Editor’s Note: This is a review of both releases.
For a band that hasn’t released a new studio album in a couple of years – Phantom Anthem hit your ears in 2017 – August Burns Red has managed to issue a fair amount of material in 2019. But perhaps the most intriguing output of late from the metalcore mainstays wasn’t issued on record. Rather, it might’ve emerged when singer Jake Luhrs addressed the outfit’s musical accessibility in a June interview with Wired in the Empire (around the 10:00 mark) where he revealed the group were writing new songs that better allowed for fans’ “ability to digest the music – not saying that it’s going to get any more simplified, per se, but it’s going to be easier for the listener to really grasp what’s going on.”
Does August Burns Red’s music need dumbing down? Not that their catalog has necessarily been labyrinthine, but it’s possible the band’s recent penchant to shade to the more prog side of rock has caused some to tune out (even if those twists were often applied to headbangin’ Christmas carols). On the other hand, ABR stands fast as one of the more consistent acts of their class, a knack they reiterated with 2017’s aforementioned tour de force Phantom Anthem. Diehards know August Burns Red stands for quality; it doesn’t matter if the group is melting your face with shout-along tech metal or surrounding you instrumentally with something that sounds like a space-age Ennio Morricone.
February’s Phantom Sessions EP delivered on the latter vibe, one non-album track plus a stunning cover of The Legend of Zelda theme anchoring what’s invariably the band’s most exploratory span yet: the nearly all-instrumental addendum of “Laniakea” and “Coordinates (Reprise)” that fragrantly blossoms untouched near the back of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it, stopgap affair. Maybe metalcore could use an Appleseed Cast.
The anniversary redux Constellations (Remixed) came out in June. Just like when the band remixed and reissued their other early benchmark, Messengers, the remix opts to beef up the album’s sound, bringing it more in line with the production style of their recent efforts. (The punchier drums are the main benefit here.)
So what direction is left for the Pennsylvania-based rockers? It’d be expected the band would continue to refine and condense their sound. To what degree is a more digestible version of August Burns Red required? Your mind is the mountain before you.
“A lot of times, on previous albums, we’ve decided to go off to a place where it’s very progressive and really outside the box,” Luhrs continued to host Mike Z last month. “We’ve played with that a little bit – and it’s really cool, because if you listen to all the albums … they’re not the same. This (new) record, you can see the growth and see the changes. I think it’s really important for us to continue to do that.”
Certainly, an argument could be made either way.