Ask a metalhead their opinion of metalcore. “Oh, I ain’t a fan.” “Yeah, it ain’t my thing.” “Totally hate it, dude.” Then, ask them about August Burns Red. I’ve found the answers are usually wildly different. August Burns Red are one of the few metalcore bands to branch out and find acceptance amongst your average metalhead. They had to work pretty hard to earn it, though. August Burns Red have a long career filled with many albums ranging from good to great. What sets them apart from most of the herd is their seemingly bottomless well of kick ass riffs. But eventually, there’s gotta be a point where the well runs dry – where the returns start diminishing. After 2015’s excellent Found in Far Away Places, I was worried that any follow up would inevitably end up a disappointment. So it’s with slight hesitation that I pressed play on Phantom Anthem.
Fortunately, ABR don’t seem to be on any sort of creative decline on this, their seventh album. There’s just as many great riffs here as I had hoped, and there are little touches of each of the band’s past works scattered throughout Phantom Anthem. It plays like a love letter to the band’s excellent back catalogue, and I for one am just fine with that.
When I mentioned that ABR write great riffs, I wasn’t kidding around. JB Brubaker and Brent Rambler make a great time, and their axe skills are no joke. The whole reason I’m an ABR fan is because I heard the excellent body riff on “Salt & Light” frm Leveler all the way back in 2013 [ed. note: Reese is 17. 2013 is a long time ago for him. Feel free to judge him all you want for that. Honestly, it’s part of why we keep him in the dungeon.] and there are many moments on Phantom Anthem that make me excited in the same way I was when I heard Leveler for the first time. For example, the album’s intro track, “King of Sorrow” features a heartwarming segment from 2:28 to 3:05 that’s pure guitar mastery, and it would be right at home on Far Away Places. It’s a simple pleasure to hear two talented shredders just having a blast doing what they do best, and this is only the first of many moments across this album that managed to put an idiotic grin on my face.
Elsewhere, “Lifelines” and “Quake” feel as though they’re lost tracks from 2009’s Constellations. Seeing as that’s my favourite August Burns Red album, you can bet I mean that as a compliment.
If there’s one sin Phantom Anthem is guilty of, though, it’s being front-loaded. While side B still has its share of bangers, it’s quite clear that the majority of the heavy-hitters live on side A. Compared to songs like “Hero of the Half Truth” and “King of Sorrow,” tracks like “Generations” and “Carbon Copy” don’t quite cut it, despite the latter featuring some rather nice uplifting guitar work. The album would have flowed better, and consequently made for a better front-to-back listening experience, if ABR had staggered their songs a bit better.
That said, the only song on the album that I dislike resides on side A. “Frost” is by far the weakest track on the album. Surrounded by virtuosic guitar solos, heaps of great riffs and poignant vocals, the absolute worst thing a song can do is be boring, and that’s exactly what “The Frost” is. It does very little during its nearly five minute runtime, and gives me no real reason to want to hear it again. It trundles by without ever taking a risk, or reaching any sort of climax. Still, in fairness, one underwhelming song bookended by ten good ones is hardly a dealbreaker.
After giving Phantom Anthem several listens, I dug out my copy of Found In Far Away Places to see how the two compare. While I certainly enjoyed Phantom Anthem, I have to say it’s a lesser album than its predecessor. However, it’s still a very good album, and one that’s well worth your time. August Burns Red add another brick to the already incredibly solid foundation they’ve built for themselves as one of metal’s most consistent bands, and if they keep their momentum up and play their cards right, they could very well go down in history as having one of heavy metal’s longest winning streaks.
You can find Phantom Anthem on August Burns Red’s website.