The first time I was introduced to hardcore music, I took a wrong turn into some hick town called Albuquerque. Bug-z (You know, the bunny? It’s like a gangster name…) might as well have shoved pounds of carrots down my throat and into my stomach and through every cavity and iota of my irritated body until orange seeped from my pores.

The band sucked. The singer marched his fat body back and forth on stage like an overweight sumo wrestler and belched his words like a dying animal. I remember thinking there was no possible way any of this garbage was ever going anywhere.

Jump ahead, eh, seven years…

“IT SEEMS LIKE YOU’RE GIVING UP ON EVERYTHING!” And as strobe lights added to the chaos, the epic set opening of “Composure” served as the perfect release of compartmentalized energy this San Antonio crowd held pent up within them during an excruciatingly long wait for the headliner, August Burns Red.

A far cry from whatever local band ruined my first impression… I dare say my initial reaction to brutal music was a bit off base.

This Or The Apocalypse started the night off with an incredible set. The night served as their official CD release party – and they couldn’t have done a better job promoting it. They ripped through songs whose names I can’t even pronounce from their debut CD Monuments. By far, their title track struck the hardest, pounding through the crowd’s chests and vocal chords wailing, “Harsh spoken cadence are these crooked lines we walk by!”

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Greeley Estates followed up the set, along with Sky Eats Airplane, A Skylit Drive, and a couple local bands. The White Rabbit venue is set up with two stages in separate rooms, so as soon as the nationals finish their set, the locals hop on the other stage. There’s never a break, it’s non-stop all night, and it’s straight up tireless.

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The audience killed each other. The first ABR show I experienced introduced the biggest circle pit I’ve ever seen, and this was no exception to the rule. We flailed, we screamed, we destroyed. People crowdsurfed to the stage and backflipped back into the sea. Guys and girls hardcore danced like their lives depended upon it. Whirlwinds. Cobwebs. Moves you can’t possibly name anything but: “Violently-thrashing-in-vicious-circles-with-potential-to-kick-faces-and-break-bones.” Anthems exploded with fury as shreds opened up “The Truth of a Liar” and Jake handed the mic down to wanting hands grappling to scream out “The truth hurts! The truth hurts! The truth hurts! BUT DENIALS WILL KILL YOU!”

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“Your Little Suburbia Is In Ruins” was a definite favorite, and “An American Dream” called the crowd to evaluate their priorities and give thought to where our standing is in our country, singing, “We’re trying to breathe underwater. The few, the proud, no longer sing their song. One nation under God, it’s us against the world!” The incredibly technical “The Eleventh Hour” and passionate “Up Against the Ropes” also littered the set list.

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August has a way of writing material that each fan can claim as their own. So when Jake ties the mic chord around his neck and holds up his arms in mock asphyxiation, shattering lines like “We will survive! The strong, the fortunate, the never ending. We will survive through thick and thin!” in a song about broken, hurtful, betrayed relationships, the masses can take it and belt it from the heart, because it’s an emotion we all relate to.

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The highlight of the night, without a doubt, was the encore. “Redemption.” Really, I could leave it at that. After chants (and was that a threat of violence?) demanding their return, they emerged from backstage – announcing it was time for worship – and nearly self-combusted. Giving it our everything, we joined in: “I TRUST IN YOU FOR LIFE TO LIVE, AND AIR TO BREATHE…I AM JUST A MAN WITH A HEART AND SINFUL HANDS. I AM A FALLEN VICTIM. LORD, SHOW ME THE WAY!” Jake has a way of getting right in your face, pointing directly at you, and singing the exact lyric you need to hear for that time in your life – who knew kids would weep in passion, humility, and worship at ear deafening heavy metal show?

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That, combined with ABR’s frantic, unique style, the explosive energy of 400+ kids facing the threat of Hurricane Ike a week prior, packed into a room where the whole becomes one in common love for a common cause, and the Lord’s ability to touch hearts through every means, made for the best show I’ve seen in a long, long time.

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