August Burns Red - Phantom Anthem album review

Ever-evolving US metalcore mob stay ahead of the pack

Cover art for August Burns Red - Phantom Anthem album

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Now on their eighth record, these Pennysylvania stalwarts have carved out a fine niche for themselves in the increasingly cramped cattle pen that is the modern metalcore scene. Initially dismissed by some as MySpace-spawened, fringe-bedecked chancers, August Burns Red have evolved into a much more serious proposition, even earning a Grammy nomination (in spite of their ongoing flirtation with the abysmal Punk Goes Pop compilation series). These days there are two factors that mark ABR out from so many of their peers: musical chops, and a sense of fun. Despite the template set out by bands like Killswitch Engage and Atreyu, too many contemporary metalcore bands are happy to plod away with lumpen riffs and half-baked breakdowns. Phantom Anthem, on the other hand, comes roaring off the blocks with hyperactive shredding. And so honed is the band’s sense of melodrama that just about every song sounds like it could be an album opener or closer. The Frost, in particular, carries a sense of occasion that’s frankly arrogant coming from an album’s third track. The pace isn’t sustained, however, and Phantom Anthem undeniably outstays its welcome, but ABR deserve credit for fitting more ideas into some songs than many bands spread across an entire album – even if they don’t always land. The chillwave-inspired breakdown on closer Carbon Copy, for example, is infinitely more interesting than the half-baked synths you’ll hear bolted onto so many electronicore albums this year. In a scene so stacked with stagnant imaginations, just being interesting is almost as good as innovation. Almost.