From Furious Darkness to Beautiful Light
Posted January 16, 2015
By MaryNikkel_NRT, Staff Reviewer
Since the release of End of Silence in 2006, Red has been on a seemingly unstoppable trajectory towards success, leaving an indelible mark on the hard rock scene in the process. Garnering significant attention from both mainstream and faith-based markets, the band has consistently displayed the work ethic and integrity needed to ride their own momentum gracefully.
After their first three albums honed and refined their symphonic rock sensibilities under the production guidance of Rob Graves, 2013's Release the Panic saw a departure for the band as they worked with Howard Benson to create an album more focused on mainstream melodic rock conventions, setting aside the heavy string presence found on past releases. Although the album was a powerhouse work of art in its own right, many fans feared that the band's foundation was shifting.
This year sees the release of an album that should assuage fans' apprehension. Returning to work with producer Rob Graves, the core members of Red (Michael Barnes on vocals and twins Anthony and Randy Armstrong on guitar and bass, respectively) seem to have found the sweet spot between their symphonic rock past and the melodic rock skills sharpened on the last record. The result is Of Beauty and Rage, an intense, brooding musical masterpiece sure to please longtime Red listeners and any heavy music lover longing for a listening experiece that delivers.
Red has always released projects that are highly conceptual in nature. Of Beauty and Rage is no exception, with the tracks carefully ordered to craft a story of diving into the darkest corners of the soul in order to find the light of redemption. The narrative is shaped by three eerie, almost otherworldly instrumental tracks: "Descent," "The Forest" and "Ascent." "Descent" marks the immersion of the soul into the shadows where it is forced to face itself, "The Forest" comes in the middle of the wandering and "Ascent" paints a musical picture of hope at the conclusion.
The songs that happen in the interim are snapshots of struggle and finding strength. The first half of the album contains the darker themes, beginning with the unsettling, throbbing "Imposter." The heaviness continues as screamed vocals claw their way out from behind heavy, low-tuned guitar riffs on "Shadow and Soul." The outro on this track sees Mike Barnes utilizing a chilling falsetto.
"Darkest Part" is an instant album highlight and possibly one of the strongest songs of Red's career. This is Red at their best with the marriage of a high, shrill strings section and Anthony Armstrong's gritty guitar bed working in unison to build tension behind the soaring melody. The song talks of desertion and betrayal, keening "you looked inside, then you turned away / My makeshift savior, you left me right here in my chains."
Another memorable moment is the album's ballad. Red's history with strings has allowed them to have some of the most ethereal and poignant ballads of their genre, as exhibited in past tracks like "Pieces," "Take it All Away" and "Hymn for the Missing." New offering "Of These Chains" follows a similar sonic blueprint, also serving as a kind of lament. The song explores the peculiar fear and sadness that often accompanies leaving behind chains that, while damaging, were at least familiar. Gentle strings and cool piano underscores the reflective lyrics: "Afraid to open up the door to who I was before / And if I let go of these chains now, will I float away? / Can I just hold on?"
The album's turn becomes evident halfway through on "Yours Again," a song hesitantly exploring the possibility of returning to the light after a long voyage through the night. "What You Keep Alive" has an unnatural, almost frightening sound to the melody and the lyrics, showing the persistence of the darkness in trying to lay claim to our lives.
"Take Me Over" and "The Ever" both are declarations of the way redemption is found not just in spite of the darkest situations, but in the midst of them. "Take Me Over," possibly the most radio-friendly offering on the album, has an almost worshipful tone as it invites the Savior to enter and renew the singer's heart. Similarly, visually rich melodic masterpiece "The Ever" declares "But You saw more, You saw my deepest part / With the light of a thousand stars, You saw them awaken me… / You woke me up inside, brought back to life / I lost myself, but now I breathe again."
This is an album that is in every way what Red fans have hoped for from the band. Showcasing Red's signature brutal guitar riffs, darkly shimmering string section and introspective, high-concept lyrics alongside a mastery of melody achieved more recently, Of Beauty and Rage is a triumph in Red's breathtaking discography. Although it does return to elements of past efforts (even thematically, as the duality of themes is at times reminiscent of Innocence and Instinct), this new album sees the band breathing just enough innovation and maturity into their sound to keep it fresh.
As one of the early heavyweight releases of the year, Red is certainly setting the bar high for rock and roll in 2015. This is a standard they set with excellence musically, but also lyrically. With Of Beauty and Rage, Red strikes the near-impossible balance of admitting to the darkness in all its fury while also making it clear that the shadows in our souls can never diminish the beautiful light of our Redeemer-- in fact, our darkness can be simply a road to find Him. As a crossover band, there is a certain level of pressure on Red to provide the redemption narrative of a soul colliding with Christ in a way that is honest and vulnerable, free from arrogance or cliche, leaving room for hope to be delivered no matter the listener's belief. Their success in this area is deeply soul-stirring on a level that makes this album incredibly worth your time.
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