The Pennsylvanians from August Burns Red dropped their wonderful new album over a month ago. ‘Guardians’ is their ninth album and it sees the band explore some new directions. Never Mind The Hype had a chat with rhythm guitarist, lyric writer and manager Brent Rambler to talk about ‘Guardians’, monstrous circle pits in Dubai and the state of metalcore.
By Pieter Sloot
“The record has been received really well”, Brent tells us in a not so stable Skype call. “We did write the record with our fans in mind. Obviously we want to be happy with how it is, but we also want to write something that our fans like. It’s important to us. So far I only read one negative review, but it was from a guy that doesn’t like metalcore… so yeah. Why review our record?”
In the middle of the recording process of ‘Guardians’, the band consciously took a break from recording. That meant that the album had two recording sessions, leaving quite some time between the two in which the band did a tour to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their classic album ‘Constellations’.
Brent: “Before the tour, in April last year, we already had eight songs written and finished. So we figured: why not record it? Let’s at least get the guitars done to get a feel for what these songs are going to be. In August we went back to the studio, where we got to polish off the first eight. After that we had a really good view of what the record missed.”
What was missing after the first session?
“We though it missed some of the heavier songs, which is funny because the record as a whole is pretty punishing. We had a lot of heavy riffs lying around, they just had to be knocked into a song. The song ‘Bloodletter’ for example was the last one that was finished. We thought it missed some heavier tracks that were easier to grasp upon a first listen, the first eight songs were a bit more complicated.”
Listening to ‘Guardians’, I did hear some subtle new elements here and there like big choruses and melodic choirs. I was wondering if you are taking ABR into the direction of a band like Parkway Drive, in order to eventually play some bigger venues.
“I definitely think we won’t go their direction as far as they went. Jeff (Ling, guitarist in Parkway Drive, PS) is a great guitar player, he’s just great at writing catchy riffs. It’s just how they are, even when they were more straight up metalcore. That’s not necessarily our style. What we wanted was to give Jake (Luhr, singer in ABR, PS) a chance to grow. This way he could showcase some other vocal styles that he can do. Growing as band in the means of music style is what we always have done, so it just made sense to apply that to vocals as well.”
So the result of that would be a song like ‘Bones’?
“Exactly, it’s one of my favorites.”
Normally lead guitar player JB writes the bulk of ABR’s songs but now that he has a kid, bass player Dustin stepped in to contribute to song writing. This way JB could spread his time evenly over the band and parenthood. Brent sheds more light on the writing process:
“Normally Dustin contributes a few songs here and there. But for ‘Guardians’, he really stepped up and he spent a lot of time writing. The result was a contribution of I think six songs, the others being written by JB. It became our most collaborative record ever done. Musically for sure, but also lyrically with Jake, our producer Grant and I to do the vocals.”
With one of your main tasks being lyric writing, what is your vision on the importance of lyrics?
“I think that lyrics are the thing that provide emotional connection. Obviously there are countless bands that provide awesome music without it, but to really get a fanbase to stay with you for a long time you do need that emotional connection to the band. I think lyrics are what establishes that connection.”
The lyrics of August Burns Red are known for being very positive, is it hard to fit that message in an aggressive sounding music style?
“We always had that point. You know, we have had these shirts that say ‘angry music for happy people’, ha ha! I think if lyrics are more positive, people pay more attention to it. No one wants to sit there and read a bunch of negativity. If you look at the big bands in this style of metal that have lasted a long time the lyrics are often about hope, so it just makes sense.”
So what can you say about the closer of the album ‘Three Fountains’, is ABR diving into post-metal there?
“Well, we love Cult of Luna, ha ha ha! It’s a band favourite of us. We have dived into the genre of doom in the past, like we do in this song. But then in the middle there is big thrash part. It’s a cool song because it compromises a lot of different sounds that are common within metal: the slow, sludgy, doomy part, the pretty beginning. That’s both reminiscent of Cult of Luna but then there is the thrash part and it gets super heavy and at the end it’s kind of post-hardcore. To me it’s cool because it brings all of these styles of heavy music. It’s a great journey to listen to.”
ABR have often stated that years ago there were a lot of bad bands that called themselves metalcore, eventually leading to ABR to avoid the term altogether. What is that like nowadays?
“I think that the metalcore bands that are still here and still doing well are the ones that have been around for a very long time. A lot of bands jumped on the tree too late and fell off by the wayside. That’s unfortunate because in almost every band there are talented people. But bands that were there when we started are now still here, and they are doing better than ever. I’m thinking of bands like Architects and Parkway Drive. There’s of course also Bring Me The Horizon that have turned into a completely different band. We are also doing better than ever, Trivium is also doing wonderful as well as Killswitch Engage. I think the state of metalcore is actually really great, a lot of bands have stuck with their sound and some have evolved. The titans in the genre still stand big.”
What was it like to do the anniversary tour of ‘Constellations’?
“It was a lot fun! When you write an album you think a lot about the order of the tracks, but you barely get to perform it like that. So for ourselves that tour was so much fun because we got to play the album in its entirety so often. We finally got to play it how we envisioned it from start to finish. Of course it gave us a nostalgia as well because in 2009 we weren’t a normal headline band. We were trying to grow on support tours doing sets of 30 minutes. A lot of songs barely got played live and it was really awesome to go back and relearn them and actually perform them.”
I read that in the middle of recording ‘Constellations’ you guys flew to Dubai to do a gig. What was that adventure like?
“Yeah that felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity to go play Dubai. I haven’t heard a lot of bands go there so it felt like a nice opportunity. The show was so funny. There weren’t many bands and we played once it got dark… We had this absolutely monstrous circle pit, it was huge. So then the police came, a lot of people there hadn’t seen a circle pit. They thought there was a riot about to happen! Luckily it was fine and they didn’t stop the show. It was so funny to explain to them that this is normal, that this is how it is supposed to be.”
I can’t avoid this question: what is the lockdown life like for the five of you?
“It provides a sense of normalcy for everyone. We do ABR related things everyday: JB is home writing music, Dustin is as well, I have been working on lyrics. Matt is working on setting up an online drum education website. Jake is working on Heart Support. In the meantime we all stay sharp at our instruments and there’s the occasional interview. Of course it’s not just a band, it’s a business so there is work to do every day. JB and I do the management of the band so there’s that as well.”
Are there any future plans on the shelves? Where will ABR in 20 years?
“I think we will definitely be alive and kicking. We probably won’t be touring as heavily as we have in the past. We are also slowing down the pace in which we are releasing new music, and that’s intentional. We don’t wanna get overly stale, every record has to be as creative as possible. Fans play a role as well. Bands don’t get to determine how long they are gonna be around, that’s kind of the duty of the fanbase. Nowadays, I really hope everyone is alright. We dropped this album in the middle of a pandemic so hopefully it will put a smile on everyone’s faces.”
August Burns Red released ninth album ‘Guardians’ on April 3 through Fearlesss Records. You can read a short review (in Dutch) here and listen to the whole affair through Spotify ao: