“Leveling” the Playing Field

I’m trying something new on this review. I’ve listened more intently to the music to imitate mainstream reviews, while still maintaining my worldview analysis of the lyrics. Any comments or criticisms on this new style are much appreciated.

Leveler SpecialAugust Burns Red have distinguished themselves as one of the most progressive bands in metalcore as they’ve grown from a startup band into a group with formidable potency. As they developed their hard-hitting, devastatingly heavy sound that has earned them a following in the hardcore community with their first three LPs, 2005’s Thrill Seeker, 2007’s Messengers, and 2009’s Constellations, they realized an excess of complacency within the genre and it drove them to create a refreshing sound for their 2011 effort Leveler. Although not nearly as technically proficient as 2013’s Rescue & Restore or 2015’s Found in Far Away Places, it proved to be a huge shift in the mindset of the Lancaster-based quintet.

Leveler [Special Edition] (2011): 16 tracks, 67 minutes

Overall Impressions

By the end of this record I think that it’s evident the band had a lot of room to grow. Nevertheless, that has not prevented them from piecing together a commendable progressive effort. The anthemic and positive portions of this ensemble show maturity and creativity from the members, while the decision to interrupt the barrage of breakdowns at the end of the record with an ambient instrumental was masterful. Even the bonus tracks attest to the group’s change of direction, offering a different perspective on their songs. However there is, as always, room for improvement. Matt Greiner, no doubt an extremely talented drummer, fails to break through on this record. Short bursts of great filler cannot substitute for his conspicuous influence on other ABR records. Similarly, the unwavering heavy-metal barrage at the latter end of the record (and even earlier) weakened the future-focus of the effort. But the lyrical honesty and vulnerability of Leveler and even August Burns Red in general, is nearly incomparable. Though very seldom tainted by strong language, their dedication to truth and perseverance are still distinguished on their fourth long-player.

Musical Content

The transitions of the album opener are highlighted between breakdowns and melodic riffs, with the exception of the progression into the final “chorus”; it’s noticeably rushed. While the conversion from soft to loud in “Carpe Diem” is expertly handled by Matt Greiner’s build, it also lacks resolution with an abrupt ending. “Pangaea” faces a separate issue, with a turbulent and patchy feel. However “Cutting the Ties,” with Luhrs’ “break free” breakdown, flows beautifully into a masterfully crafted sound change. The short instrumental, “1/16/11” serves as a contrasting, yet fitting lead-in to “Boys of Fall,” while the brooding transition into the “coward” breakdown at the end of “Poor Millionaire” is also brilliantly appropriate for its place on the record. In addition, the snare build into the “Leveler” solo acclimates well to the overall climate of the song. Excellent transitions are even showcased among the bonus tracks, specifically “Boys of Fall” performed by Zachery Veilleux.

Whereas many hardcore genres are marked by nihilism and hopelessness, ABR have managed to discreetly incorporate positive changes in sound on this record. The conclusion of “Cutting the Ties” is very possibly the best example of this on Leveler, adding depth and completeness. Others include the anthemic “bridge” of “Empire,” the majority of “Salt & Light, the conclusion of “Boys of Fall”, and even throughout its piano rendition.

LevelerSome innovative additions worth mentioning include the powerful bass slides of “Empire,” the Latin influence on “Internal Cannon,” as well as the wah effect J.B. employs for the solo in this song; something far rarer in metalcore than in most other genres. The power of “Divisions” is not diminished even during slower sections, while the vocal style is significantly scratchier and rougher, providing more eminence than initially. I like how each band member contributes to the intro of “Cutting the Ties,” while Greiner shines brightest in the restrained portions of “Pangaea” with some masterful fill work. The minor intro and contrasting clean, high leads improve the quality of the intro to “Carpe Diem,” while the smooth, haunting riffs of the soft stretch enhance the middle. The fluid, background work contrasting with the staccato rhythm in the middle of “40 Nights” is fresh and unexpected, as is Luhrs’ spoken word addition to “Salt & Light.” The slower tempo choice for such a powerhouse as “Poor Millionaire” is surprisingly effective. I love the positivity of the improvisation on “1/16/11,” which contrasts well with the main, driving riff, as in “Boys of Fall” where the latter half of the song relies on a throatier approach to the signature lead. But the long, epic buildup to the expertly constructed conclusion to the “real” end of the record punctuates the album well, leaving you hungry for another listen.

Lyrical Content

“Empire” warns, “we build with our hands what we have in our hearts” and “our decisions affect our descendants,” a timely reminder that our ideas, no matter how small, have consequences. In “Divisions,” Luhrs recognizes his guilt with the admission “I made you carry the casket of an innocent man when it should have been me” and “Boys of Fall” makes a similar concession: “He is God / We are just men / Who are we to question?” “Cutting the Ties” recognizes the sanctity and value of life. “Internal Cannon” is a soundtrack for overcoming the negative aspects of life with purpose and direction, while “Carpe Diem” is a conversation between dissenting voices, reminding us that our experiences and dreams can powerfully shape us. While reprimanding a hypocritical man, Luhrs utilizes some unfortunate adjectives, including whore and b*****d. In addition, there is some violent imagery used in “Divisions,” “Salt & Light,” and “Leveler.” Yet, “all I want is the truth,” cries “Leveler,” a refreshing way to end the record in a good light. Lyrical themes visited on this record are much like other ABR albums: tenacity in times of adversity, condemning hypocrisy and tyranny, establishing justice, forgiveness (both giving and receiving), rebirth and renewal, recognizing the effects of our decisions, the importance of truth—all the while inspiring hope in the hearts of listeners.

Final Conclusion

As a first attempt at combating the status quo, I believe that August Burns Red have formulated a laudable piece, providing them with an excellent leg-up for their follow-up release. Stay tuned for a review of Rescue & Restore (hopefully) in a couple weeks . . . 7.25/10.


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