August Burns Red
Found in Far Away Places
The Christian metalcore quintet August Burns Red is on a new label, Fearless Records. Perhaps that's an appropriate musical home for this group, because the band's seventh studio album daringly charges into practically every major cultural issue of our day, from homosexuality and global warming to homelessness and injustice to racism and income disparity.
The band fronted by lead screamer Jake Luhrs also delves into spiritual themes such as forgiveness and repentance, doubt and faith, despair and hope. As always, August Burns Red's zealous messages come wrapped in a steel-fisted package of metal mayhem and guttural growls.
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Holding onto faith isn't easy, according to August Burns Red. But if there are at times doubts and struggles, in the end the band affirms that our faith and grip on truth are made stronger by those struggles. On the Deluxe Edition track "Marathon," for instance, Luhrs sings, "Even a man like me, like me, full of faith, carries doubt/Yet how could faith live on if doubt did not exist?" His conclusion? "Truth is what we seek/It's what we desire, truth, truth/Can't you see I need a savior?/ … So lovely, so blind, oh truth, you're so divine/I will climb this mountain to find you."
"Ghosts" is one of several songs addressing social justice issues; it is sung from the perspective of a homeless person who's ignored by, it would seem, Christians. We hear, "Fighting for your attention, begging for your generosity/Looking up just to see you turn your cheek on me/You walk on by like I'm invisible (invisible)/All I want is to be seen as an equal." The song explains that many homeless were once soldiers and laborers ("We fought your battles, and we built your homes"), then cautions against complacency with, "I may have no one else to blame, but listen to me/You and I, we were once the same." "Martyr" calls out hypocrisy and describes integrity by asking, "Do you mean what you say?/Do you say what you mean?" The song also confronts fear and self-righteous pride, then counsels forgiveness.
"Majoring in the Minors" exhorts, "It's time for the upright to have insight/Don't forget what's important in life." The song reminds us to live with an understanding that everyone eventually dies, but insists, "We must be strong and cling onto hope/ … Not all is lost." The track concludes with ideas that echo Paul's words in Romans 8:24: "Circumstantial hope isn't really hope at all/It's a just a watered-down distraction from what stands in our way/Hope gives us the ability to face reality, the ability to see through it all." Hope shows up again on "Everlasting Ending." And "Vanguard" says, "We pushed through shattering expectations/Filled with dreams, filled with heartache/We're still standing strong, standing strong/As we keep living on, living on."
The hard-hitting "Blackwood" scathingly denounces a slick and slimy televangelist ("White skin, white teeth, black heart, black lungs/Sleeping on your stacks of millions/As your followers struggle to overcome, overcome/Sickness, poverty, heartbreak, hatred are dealt with every day/ … Everything you say sounds like a lie/Blessed by the hands of god or cursed by the tongue of the devil?/Who do you serve?/If a rich man can't get into heaven, where will you dwell?/If a rich man can't ascend, will I see you in hell?"
"The Wake" challenges wasteful people to consider the outcome of their choices on our environment, framing those choices in the context of our stewardship of creation ("Tear down what you say your Father created/ … It's only a matter of time until you choke on your indifference"). But …
The band also imagines self-absorbed people drowning as a consequence of rising oceans with a kind of disturbing self-righteousness: "Struggling to breathe as the water fills your lungs/Trying hard to scream as it rises into your throat/ … Flood, drown the earth/It's what we deserve."
"Twenty-One Grams" includes this opaque question and answer sequence: "Why do we owe anyone repentance?/ … We don't owe, we don’t owe/Anyone repentance." "Broken Promises" bitterly vents anger and brokenness, apparently as a result of a family betrayal ("I thought family was forever/I thought family stuck together/ … Just another empty promise by those I love").
"Identity" never mentions the subject of homosexuality explicitly, but it manages to clearly challenge believers to rethink their convictions if they have moral or spiritual qualms about the gay lifestyle. "Do you know how it feels to hide/With thoughts repressed deep down inside?/ … You want to cure me of this epidemic, you call me sick/ … I've never felt so free/It kills me to hear you say you chose to love me/I was hoping that would be a given, given our history." Luhrs leaves listeners with this: "You think I'm wrong, but I never felt better/I know I disappointed you/But I've got nothing to prove/ … I've realized this is who I am/I've made my decision, you're either with me or against me/ … I'm standing firm, it's who I am/You can't keep me, you can't keep me down."
Homosexuality continues to divide our culture and, increasingly, Christians, too. August Burns Red guitarist J.B. Brubaker is well aware of the changes that are sweeping across this social and moral issue. In a recent interview with loudwire.com, he said of his own changing beliefs, "Not to get too deep or anything but you see a lot of controversy with religion and sexual orientation, and as you go to more places and meet more people and see how they live, it’ll change your opinion on how you originally thought of things. I was raised in a very conservative Christian household and after getting out and seeing the world and how things really are, it changes your perspective and you’re a different person as a result."
But using a subjective, personal-experience thermometer to take the temperature of truth isn't the way God's Word works. And elsewhere on Found in Far Away Places, this influential metalcore act fervently affirms the importance of that solid truth—while admitting the difficulty of clinging to it. Certainly there's no shortage of spiritual struggle here as August Burns Red mostly preaches the importance of grounding our lives in that truth that's bigger than our own experience, including the crucial truth that we need a savior and are unable to rescue ourselves.
Mostly. But not always.
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Debuted at No. 9 on Billboard's mainstream album chart and No. 1 on the Christian chart.
June 29, 2015