As they enter their 20th year, and with one of their finest records about to drop, August Burns Red are shining brighter than ever before. In this HUGE cover story, they explain how they have made it this far and what it means to all of them…
August Burns Red is so much more than just a band.
That is something that Jake Luhrs, JB Brubaker, Brent Rambler, Dustin Davidson and Matt Greiner have all discovered in their own ways throughout their time making music together.
It is a family. It is a business. It is a community. It is solace, security, support and substance in all of their lives. And it continues to help them learn, grow and prosper in many ways.
And this year, that band will be celebrating its 20th anniversary.
“There’s been a lot of growth with us as individuals and as a band over the course of the last 20 years,” JB comments.
“It’s been a journey, to say the least, as the five of us within this band. As friends, as brothers, as business colleagues. We have overcome a lot, and to people just looking through our discography, you probably wouldn’t know just how much.
“There have been many triumphs along the way, and we have achieved many victories and accomplishing of goals. Having a slow but steady growth as a band over the years has motivated us to stay engaged and keep on doing this. And the fans that have joined us have given us reason to continue moving forward even if things have been hard.”
“This is something not a lot of bands get to do, and a place not a lot get to reach,” Dustin adds.
“When I joined the band in 2006, I saw so many bands fall off around us straight away. And I had to ask myself how long I would be able to do this. So to be where we are now and still going in the way we are is a huge accomplishment. And it’s been totally unexpected.”
Though to those who have supported the band over the last two decades, it’s not that much of a surprise that they are still here and firing on all cylinders. Musically, they have been consistent in producing some of the most dense, daring and destructive metalcore that there is to offer. Working without fear or boundary to create music that makes the soul ripple as much as the mosh pit. Writing heavy music with compassion, care and clarity as its heart that has inspired thousands, and instilled belief and optimism into thousands more.
And even with such a hefty back catalogue to their name, the band believe that their latest offering is up there with their best. That’s an incredible place to be as a band, but something that they feel rings loud and true.
That album is ‘Death Below’.
“This record is almost like going into adulthood for us,” Jake states.
“It’s got this progression that, in my opinion, is more mature. There is a lot of emotion instrumentally on this record which will shine through, and a lot of depth within it when you peel back the layers. There’s a lot for people to get their heads around, and I’m excited to see what our fans think of it. There’s a lot of growth from all angles, both for us as musicians and as people.”
And a lot of that comes from the fact that compared to all of the other album processes the band has been through over the years, this one was done in isolation. No matter how used to working together they were, the last few years shook things up in ways that ABR could never have predicted.
And even though ‘Death Below’ is arguably their darkest material to date, featuring some of their most harrowing thoughts and feelings, it could only have been made with the sort of tool belt they have assembled over the years of working together.
But before we get to all of that. Let’s take a look back and see just how those tools were gathered. Because, much like anything worth doing, all of this didn’t happen overnight.
When August Burns Red started in 2003, with JB, Matt and Brent all a part of the initial line-up that formed out of high school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, there was no intent for this to become their career.
“This band was just a thing that we thought we were going to get to do for a little bit,” Brent laughs, considering just how different things are now.
“A chance to take a break from college and have some fun. Then it snowballed into one of the biggest parts of our lives very quickly.
“I think the one constant that has stayed from back when we started is that we would say, ‘How far can we take this?’ and that is still the same today. ‘How big can we make this thing?’ It turned into an actual big thing rather than us just wondering if we could make it over to Europe someday or sell out a local venue. The mindset is the same but larger now, simply because the band is larger, but we all still want to see how far it can go and how impactful we can make our music.”
“Being born and raised on a farm, like I was, you are always put up against a challenge,” Matt adds.
“It’s part of who I am more than I probably realised. The challenge of how much we can do with the band is a driving force that goes back to how I was raised and how I want to continue.
“When we were kids, this was just put together. At that age, you have no idea what you are doing, and the life experiences you have throughout are experienced altogether. You grow up in the band. We might be different people now, but the band is the constant. You keep on coming back to it… the one thing in my life that has been good and challenging, and that I have a common goal within with four other guys.”
Jake and Dustin came into the fold in 2006, three years into the journey. But it was the fact that such values were already in place that they could immediately feel at home, and like they were a part of something special.
“The beginning years for me was a case of trying to fit in, find my place and understand my role,” Jake recalls. “Then it was having to humble myself and understand that the way I was raised and the way I thought was the right way probably wasn’t the right way at all. It meant submitting myself in a way that meant I could learn from my bandmates on so many things. It’s really been a wild ride for me. My dream has always been to love and encourage people, and I have been able to do that throughout this journey. The guys have given me the place to do that. They have allowed me to fulfil what I think is one of my life purposes.”
A lot of this comes from the fact that through the making of classic albums like ‘Messengers’ and ‘Constellations’, August Burns Red were still kids.
They were still figuring out who they wanted to be and what they wanted the world to look like for them, but they were doing it through heavy music. And when you’re on that sort of pursuit with four other people, you’re going to learn the hard way that not everybody, even your closest friends, will see eye to eye with you on everything.
“I don’t want to focus on the negatives, but there were hard things that we had to go through early on,” JB points out.
“It was a case of getting over the growing pains that come with touring heavily and our personal differences in how we wanted to behave. We had to navigate the whole Christian aspect of our band and how that has evolved, for example, with some members losing their faith and others reinforcing it, which is a heavy subject in itself.
“Then we had to get through stuff with regard to our personal lives and that getting mixed into the band. Getting married, having kids, relationships breaking down and going away, the joy and sadness of both existing together. And through these years of trials and tribulations, we have learned how we all tick. We know how to give each other grace and know that we are bonded forever, for better or worse. We’re friends, but it is beyond that. We are bonded by the good and bad things that we have all been through together.”
“We don’t agree on politics, religion, lots of stuff, and for a lot of people, those things are dealbreakers,” Brent remarks.
“You have people who have excommunicated from their own family members for those things. But we can work together on a common goal that is more important than those things. Your family and your friends are more important than those things. The band is more important than those things.”
“We have a lot more in common than we don’t have in common,” Matt remarks.
“This band has shown me what it means to live in a community where you might not agree with everybody, but you can work to build something that is bigger than you.”
“The band has taught me to be comfortable with the uncomfortable,” Dustin pitches in.
“Not every day is going to be comfortable. There’s something always going on, either with yourself or within the band. That is just that moment, though.
Things will get better; there will be a solution, and you shouldn’t get weighed down by the negatives. Don’t dwell on it, as it will send you spiralling.”
This way of viewing the world allows beautiful things to grow. To overcome differences for the sake of something that will be more impactful than any one opinion is a huge triumph for anyone, but for ABR to have this attitude instilled as profoundly as they do is a whole other level of commitment to the cause. It’s helped carry them through every era of the band, with the same five people at the helm delivering it. But that also extends further, to the people surrounding them. The crew they take out for every tour has been around just as long as the band.
“A big part of our longevity is good healthy working relationships not just between the five of us but between our crew members as well,” Dustin states proudly.
“We’re a very open unit, and if something is wrong or causing problems, we don’t brush it under the rug. We talk about it, even if it is challenging to talk about.
“When you have been touring for this long, we all know how to push each other’s buttons. But we know we have the best in mind for everyone at all times, and that’s better now than ever before.”
Though nothing can truly prepare you for when the world collapses in on itself, you start to realise just how valuable the foundations you have built over the years can be when it does. That’s something that August Burns Red learned when they headed home two days into their tour with Killswitch Engage at the start of 2020.
In another world, the band would have spent the year promoting their last full-length, ‘Guardians’. An album brimming with as much technicality and heart as was to be expected from the band, but with a more streamlined sense of sentimentality at its core, they were set to travel around the world promoting it. But that couldn’t happen.
So, what did they do instead? They did the one thing they knew how to do.
“I can only speak for myself, but that period at the start of the pandemic was a very depressing time,” JB admits candidly. “Processing all of what was going on whilst realising none of our plans were able to happen was hard. But that’s when I started writing again. We had to tell ourselves, ‘This sucks, but we can’t keep on doing nothing’. There was a wave of motivation internally. Things were evolving, and times were changing around us, but we were still a band, and we still had families to support, and we knew we needed to dig in.
“To transition out of, ‘We’re going to put out a record and tour loads’ to, ‘We’re going to put out a record, but we’re not going to tour’ was a lot,” Brent laughs.
“But JB and Dustin very quickly had four songs done, and the initial thought was to make an EP. But it ended up being that we had so much material that we could think about it being an album. And an EP almost seemed pointless.”
Within a month of being stuck at home, the band had six songs that would eventually end up on ‘Death Below’ done. But the creativity wasn’t stopping there. They worked on reprised versions of ‘Guardians’ tracks, covered System Of A Down and the Westworld theme and built on B-sides that were sitting dormant. Further down the line, they did a full re-recording of their 2011 album, the stunning ‘Leveler’, which they also performed during a special livestream. They also livestreamed their yearly festive celebration Christmas Burns Red, all hosted on their own webstore, which Brent took over and started running.
