Christian metalcore act August Burns Red continues to push the envelope, both musically (within an already bruising genre) and lyrically. Jake Luhrs reprises his duties as the band’s ferociously growling frontman, but the words he spits are often more free form than what we’re used to hearing, as he largely eschews the more typical verse/chorus/breakdown template. Meanwhile, a daring, almost experimental vibe permeates the musical avalanche cascading down behind him—though there are still plenty of pulverizing guitars and bombastic blastbeats, to be sure.
“Provision” says that loss can be a pathway to finding God (“Losing it all led me to You”) for those who recognize that they can’t make it alone (“I need help/I need You”). But Luhrs affirms that present convictions, not past mistakes, shape our spiritual identity (“The past is a part of me, but not who I am/I realize my identity is not in what I’ve seen but in what I believe to be true”). And he says nothing can usurp God’s control (“Even the worst of mankind can’t disrupt Your sovereignty”).
“Spirit Breaker” is written from the perspective of a soldier overseas trying to hold on to hope. Though he’s struggling (“I’m not alright”), a glimpse of the sun inspires him to write his beloved back home, “For a moment I found myself smiling, as if those short rays of life were enough to get me by. Maybe that was enough. Thank God, I needed that.”
“Count It All as Lost” (a variation on Paul’s words in Philippians 3:8) finds a man struggling with sin prayerfully relinquishing that weakness to God: “Once again, I’m letting You down/How must a broken man fix his brokenness if he’s not the answer?/ … Fighting with my fists leaves me bloody and broken almost every single time/So I’m going at it with Your strength instead of mine/Please be my strength/I’ve carried this burden long enough.” “Sincerity” focuses on saying thank you for God’s grace (“His grace is such a blessing/Surely it’s something to write home about/Its presence never recognized, when life passes by/Never stopping to thank You”) and sustaining compassion (“You have carried me through the storm/ … He brings comfort to the masses in the name of compassion”).
“Creative Captivity” admonishes those living in a “barren wasteland” to “rescue the beauty that’s left” and “restore the character that’s long since gone.” “Fault Line” encourages, “Together, we’ll get through this/Stand here with me, and we’ll wash it all away.” “The First Step” urges us to deal with change by trying to take the best step forward. “Beauty in Tragedy” poignantly looks forward to an eternal reunion between two people separated by death.
“Animal” rebukes harsh and judgmental Christians. “Treatment” likewise laments that there are “too many hearts filled with hate,” and exhorts believers not to heap condemnation on those who don’t share their beliefs. In an interview with Alternative Press, guitarist J.B. Brubaker said of the track, “Lyrically, this song talks about keeping an open mind and not judging other people who are different from you.” But …
… it includes so many buzzwords related to the homosexuality debate (including tolerance, bigotry, diversity and acceptance) that it’s impossible to think of it in any other way. So the “hate” the song singles out lands on the backs of all Christians who believe homosexuality is morally wrong:
“Let acceptance in/We’re here to say the world needs more diversity/We’re here to say we’re all so sick of your bigotry/ … Step back and look at all the hearts that you break/ … It’s your right to say what’s on your mind, yet it’s their right to keep feeling alive/ … Will that make you believe in the tolerance you need?/You crown your religion instead of your king/It’s time for a movement to stand up and believe that being distinct is not a disease/Open the gates/Let acceptance in/Open the gates/Relax your grip of disapproval.”
“Treatment” also includes lines that allude to Christian ministries seeking to change a person’s sexual orientation. We hear this description of such counseling: “We’ll carve out your heart; rewire your mind, stripping your soul of everything that makes you unique/We’ll wipe the slate clean that brought them to their knees.” And the song also suggests that some Christians are too concerned with eternal destiny, which, the band says, perhaps keeps them from treating people well in the here and now. “Stop dwelling on what happens when we die,” Luhrs growls. “Start helping others while we’re still alive.”
“Animal” visits similar territory, with less specificity but the same vitriol: “No one’s inferior to your wise words, my dearest friend, acting as though you have authority to judge/You do not have permission/Who gave you license to pour your hate down throats, bringing them a shameful disposition?/No one likes a discouraging word slurring out of a drunkard’s mouth, intoxicated on his own pride/How do you feel, safe and secure?/You were wrong/You judge the faith, lives and actions based on your insecurities.”
Rescue & Restore relentlessly reflects August Burns Red’s Christian faith as Luhrs and Co. express dependence upon God for deliverance from our sins and struggles. But there’s a big elephant in this lyrical room. I’d love to interpret “Treatment” and, to a lesser extent, “Animal” as generic charges not to brashly attack others who don’t share common Christian convictions. Because at times we all need to hear such reminders. Any of us is capable of drifting into toxic, Pharisaical self-righteousness.
But the presence of so many terms related to our culture’s discussion about homosexuality makes it hard to read the overall tone quite so broadly and nonspecifically. And the band seemingly leaves little room for taking the Bible at face value when it comes to God’s design and intent for human sexual expression.
That’s unfortunate, and it’s ultimately at odds with everything else on this release, as August Burns Red repeatedly reminds us of our desperate need to rely on and trust in God.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.