August Burns Red has been at the forefront of metalcore for twenty years, but its latest album, Death Below, might just be the band’s most complete offering to date, according to founding guitarist Brent Rambler.
“The original idea was to do a four- or five-song EP that flowed together. We eventually just had so much material that we decided to do a full-length, which became Death Below," he explains. "It was recorded in four or five sessions throughout the pandemic. Lyrically, it’s definitely not a concept record,” but more of a comprehensive listening experience than anything the band has done before.
“It’s an interesting record where we wanted the songs to flow together from start to finish and be an album that you listen to front to back" rather than "one that’s filled with singles that you shuffle around,” he adds.
After two decades, writing such a record required a new approach.
“Everything was definitely very mindful in terms of how everything fit together. Songs have to be in similar tuning. There were similar keys. There are bridge portions that go into other songs. It was all very mindful and put together in that way from the very beginning,” Rambler continues. “We never had a record that flowed from start to finish. Songs literally would just run right into each other. It’s new for us, and I think it was new for our fans, and something different that’s not happening too much right now.”
A trio of Death Below songs released earlier this year showcase August Burns Red’s signature sound, including the acrobatic guitar work of Rambler and JB Brubaker, both of whom are founding members along with drummer Matt Greiner. Two of the songs — “Reckoning” and "Ancestry" — include guest vocals from Underoath’s Spencer Chamberlain and Jesse Leach of Killswitch Engage, respectively. Rambler points to those two bands as early August Burns Red influences while recalling how much the five-piece from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has evolved since first forming in 2003.
“We’ve definitely grown a lot as players, that’s for sure. When we started the band, we could barely play our instruments. We’ve only progressed from there,” he notes, adding that bassist Dustin Davidson, who joined the band in 2006 with vocalist Jake Luhrs, has taken on more of a lead writing role recently, too.
“He writes and plays a ton of guitar stuff. It’s more of a three-headed thing as far as guitars go than it was ever before," Rambler says. "That’s definitely a change and transition, but it’s a good one. [Davidson] can play every instrument. It’s a great addition to our arsenal here, and it’s a new sound for us, too. He writes differently. It’s just a great change that’s happened in the last few records that has helped the band progress a little bit."
Death Below is set to be unleashed everywhere March 24. But in the meantime, August Burns Red is embarking on a twentieth-anniversary tour with The Devil Wears Prada and Bleed From Within. The bands will be in Denver Friday, March 10, at the Fillmore Auditorium. To celebrate the milestone, August Burns Red is playing a special set list composed of songs from all ten of the group’s records.
“This is the most songs we’ve ever played,” Rambler says of the ninety-minute run time. “There are definitely some songs that we hadn’t played in a long time, like songs from Thrill Seeker . It’s fun to go back and play those songs. But it’s funny, because you’ll see a lot of people in the crowd like, ‘Hmm, I don’t really know this song very well,’ because it came out so long ago. It’s pretty much for the old guys in the back drinking beer. We definitely have a bunch of songs in the set list that we haven’t played for a long time, but we also have the staple songs that everyone wants and expects to hear when they come see us play.”
Rising to prominence in the early 2000s, when Myspace became an online stamping ground for emerging metalcore bands, August Burns Red has since been nominated for two Grammy Awards for Best Metal Performance (for "Identity" in 2016 and "Invisible Enemy" in 2018), as well as a Dove Award for the 2009 album Constellations.
Rambler says the band’s easygoing attitude and loyal following are two of the main reasons that August Burns Red has been so successful for so long.
“We didn’t have much of a plan when we started out. It was just kind of go and see what happens,” he explains.
But he did dispel the longstanding rumor that the band name was inspired by a tragic breakup, during which a girl named August set fire to then-vocalist Jon Hershey’s dog, Redd.
“It was just something that we got asked in every single interview when we were first starting out. Our bass player at the time [Jordan Tuscan] would just make up a new answer every single time,” Rambler says with a laugh. “For some reason, interviewers just stuck with that one. Even in our minds, we were like, ‘Really? This is the one that you’re latching on to? All right, whatever.’”
As for the next twenty years, Rambler shrugs but says that the band doesn’t plan to call it quits anytime soon.
“I don’t know if the band would be in the same form as it is at this point or we’ll just be making music, but who knows,” he says. “We’ll go on as long as we can.”
August Burns Red, 6 p.m. Friday, March 10, Fillmore Auditorium, 1510 Clarkson Street. Tickets are $68-$206.