Returning in 2013 with yet another progressive effort, August Burns Red have certainly made progress with Rescue & Restore. The metalcore quintet’s fifth full-length offering is as technically advanced as it is thick with thought-provoking themes. Though only hinting at their goal to create a new style on 2011’s Leveler, Rescue & Restore delivers on that promise.
You may have noticed on my review of Leveler that I ripped on Matt Greiner’s drumming. Well, I am proud to say that from the first snare crack of Rescue & Restore the percussion sounds more refined and mature. The drumkit choice for this record was excellent; it has a deep, brooding sound that is not paralleled anywhere on all of Leveler.
But the drums are not the only item to check off the list of improvements. The lyrical quality, as I mentioned above, is superior to all of the band’s prior records. Granted, many of the same themes are revisited, but ABR’s approach to them is significantly more mature and inspires careful cogitation. The harsh lyrical content prominent on Leveler has also been reduced.
Embodying the essence of a great album opener, “Provision” also features masterful changes of pace to distinguish the overall heaviness. Whereas with Leveler you had to resort to the bonus tracks to get a taste of acoustic ABR, “Treatment” features a beautifully arranged acoustic guitar solo and subsequent build back into the devastatingly heavy song. The monologue sections on this record are much more than an afterthought. In fact, each band member tends to shine in these portions of the ensemble. Such is the case with “Spirit Breaker.” Though breakdowns are the staple of a metalcore song, “Count it All as Lost” still manages to innovate with upward-bends into a staccato rhythm guitar pattern. My favorite lick on “Sincerity” lasts a total of maybe two seconds, but it is an expert lead-in to the lyrically-backed portion of the first breakdown. “Creative Captivity” is very possibly my favorite August Burns Red song, but my favorite part is the synchronization between two extremes in the soft middle section of the song. The harmonies of the strings contrasted with Dustin Davidson’s bass slaps and Matt Greiner’s wonderfully concocted fill creates one of the most incredibly beautiful pieces of music ever created. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of rhetorical overkill, but listen to it, and you’ll fall in love with it just like I did. “Fault Line” brings you back to roots, calling to memory songs like “White Washed,” “Truth of a Liar,” and other hard-hitting singles the band has produced in years past, but the climax of the song is where the real meat can be found. This record also showcases the band’s ability to continue to find innovative ways to conclude a song. “Beauty in Tragedy” is a pristine example of this, featuring soaring choral vocals, a rumbling guitar, and an organ-like background pad. The Arabian-influenced “Animals” features a great take on a brutal song with a slower tempo. Lead guitarist JB Brubaker shines brightest in “Echoes,” a gem tucked away at the end of the record, with screaming harmonies and ambient additions. Greiner’s percussion is a distinct feature on the album closer.
One place where Rescue & Restore failed to measure up was in the area of sound changes. While Leveler was shedding sound profiles like they were going out of style, they are Few & Far Between on Rescue & Restore. Though the ambient stretches of their 2013 effort are more carefully developed than its 2011 counterpart, the lead guitar counters throughout the record are generally lacking.
Learning lessons from life is featured as a theme; in “Provision” Luhrs exclaims “. . . all of this life is a lesson I’d rather learn than end up in a cold covered up dark grave,” while “The First Step” says “we live to learn.” Finding hope in times of adversity is another prominent theme, receiving time in “Provision,” “Spirit Breaker,” and “Echoes.” The importance of relationship is featured throughout the record as well, from pleads of “I need you” to Luhrs’ extended lines in “Fault Line” declaring “Together we’ll get through this . . . Without you I’m nothing. Yes . . . Without you I’m worthless. Yes.” “His fierce devotion to what he believes is true . . .” proclaims “Sincerity,” praising a man’s commitment to his convictions. Redemption shines in the few lines of “Creative Captivity,” calling us to “Rescue the beauty that’s left. Restore the character that’s long since gone . . . This beat must carry on.” The pain of the death of a loved one is visited in “Beauty in Tragedy,” that offers a beautiful view of legacy: “. . . I’ll be sure to carry the torch to warm the hearts that never got to feel yours.” Other positive elements include emphasis on the value of life, recognizing the fallen nature of human beings, a brief nod to the sovereignty of God, bitter acknowledgement of an abundance of hate in the world, helping others in life, searching for a positive outlook in the midst of intense suffering, and recognition that man is separate from animals, condemning cruelty and hypocrisy.
However, in rebuking hate-filled persecutors, August Burns Red have decided to set sail on dangerous waters. With the ever-increasing influence of the homosexual agenda, one never knows what to think when lines such as “open the gates . . . Let acceptance in / We’re here to say that the world needs more diversity / We’re here to say that we’re all so sick of your bigotry” pound through the headphones. Though at least one band member (who ironically doesn’t happen to write lyrics) has admitted to changing his views on sexuality through his touring experiences, this doesn’t necessarily reflect the beliefs of the band as a whole. But, “Identity,” off of 2015’s Found in Far Away Places has also come under the same scrutiny. In the commentary version of the 2015 album, the band stated that “a family member of the band [came out] of the closet to his family after 19 years,” so the influence was definitely on the whole band by that point. However, no comments were made about these views in relation to Rescue & Restore. “Animals” ventures into similar territory, but fails to make any glaring allusions as “Treatment” does. Language is clean overall; whore is used in “Provision,” as well as a figurative instance of drunkenness and intoxication in “Animals.” “Stop dwelling on what happens when we die,” counsels “Treatment,” when we should really be contemplating the eternal significance of our decisions. “Your battles will become our peace. Your lies will become our truth,” screams “The First Step,” seemingly taking a postmodern, relativistic perspective on life and legacy. Although I believe they are attempting to demonstrate the destructiveness of such a philosophy, the words are still there and should be carefully interpreted.
Though it lacked some features that I appreciated on Leveler, Rescue & Restore has proven to offer a fresh perspective both on life and music. Musically, they have gained great steps in concocting clever reserved sections of their songs and have continued to create head-banging, hard-rocking anthems for listeners to enjoy and think along to. Think, because the lyrics are deep and sometimes conflicting. Where Luhrs & Company unabashedly endorse truth throughout this record (and previous ones), they also seem to want to reject truth clearly outlined by Scripture in other places on the record, such as “Treatment,” “Animals,” and “The First Step.” I’ve really appreciated the commitment to truth these five guys have displayed throughout their career and I’m disheartened to see them depart from it on a tough issue like sexuality. 7.9/10.