August Burns Red Avoids the dreaded “Sophomore Slump”

August Burns RedIn 2007, August Burns Red[1] returned with their sophomore LP, Messengers.[2] This record is no “sophomore slump” as many other bands are prone to be subjected to. With the epic blend of the then newly-acquired vocalist Jake Luhrs’ songwriting, the polished, yet profoundly heavy guitar work by J.B. Brubaker and Brent Rambler, and the ever-intense, talented drumming of Matt Greiner, Messengers works out to be one of the all-time greatest ABR records, garnering several hits: “Truth of a Liar,” “Back Burner,” and “Composure.”[3]

August Burns Red - MessengersMessengers (2007): 11 songs, 48 minutes.

Within 30 seconds of starting my first listen to this record, I made a mental note of the marked contrast of quality between August Burns Red’s debut Thrill Seeker and their sophomore effort Messengers. Maybe it’s the iconic sound of frontman Jake Luhrs’ growls, better production, or an overall improvement in skill in the short two-year span between the two releases. Whatever the case, if the first half-minute of this record is impressive, it’s bound to be the foundation of something great.

“Truth of a Liar” has got to be my favorite track on Messengers. Jake Luhrs’ scream got me hooked, and the rest of the band captivated me. The heavy breakdowns in the first five tracks are crushing, yet smooth at the same time. I have no idea how they got the tone of the guitars to work that way, but it sounds great. The intro to “Black Sheep” took a second listen. At first it sounded almost comical to me, but when the remainder of the ensemble took over the song, it mixed excellently. The slow chords that begin “The Balance” also carry a lot of flavor. The catchy riff in “Redemption” is very slick and fitting for the song. I also really like the reverse effect they employ for the intro and outro of “The Blinding Light,” as well as the seamless transition between “An American Dream” and “Redemption.” If there is such a thing as refined metalcore, Messengers is right-on.

Something that appears to have grown equally with ABR’s technical skills from Thrill Seeker to Messengers is the songwriting. Whereas the lyrics of Thrill Seeker were at best vague, Jake Luhrs (as he has proven subsequently) is able to write hard-hitting, focused lyrics that cut to the heart. “Truth of a Liar” profoundly states “The truth hurts, but denial’s what will kill you.”[4] “Up Against the Ropes” is a song of perseverance; “Back Burner” a harsh reminder of what happens when you turn back on your convictions. “The Eleventh Hour” rebukes an unbeliever for his denial of the importance of faith and reminds him what will happen if he ultimately forsakes it. “An American Dream” provides a scathing reprimand for materialistic America and the six-minute, hardcore worship song “Redemption” sums up the record superbly: “I am just a man with a heart and sinful hands. I am a fallen victim. Lord, show me the way. I ask of you Father, let my words be your words. Let my thoughts be your thoughts. To you, I give my praise.”[5]

Messengers is an exposé of the human condition. Many songs on this record manifest wrongs done by others and an attempt to offer them a hope of better life (i.e., “Truth of a Liar,” “Back Burner,” “Composure,” “Vital Signs,” and “Black Sheep”). The album closer, “Redemption” is a beautiful picture of what we are and what we can be in Christ. This album is full of hope and goodness from front to back. And to August Burns Red I give a hearty pat on the back. 8.5/10.

[1] August Burns Red photo, http://partyfool.blogspot.com/2010/11/discography-august-burns-red.html

[2] Messengers album cover, http://www.newreleasetoday.com/lyricsdetail.php?lyrics_id=3653

[3] Biographical and album information adapted from Spotify database.

[4] New Release Today, “The Truth of a Liar” Lyrics, http://www.newreleasetoday.com/lyricsdetail.php?lyrics_ id=3653 (May 19, 2016).

[5] New Release Today, “Redemption” Lyrics, http://www.newreleasetoday.com/lyricsdetail.php?lyrics_id=3679 (May 19, 2016).

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