Rather than staying still and waiting for the storm to weather, the band focused on the things they could control. The things they were good at and the things that they could be better at. Securing not only their futures but those of the people they loved, all whilst still having fun doing it.
Oh, and that’s without mentioning the online drum school that Matt started and the mental health-positive gym Jake opened.
“The band provides this pressure cooker,” Matt tries to summarise.
“A lot of people don’t have this as they don’t have so many deadlines in life, but being in a pressure cooker environment allows you to be creative whilst also knowing that you have to get it done. So all throughout COVID, we provided all these little pressure cookers, which all required work.
“But then you are also living your life outside the band, and things are either going well or poorly in real time. Every two or three years, you capture what is happening in that time on an album you make. For us, we managed to capture this period in several different ways.”
“You have to invest in a band like this.” Jake comments. “We have all been in places where it has felt uncomfortable to do that. But if you want something that lasts long, like how this band has, that’s what you have to do. You have to sacrifice, and that’s how we got here. And that sacrifice looks different for each person. But then for that to meet in the middle when we are able to make art, that’s what it’s all about.
“We are all very thankful. We know what we have, and we know we are blessed to have something this amazing. That’s why we have standards and expectations for one another, even in times like this. And they are healthy. It scares the shit out of me too sometimes, but in the end, you know you have done it the right way and made something that was worth it.”
Ultimately, the thing that was worth it all through this period really was ‘Death Below’. It’s a record that every band member puts up there with their favourites, but they will also admit that it is probably their darkest material to date. But that’s because we were all living through a dark time, so the clouds will block out the sunshine.
And because they have always been honest when it comes to crafting art, they weren’t going to hide away from the fact that things were tough.
“It’s like you’re constantly walking a tightrope between the light and dark,” JB describes.
“And isn’t that so true for life in general? We are all just balancing and trying to keep things together as things are pulling and tugging at you from every different direction.
“And if you can’t balance it, you can fall off, and perhaps that is the moment when you end up creating the best art. When you’re tumbling and reeling, you allow yourself to be honest about what is happening in those situations, and you can create something special.”
“There are struggles on this record,” Jake adds. “There’s pain, suffering and anguish on it, and it’s written within the guitars and screamed through the lyrics. And that can only come from the years we have spent making a place for that to exist.
“As a band, we haven’t gone in a direction for any other reason than it being the direction that we want to go. We have stayed true to our roots. We don’t look for opportunities to jump on the bandwagon or anything like that. We just continue to be ourselves. That’s what I love about this band.”
“With ‘Guardians’, we had set out to write a technical album but have it also be more digestible,” Dustin comments further.
“With the origins of ‘Death Below, we felt like doing the opposite of that. Not that we weren’t creatively satisfied, but we wanted to try something different. For example, look at the opening track of this album…” And look at that opening track, ‘The Cleansing’, indeed. One of two seven-minute epics, it opens with galloping black metal blastbeats and closes with an ambient build that will have you tearing up. The limits of aggression and the boundaries of beauty are pushed and pulled from the record’s opening rallying cry through to its closing technical flurry. There are devastating affirmations and desolating calls to arms. There are guest appearances from Underøath’s Spencer Chamberlain, Killswitch Engage’s Jesse Leach, ERRA’s JT Cavey and the unstoppable Jason Richardson. It is a record that celebrates challenging heavy music as much as it celebrates August Burns Red as a whole. And for it all to come from such an uncertain and terrifying place is truly astounding.
“Collectively, all of the songs on this album create this one painting,” Jake describes.
“And it was a very dark, dreary and confusing at times process to put that together. I had a lot of situations in my personal life that affected what I was bringing to it. I had a close family member try to commit suicide, which I was dealing with. Then COVID was challenging as well. I actually had an accident of my own as well that was relatively impactful to a lot of people. I had a lot of fear, anxiety, and stress mixed in with the spiritual and mental stuff I was going through. And this record gave us the space to say them. It gave me a place to work on healing from those things.”
“That’s the power of music, though, isn’t it? I don’t know what it is about music, but people listen to it, and it takes them somewhere. It’s a message, and it can be a very powerful message depending on who is listening and when they have listened to it in their life. But when they do, they add to the art by putting their own pain of experience on top of what we have done. We get to share that with our fans forever.
“And it doesn’t surprise me that this album is dark and dreary. The whole world has been dark and dreary. It was so fitting to go in this direction. We are artists, so we are going to feel, and we are going to create. And we hope that our fans appreciate that.”
