the Lancaster, PA-based genre giants have found themselves in some rather unexpected places. From the cover of Alternative Press to Fox's "American Dad," from the sands of Dubai to the Warped Tour, from Japan to Australia to South America, AUGUST BURNS RED crisscrossed the globe time and again on the road to the top of the hard rock heap.
When it came time to record their fourth full-length album, Leveler, ABR could have played it safe, could have simply cashed in on their previous success by making Constellations II. Instead, after eight years and a quarter of a million albums sold, AUGUST BURNS RED scrapped the old game plan and followed their sound where it led them. The direction, as it turns out, was both forward and backward. On Leveler, the band recaptured the hungry, ferocious heaviness of their earlier albums, and at the same time bravely indulged some of the more creative impulses they had previously stifled. The breathtaking result is nothing short of a game-changer.
"The biggest risk we took on this album was not limiting ourselves to stay inside the standard metalcore box," says Brubaker. "If there was a part that didn't sound like a traditional metalcore part, we ran with it and made it as wild or unorthodox as we wanted. We've been motivated to progress as a band and push ABR in different directions, while maintaining the characteristics that made us the band we are in the first place." Illustrating that point is the album's second track, "Internal Cannon," arguably Leveler's most out-of-the-box track, which manages to stay utterly brutal while employing a samba clean section, a salsa-esque solo, and another section seemingly destined for a Quentin Tarantino film. It's definitely metal, but the jury's still out on the "core."
"I think that's one of the advantages to being on your fourth album," Brubaker says of the band's experimentation." We have a dedicated group of listeners who are supportive of us trying new things and breaking some of the unwritten rules of metal. It's a luxury we are very thankful for and do not take for granted."
Balancing out a rich surplus of inventive clean guitar sections and blistering solos on Leveler is crushingly heavy riffage not heard from AUGUST BURNS RED since 2007's Messengers. Also present is the virtuoso playing of Matt Greiner, already one of metal's premier drummers, who takes his craft in even more dynamic directions. "The drumming is more technical on Leveler," Brubaker says. "I'm confident that this is the best performance Matt has ever given on an album."
Also making strides on Leveler is vocalist Jake Luhrs, whose personal journey from a life of substance abuse to the frontman of one of metal's most talked-about bands was well-documented in AUGUST BURNS RED's band-defining cover story in Alternative Press. In reuniting with producer Jason Suecof, who also manned the boards for Constellations, Luhrs pushed himself to deliver a profound and emotive performance. "Suecof is great with vocals and I personally connect with him well," Luhrs says. "We do have our tiffs when it comes to producing vocals, but it's because we really have a heart for lyrics and vocals. We end up hugging it out."
"It was like stepping back into a laboratory with a mad scientist two years after that chemical explosion incident," Brubaker says of reuniting with the metal wizard. "We went with Jason again because we love how clean and crisp he makes our albums sound. His production is top notch and he brings great ideas to the table in all facets of the process."
With the release of Constellations, AUGUST BURNS RED became a band that could no longer be ignored. They debuted in the Top 25. They toured alongside peers like A DAY TO REMEMBER and LAMB OF. They co-headlined the AP Tour and, this summer, will serve as headliners for the entire 2011 Warped Tour, and will be touching down for tours in Southeast Asia, Europe and Russia. Most importantly, they grew and connected fiercely with a colossal legion of fans, as the three-quarters of a million "likes" on their Facebook page attests. And that is why, with the release of Leveler, AUGUST BURNS RED will prove to be an absolute pillar of their genre.
"Our fans keep this band above water. If we have fans, then we have ABR," says Luhrs. "I honestly didn't know if we'd get to this place, to call myself a touring musician and it be my only source of income AND it being my dream... wow! Music is our passion and it's what we want to be doing. We intend to keep doing it as long as we can."
They say the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. If true, then in many ways the genre of metal-core has become the equivalent of insanity - hundreds of bands repackaging the same structures, same guitar riffs and scream-sing choruses to the same effect.
To borrow a popular 90's motivational phrase, AUGUST BURNS RED would like to "stop the insanity."
The band's latest album, Rescue & Restore, is a colossal effort which turns a critical eye to the oft-maligned genre, leading by example to prove that bands can still find exciting new ways to expand the genre without simply falling into repetitive trappings.
"Rescue & Restore is about challenging other bands and ourselves, as well as fans of this music, to want more than whatever happens to be the current buzz," explains guitarist and principal songwriter JB Brubaker. "We've done our best with each new album to try to push our sound in new directions and we'd like to see our peers do the same. People need to realize that there's not much of a difference between a metal-core song that has a couple breakdowns with a repeating chorus and the latest Lady Gaga song. This genre used to be better than that. It can still be better than that."
With so many bands in the heavy music scene seemingly intent on madness, AUGUST BURNS RED aren't afraid to branch out, weaving in elements of other influences from punk to indie to rock. Throughout the album's 11 tracks, the band artfully blend piano, cello, violin, trumpet, various percussive elements and more into their sonic arsenal, taking their music to new aesthetic heights and contorting the boundaries of heavy music.
"At the end of the day we are still a very heavy band," Brubaker says. "Rescue & Restore still has plenty of really heavy stuff, 'techy' odd meter riffs, and all the stuff that people have come to expect from us, it just has a lot more surprises along the way."
Rescue & Restore marks AUGUST BURNS RED's fifth proper album, fleshing out an impressive body of work that also includes a live record, a collection of B-sides, and a 2012 holiday album, Sleddin' Hill, released over the band's lauded decade-long career. Since launching out of Manheim, PA, the industrious outfit has successfully transitioned from shake-up-the-field upstarts to one of the biggest names worldwide in the genre. On stages across the U.S. to Europe, Japan, Australia, South America and more, from renowned fests such as UK's Download Festival to the Warped Tour, which they join again in 2013 as a mainstage act, AUGUST BURNS RED have spent years taking their music and message directly to fans, and in the process have grown into one of the leading forces in the modern metal scene, a fact bolstered by their 1.4 million Facebook fans and more than half- million albums sold.
AUGUST BURNS RED cemented their status with the June 2011 release of their fourth studio album, Leveler, which rocketed to the top of the Billboard charts - debuting at #11 on the Billboard 200 in addition to entering the charts as the #1 Hard Rock album and #2 Rock album. Adding to the stellar debut is the incredible durability and staying power Leveler has displayed, having become the band's fastest-selling album to date by a significant margin.
But while Leveler was a commercial and critical success, anyone expecting the band to retread old ground is clearly not familiar with AUGUST BURNS RED. "I think our listeners expect us to try new things and know that each new album won't be a carbon copy of the previous one," explains Brubaker. "I believe we managed to write our most diverse record to date, one that longtime listeners will love, and a record that will hopefully inspire some other bands to try new things and encourage us to continue to push the boundaries in our own music."
With Rescue & Restore, ABR have proven that it is possible to reshape music in a way that challenges listeners, reinvigorates fans and puts art first. Even if some people don't realize that music needs to be saved from falling neatly into easily digestible boxes, this band is doing its part anyhow without a hint of cynicism. There's an earnest sincerity behind AUGUST BURNS RED's desire to continue to warp the constraints of what it means to be a metal band.
"With every album we want to get better as musicians, as songwriters, as performers. We all genuinely love what we are doing and that is great motivation to always try to improve and expand," Brubaker says. "I think our best days are still ahead."