Music extends a helping hand even under the most extreme circumstances. It offers reprieve and relief from any trials and tribulations. Upholding artistic pillars of tightly wound technical proficiency, airtight grooves, and pensive lyricism, August Burns Red fortify a sense of sanctuary on their eighth full-length album, Guardians [Fearless Records]. The two-time GRAMMY® Award-nominated Pennsylvania quintet—JB Brubaker [lead guitar], Brent Rambler [rhythm guitar], Matt Greiner [drums], Jake Luhrs [lead vocals], and Dustin Davidson [bass]—rally around this thematic refuge on eleven tracks.
“There’s a loose theme of being there for another person who’s reaching out for help,” explains Rambler. “This individual who saves the day acts like a guardian. The idea recurred as we put everything together. It was a great summation of what we were talking about.”
Guardians once again fulfills a quiet, yet staunch 17-year commitment to a diehard audience worldwide. August Burns Red preserved this level of integrity since first emerging in 2003. Following the seminal Messengers  and Constellations , the band infiltrated the mainstream via 2015’s Found In Far Away Places. Not only did the latter stand out as their second straight #9 bow on the Billboard Top 200, but it also garnered the group’s first GRAMMY® Award nomination in the category of “Best Metal Performance” for “Identity.” The momentum increased with the arrival of Phantom Anthem in 2017. Marking the group’s fourth Top 20 debut on the Billboard Top 200, it paved the way for their second “Best Metal Performance” GRAMMY® nod for “Invisible Enemy.” The record ushered their career streams past the 100 million-mark as it earned four-out-of-five stars from the likes of Alternative Press and Kerrang! Between sold-out shows worldwide, they continued a 15-year tradition of holiday shows by launching the Christmas Burns Red Festival.
Throughout 2019, the musicians wrote what would become Guardians. Rather than tracking in one chunk, August Burns Red spent more time on the music than any other album. They recorded in two separate sessions at Think Loud Studios in York, PA alongside longtime producers Carson Slovak and Grant McFarland. This extra time allowed for unparalleled creative latitude.
“After the first session, we had months to think about what we might want to change,” recalls Brubaker. “We never had this much time and liberty for production. It enabled everyone to be more critical and think about putting an individual stamp on the songs. Think Loud was also the nicest facility we’ve ever tracked in. We had tons of room to work and be creative. We’re super proud of the final product. Dustin and I collaborated more than we have in the past as well. Typically, one person will write a whole song and send it to the band. We all got to contribute here.”
August Burns Red introduce Guardians with “Defender.” Airy feedback gives way to frenetic drumming and a chugging guitar groove. Dipping between moments of stark intimacy and rhythmic pummeling, this sonic barrage collides with an assurance on the chorus, “I would do anything to make it through, but it takes two. One is me, the other’s you.”
“That was the first song I wrote for the record,” recalls Brubaker. “I set out to write something more structured than what we typically write. It turned out to be one of the heaviest songs we’ve ever written.”
“Lyrically, I wanted to write about being able to reach out to someone,” says Greiner. “We all need a person who can take the punches for us when we need them to. We need a defender who bends, so we don’t break. The music matched perfectly.”
The single “Bones” gallops forward on thrashing riffs before culminating on the caustic chant, “We made a deal with the devil, disguised as help. We made a deal with the devil, should’ve trusted ourselves.”
“As people, we will think our way of life is better or worth more than another culture’s way of life,” continues Rambler. “Sometimes, we insert ourselves way too much into another’s customs or traditions, which can be harmful. We’ll come in and think we can do everything better, but we ruin things. It was interesting for us to think about.”
Elsewhere, clean guitar curls towards a wall of distortion on the melodic mayhem of “Lighthouse,” which discusses, “being a good Samaritan and helping others.” Meanwhile, opener “The Narrative” sets the tone with a focused fire. Guardians concludes on “Three Fountains.” Ethereal tones wrap around a sludgy drone, building a climactic atmosphere for the final vocal release.
“As a whole, Guardians is such a heavy and bruising album,” says Brubaker. “‘Three Fountains’ relies on different textures and layers, giving the record a juxtaposition at the end.”
“You’re taking a step back and evaluating your life from a distance versus being in the moment,” states Rambler. “It’s a big ending. It moves cyclically, repeating over and over again.”
In the end, August Burns Red step up on Guardians and strengthen their connection to listeners everywhere.
“Aside from my family, this band has been the biggest part of my life,” Brubaker leaves off. “My world has been August Burns Red since we started; it’s only become more important as things have grown. It’s our creative outlet. It’s what sustains us and our families. It gives us the ability to experience the world and how others live and think. Those experiences exerted some of the greatest influence on my life without question. We get to share that feeling with the crowd.”
“We just want the fans who have been supporting us year in and year out to feel like we put out the best possible record we could make,” concludes Rambler. “I hope they sit down and smile when they listen to it—and want to see it live.”