Sound — 8
August Burns Red have done it again. Two years after their crushing third album "Constellations", the Pennsylvania quintet are back with "Leveler", an album that plays to all the band's strengths while throwing in a few curve-balls along the way. The band again enlists the help of producer Jason Suecof to weave through another 48 minutes of crushing metal. Opening track "Empire" builds on the band's signature sound, with some back-breaking heaviness before clicking into some gang vocals. Lead single "Internal Cannon" stands out not just for its brutality but also for it's latin (salsacore?) in the second half of the track. In "Divisions", vocalist Jake Luhrs screams his heart out over Matt Greiner's simply fantastic drumming. The first half of the album closes with "Pangaea" and "Carpe Diem", the former beginning with a sweet galloping riff and some of the best drumming on the album. Guitars run amok through the four and a half minute track, with some great melodies, harmonies and even a solo, something the band only really started exploring on their previous effort. "Carpe Diem" is easily one of the darkest songs in ABR's catalogue. Its central riff will remind you of the final two minutes of their near-instrumental "Meridian" off of "Constellations". Once again, Luhrs shreds his vocal chords to new heights before the tracks soft interlude of Dustin Davidson's bass over some simple chords and, what's this?, some slide guitar. It might sound like a rehashed "Constellations" track to some, or even just a breather before the next 6 track assault, but "Carpe Diem" acts as a great closer for the first half of the album. The second half of the album continues with crushing riffs in the form of "40 Nights" and the recent live staple "Poor Millionaire" (see the catchy opening drum beat). After the short interlude "1/16/2011", the band goes straight for the throat with the riff-happy "Boys Of Fall" and the title/closing track "Leveler". The album ends with cries of "I forgive you" before Greiner's snare and Brubaker and Rambler's guitars sound one final crunch.
Lyrics — 9
By now, it's pretty common knowledge that August Burns Red are at the top of their game in terms of musicianship. While it's certainly true that the band are just as tight as ever on "Leveler", the true standout this time 'round, in this reviewer's opinion, is vocalist Jake Luhrs. The band only really began exploring his range on "Constellations", but Luhrs is screaming his heart out throughout this album. From the deep gutteral growl of "Skyscrapers, earthmovers, groundbreakers" on opening track "Empire" to the absolutely insane shriek of "What have I done?" on "Divisions", Luhrs vocal tactics are all over the place on this album. There's even some more spoken vocals on "Empire" before the band slams into some gang vocals, which make the track an obvious live choice for years to come. It's almost as if Luhrs was trying to outdo himself after his, let's face it, less than stellar performance on the band's recent live album. The lyrics themselves also seem to be more personal than ever before on "Leveler". Some lyrics are clear references to the band's Christian roots, such as "the author wrote a story in the sky" in "Empire", but some lyrics, like "I know silence is a hard answer when all you want is a sign" off of "Cutting The Ties" or "A star can't be seen unless all the sky decides to be dark" from "Boys Of Fall" will ring home for more than a few listeners. Overall, the band as a whole have never sounded better, but Jake Luhrs especially gives his best performance yet.
Overall Impression — 8
Make no mistake, "Leveler" will divide fans. Some will think it sounds too much like "Constellations" Pt. 2 while others will be weary of the new styles, such as the Spanish leads on "Internal Cannon". Some will think the soft sections sound forced while others may even think the album lacks originality. Fans of the band's last album should enjoy "Leveler", while fans of "Messengers" will find plenty of breakdowns to bang their heads to. But there is one thing that any listener can agree on: In a genre not exactly renowned for its creativity, August Burns Red still manage to offer up a solid, mature and heavy metal album, one that separates itself from some of the more mediocre aspects of the genre. The entire album goes straight for the throat, and leaves you, pun definitely intended, leveled.