Sound — 8
The instant I started up "Leveler", my hopes for August Burns Red's newest album were almost completely dashed. The feedback on "Empire" faded in, and the first riff on the entire album sounds eerily similar to a specific riff from "Up Against The Ropes", a song which came off of ABR's hallmark album "Messengers". Starting out a new album with a riff that sounds almost lifted from an older song really makes a bad first impression. But when you've been writing the same style riffs for over eight years, you're bound to have some similarities. I began to worry if this was going to be an album full of rehashed riffs and old songs played backwards. Old dogs with old tricks and all that jazz.
But I listened further than the first minute, and I'm glad I did. "Empire", which starts out as an iffy track, ends up having one of the most memorable bridges in the album, thanks to a truly epic choir-esque chorus and lots of uplifting riffs. When I heard that, I made up my mind to go through with the rest of the album. By the end, it was easy to see that while it is true that the boys in August Burns Red are still jumping through some of the same old hoops, they've certainly learned quite a few new tricks over the years. While they're not exactly pioneering anything new for the world of music, they are incorporating new elements that previously weren't a part of their sound. So while the album is chock full of melodic metalcore pedal riffs and open-note breakdowns, I can't deny that they've definitely progressed in their songwriting. Leveler really changes things up quite a bit throughout the album.
There's moments in the album where I can't even believe I'm listening to August Burns Red. "Carpe Diem" sounds like a completely different band. The song has nothing in common with the metalcore sounds of all their other tracks. It's hard to describe what it is, actually. It's slow, atmospheric, yet heavy. Almost sounds like an attempt on post-metal, with a bit of post-rock influence thrown in. It's a curve ball; really, I wasn't expecting anything quite like that from these guys. "Internal Cannon" makes fantastic use of clean guitars with a western-esque instrumental break, followed by a solo which features tasteful use of a wah pedal. Taken out of context it would seem completely irrelevant to the rest of the song, but when you listen to it, it works. And then there's "Cutting The Ties", where the band redefines posi-popmoshcore with the extremely upbeat outro. Whether or not the term "posi-popmoshcore" existed before now remains a mystery.
Production was handled by both Jason Suecof and the band themselves. The style is almost identical to "Constellations". Unfortunately, the production on "Constellations"/"Leveler" is nowhere near as unique as the organic sounding tones from "Messengers". This irritated a lot of fans when "Constellations" was released, and now it's gotten fans thinking that "Leveler" is basically a "Constellations Part Two" (it isn't, as far as I'm concerned). Now don't get me wrong, I think the sound is great. The tones are thick and fiery, and the drums aren't those played-out Slate samples that everyone and their moms are using these days. But it just doesn't sound as unique as "Messengers" did. Nothing felt more right than Tue Madsen's work for this band. But that was literally four years ago, I suppose it's time we all stop living in the past.
Lyrics — 8
Jake Luhrs has not only become a better vocalist over the years, he's also really displaying some serious range on this record. His voice gets unrecognizably low on "Divisions", and in "Carpe Diem", his screams go higher than ever before. I always thought he sounded slightly unorthodox when he started singing for the band back in 2006, like he had to put way too much effort into screaming to get the sound he had. He definitely sounds much more in control on "Leveler". Perhaps it has something to do with how much strain is put on his voice while touring. We all saw the ugly side of that on ABR's live DVD "Home", which was painful to watch. He most likely learned from his mistakes. Lyrically, I've always been a fan of the band. The lyrics are what first turned me on to their music. A lot of people look down on August Burns Red for being a Christian band, and they assume that every song is going to be a bible lesson. From what I've heard, though, that isn't true. The lyrics are hopeful, positive, at times dark and heartbreaking, but hardly ever preachy. Granted, there are some places where you could say otherwise, but for the most part, the lyrics get my seal of approval.
Overall Impression — 7
The title track of this album pretty much describes how I feel about this album. Near the end of the song, there's this great big buildup, very reminiscent to what they did on "Redemption". But instead of going out with a bang like it should have, the music just stops. It leaves you with a "that was pretty cool, but it could have been so much better" kind of feeling in your gut. If you ask me, I'll tell you straight up: I liked this album. A lot more than I thought I would. But it isn't the best in their catalog and it does have room to improve. Right now ABR are dancing the line between an old familiar sound and something completely new. They just need one last push to finally cross over. When they do get there, I think they would have the potential to write their best album yet. Until then, "Leveler" will just serve as a reminder as to why so many other metalcore bands try to be the next August Burns Red.