Sound — 7
Being conceived around the same time when the American metalcore scene was run by reputable bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan, Killswitch Engage and All That Remains, it's no wonder that August Burns Red's sound is fundamentally fueled by this inspirational amalgam (even the collage-style artwork for their debut album, "Thrill Seeker," seems likely influenced by TDEP's "Miss Machine"). But with these beacons of technicality and instrumental prowess being foundational to the band, their brand of metalcore has succeeded in rising above the lot of their contemporaries since their breakthrough second album, 2007's "Messengers."
August Burns Red's progress in recent years has shown them further stretching for variance in their songwriting. 2011's "Leveler" dabbled a tiny bit in genre infusion by including a Latin-style clean guitar melody laced into the metalcore song "Internal Cannon," but 2013's "Rescue & Restore" would up the ante further. Not only would it raise the bet of Latin spice (going whole-hog mariachi at the end of "Creative Captivity"), but it also displayed lone bass riffs bearing the style of Tool, and even brought an organic string section into the compositional fold.
In their seventh album, "Found in Far Away Places," August Burns Red throw even more sonic curveballs, similar to the numerous genre cameos that pop up in Between The Buried And Me's "Colors," but this ambition generally gets messy. The glitchy synthpop intro of "Vanguard," the smooth blues interlude in "Everlasting Ending," and the soft acoustic/choral denouement of "Twenty-One Grams" work because they're short and sweet, and the fully-stocked neoclassical folk interlude in the middle of "Separating the Seas" does a good job calling back to the classical-tinged material heard in the band's previous album. But August Burns Red get most befuddling in their experimentation when they shoehorn old country sections in the middle of "Identity" and "Majoring in the Minors." Perhaps it was the result of watching too many John Wayne movies, but those moments ultimately come off like a flighty gimmick more than anything else.
In terms of the actual metalcore, though, August Burns Red are still very much on top of their game. The drums are given a full-throttled workout throughout the album, technical riffs spice up the flow of things (like the skillfull 7/8 guitar/bass riff in "Majoring in the Minors," the 15/4 verse in the middle of "Identity," or the 10/4 breakdown in "Blackwood"), and lead guitar riffs feel noticeably better than they were in "Rescue & Restore" (like the frenetic fretwork in "The Wake," the melodeathy leads in "Twenty-One Grams," and the abundant tapping melodies in "Martyr"). However, another problem that arises in "Found in Far Away Places" is one that the band have been treading on for a while with their riff-to-riff style of frantic metalcore - some songs drag on longer than they need to. Whether it's the extra breakdown and verse tacked onto "Broken Promises," or the outro of "Vanguard" that meanders much more than necessary, it comes to show that not every songwriting situation abides by the notion of "the more the merrier."
Lyrics — 7
As opposed to their earlier material primarily filled with staunch Christian themes, frontman Jake Luhrs and his lyrics are getting friendlier for the non-Christian crowd in "Found in Far Away Places." Though this does lead to some bland and derivative bouts of lyrics (like the generic uplifting messages of "Majoring in the Minors" and "Everlasting Ending," and "Separating the Seas" doing the same haranguing of bland metalcore acts previously found in the "Leveler" song "40 Nights"), Luhrs fortunately puts out more distinct bouts than not. On his sociopolitical side, "Ghosts" takes on the plight of the homeless ("Fighting for you attention, begging for your generosity / Looking up just to see you turn your cheek on me"), "Blackwood" tackles soulless celebrity millionaires out of touch with real world conflicts, and though the apocalyptic flooding imagery of "The Wake" alludes strongly to a Christian-themed doomsday, it doubly works as a harrowing prediction of industrial-imposed global warming melting the polar ice caps.
Most notably on the album are Luhrs' lyrics focusing on his personal issues. He focuses on addressing his problems with strained family relationships in "Broken Promises" ("I thought family was forever / I thought family stuck together"), as well as tying in his depression - which was a big focus in the previous album "Rescue & Restore" - with those family issues in "Identity" ("You want to cure me of this epidemic, you say I'm sick"). And in "Twenty-One Grams," Luhrs wrestles with the Kierkegaardian theme of the uncertainty that's inseparable with one's faith in God and the afterlife ("What kind of cruel truth only presents itself / In the moment you die?"), easily being one of the most honest and profound songs about Christianity that August Burns Red have ever put out.
Overall Impression — 7
"Found in Far Away Places" sits on a funny paradox. With its clambering ambitions that don't all stick their landing, August Burns Red's attempt at creating an avant-garde metalcore record trips over itself. But in spite of its setbacks, it still makes itself distinguishable from the rest of the band's discography of heavy and fleeting metalcore - even a stumble can still count as a step forward, and moving forward is preferable to stagnancy. And with the reliable instrumental skill of the band being the healthy constant to counter the shaky songwriting variables, "Found in Far Away Places" balances out to be a decent album.