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Will August Burns Red’s Less-Than-Stellar First Week Album Sales for Guardians Inspire More Record Release Delays?

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Update, April 21, 11:52 a.m. EDT: The initial sales figures reported by Lambgoat were incorrect. Guardiansracked up 10,658 units in pure album sales of digital albums, CDs, and LPs, and the total consumption, which includes streaming and track equivalents in the U.S., is 12,397. The record debuted at No. 1 on the Hard Music Chart, the Rock Chart and the Vinyl Albums chart. So, still a dip in first-week numbers from Phantom Anthem, but not quite as much of a dip.

The below story has been amended to reflect the actual figures.

August Burns Red’s recently-released eighth album, Guardians, is excellent — so much so that it made an ABR fan out of this old cynic, who never really “got” the band before now.

Unfortunately, Lambgoat reports that the record’s first week sales were disappointing, to put it mildly: Guardians sold roughly 10,658 copies in pure album sales (digital, CD, and LP) and racked up a total consumption (e.g., streaming and track equivalents) of 12,397 copies its initial week of release, landing at #53 on the Billboard 200… “a significant decline when compared to its predecessor, Phantom Anthem [2017], which moved 19,000 equivalent album units in its first week and bowed at No. 19 on the Billboard 200.”

Now, there are many possible reasons for the drop. For one thing, pretty much every band, no matter how popular, seems to have some sales drop from album-to-album these days — that’s just the current state of the record industry.

It’s also possible, of course, that fans just didn’t respond to the record. I personally haven’t seen the kind of bad online buzz that plagued Bring Me the Horizon’s Amo or Suicide Silence’s self-titled effort, both of which suffered drops even steeper than the one between Phantom Anthem and Guardians… but it’s always possible fans just didn’t respond to the album.

But the most likely culprit for the decline in ABR first-week sales is, naturally, the coronavirus. In fact, the band anticipated this possibility, and said they would not let it deter them from releasing the record on time, in a Facebook post on March 20:

“Recently we were given the option to delay the release of ‘Guardians,’ because we know people may not be able to go out and buy it, which will probably keep us from reaching some goals we set for ourselves. That being said…we have decided to stick with the release date of April 3rd, and we hope that you all bang your heads with huge smiles on your faces as you listen to ‘Guardians’ anyway possible. If you’d like a physical copy you can still preorder the album and have it shipped straight to your door as well! Thank you, take care, and keep it heavy.”

In addition to people not being able “to go out and buy” Guardians, I have to imagine the current shitty state of the economy was a factor as well. A lot of people are suffering right now, worrying how they’re gonna pay their rent and buy groceries in the coming weeks, and ten dollars for a digital download may have suddenly seemed like too steep a price to pay, even for a new release from a band they love.

That’s all a bummer for August Burns Red, of course, even if their decision to release the album despite the current global pandemic was an admirable one. But I also think it bodes poorly for upcoming album releases from, well… just about every band. I think Guardians just turned into a cautionary tale for a whole lotta musicians and label execs, and that the result is gonna be not many artists following ABR’s lead, but, instead, delaying their new release.

We already know that Lamb of God, Carcass, and Hatebreed have postponed the releases of their new albums, all of which are heavily-anticipated. All three acts have cited coronavirus-created manufacturing and shipping delays of physical copies of their records, which is surely a sincere concern… but the fact that a) the bands can’t currently tour in support of these releases, and b) as previously stated, the current economy is in the toilet, are likely also factors. (Lamb of God, for their part, have already named a new release date, while Carcass and Hatebreed’s albums are on hold indefinitely.) And the first week sales of Guardians will likely inspire others to follow suit.

The real test may end up being the first-week sales of Verminous, the new album from The Black Dahlia Murder, which was released by Metal Blade this past Friday. The Black Dahlia Murder’s sales have been remarkably consistent over the years — in fact, their last offering, 2017’s Nightbringers, actually saw a sales INCREASE over 2015’s Abysmal. And the reaction to Verminous has been overwhelmingly positive (see: our review, No Clean Singing’s review, Blabbermouth’s review, Exclaim’s review, Metal Wani’s review, etc., etc.). It’s already too late to stop the impending release of some big metal albums set to come out in the near future (e.g. Trivium’s What the Dead Men Say, which drops this Friday, April 24). But if Verminous breaks BDM’s sales streak, I think you can pretty much count on any major metal band that can delay their album release doing so.

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