The power of music is something that does perfectly sum up what August Burns Red are in 2023. Music has taken them to a place where they can live comfortably. It’s taken them to a place where they are unafraid to share their innermost demons on a stage that
will reach the world. It has brought them together as friends and brothers in a way that will still be there long after they have played their last riff.
More than anything, music creates empathy. And empathy has been something of a forgotten trait these past few years if you were to look at what’s been going on in the world.
But in the world of August Burns Red, it is a vital component that keeps them going, both personally and professionally.
“There are bands who had to take two years off and stay at home,” Brent remarks.
“And because of that, you’re seeing more bands come out now and say, ‘Hey, we’re not going to do that six- week tour because we can’t manage it like we used to’, and that wasn’t something you ever saw before. But people get that.
“There’s more of an understanding that the world has been through a difficult or enlightening period, and people may need to slow down and talk about it. You can see it in the music that’s coming out. You can hear it in the words. You can hear it on ’Death Below’. And that’s simply because people in bands looked to music when they didn’t know where else to go, in the exact same way as fans do. It was a place for them to get away and connect. That’s something that will never change.”
“I think we have taught ourselves to make things feel more manageable,” JB picks up.
“We’re breaking our 20th anniversary tour into two legs, making it easier for our families as much as ourselves, for example. The more time passes and the more our families and obligations in life grow as well, things get complicated. But we have found ways to fit it all in and give everything the attention it deserves. “When we were younger, August Burns Red was our lives. It didn’t matter what else was happening because it was always just noise. Now we want to have rich, fulfilling lives outside of being in August Burns Red as much as within it.”
It’s all about care, compassion and clarity once more. It’s the understanding that time doesn’t slow down for anyone, and things change faster with each passing day. And if you’re not prepared to move and change with it, then that’s how you’re going to get left behind. It’s why August Burns Red are able to celebrate 20 years of being a band, something that, as they said, felt fanciful when they started.
But now they are here, it’s all about prolonging the joy as much as possible.
“I was speaking to someone the other day who had been working in the same place for 18 years, and I thought that felt like a really long time,” Matt laughs.
“But that’s exactly what I’ve been doing as well. And at this point, it’s all about knowing that we all have the band’s best interest at heart. If Dustin does something, it’s because he wants the band to succeed. I don’t think I have always had that mentality, and now when I look back at things that I might have said that were dumb or stupid, it was when I wasn’t thinking like this. I thought they were doing something for themselves, not putting the band first.
“If you want the best for this band, then you give that person freedom to do what they are best at. Be creative, work hard and show what they can do for this business. Everybody brings their best ideas. We can be diplomatic about this, and everybody has the freedom to do whatever they want to do.”
“This band and this music will outlive us, so I want people to have a good feeling whenever they listen to us when we aren’t here,” Brent points out.
“I don’t want to have a situation where we go down in flames or leave a bad taste in the mouth. We achieve that by putting the work in now. There’s always a common goal to be aimed at.”
There’s a reason that August Burns Red are still here, and it should be a lesson to any band that dreams of having the same sort of legacy and longevity. Openness, honesty and vulnerability mixed with understanding, catharsis and grace. A desire to bring the best out of themselves emotionally and creatively and a drive to not leave any stone unturned. However, none of this happened overnight. It took years of ebbs and flows, of flights across the world and fallouts in dressing rooms, to reach a place where they can honestly say they are in the most positive place they have ever been.
And with ‘Death Below’ in their back pocket, there’s no reason that they can’t keep on climbing into the unknown, getting bigger and bigger with every step. But no matter what happens, and no matter where the band ends up in the years to come, they know that
they have each other and always will.
Because family is forever.
“This band and the path that it has taken me has given me so much,” Jake says emotionally.
“So many good things in my life have happened because of it, and I believe I wouldn’t be as good of a man if I wasn’t in it. I have learned so much from my bandmates, and it has brought me to a more peaceful place. I feel like it has blessed me so much.”
“This band is a community unlike any other,” Matt nods.
“It’s brought me a lot and taught me about being a good friend, Christian and husband. To do this for so long and still be in a better place than we have ever been, that’s really special.”
“August Burns Red have always avoided the flavour of the week really well,” JB concludes.
“We don’t care what anybody else is doing. We just want to do what we want to do. That’s how we have been able to carve out our own corner of the metal world. I know for a fact that without this band, I wouldn’t have had another creative outlet that could reach as many people as we have. For better or worse, it has shaped all of us, and I am proud that we have always written and acted with integrity.
“That is what this gift – and it is a gift – has given us.”