Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Review Gauntlet: RED – Of Beauty & Rage

Artist: RED Album: Of Beauty and Rage Genre: Symphonic Hard Rock
Overall Score: 4.5/5 Must-Hear Tracks:
4 – Darkest Part
7 – Falling Sky
9 – Yours Again
10 – What You Keep Alive

One of my favorite bands, RED ( a symphonic hard-rock band from Nashville, TN), is releasing their 5.5th studio album on February 25th: Of Beauty and Rage. Following on the success of 2013's album Release the Panic, RED is at the top of their game; building on the best elements of their previous albums to make Of Beauty and Rage a masterpiece I cannot get enough of!
Back in 2007 when I returned to Colorado, my bassist Joey gave me RED's debut album, End of Silence, as a going-away gift to listen to on the road. Since then, I have purchased every album they have released the day it came out, I've seen them live in Denver, and even my books have been influenced by their music. While considered by many (including themselves) as a Christian Rock band, I find RED's music to supersede many of the assumptions and stigmas that are associated with that classification in hard rock.
As an album, Of Beauty & Rage embodies most of the things I have loved most about RED over the years. In addition to the cohesive blending of symphonic orchestration and stuttering dubstep-esque electronics that have evolved from album to album, bits and pieces also remind me of their debut album, End of Silence; suggesting a continuity with their roots that was somewhat diminished in 2013's Release the Panic. The title itself, Of Beauty and Rage, specifically names the elements of RED's music that I have always loved most; the beautiful orchestration and chord changes along with Michael Barnes' clean melodic vocals, contrasted and melded with aggressive guitar riffs and Barnes' intense screaming vocals that have always been well utilized and never overdone. The album also flows well from song to song, progressing musically and thematically along a journey's storyline.
As a whole, I think that 2011's Until We Have Faces is still my favorite RED album, but Of Beauty and Rage far surpasses 2006's End of Silence and 2009's Innocence and Instinct, while still recapturing some of the best elements of those albums. Of Beauty and Rage deviates dramatically from the borderline pop-rock production of 2013's Release the Panic (an excellent, if largely unsymphonic, album that was remixed with orchestration for Release the Panic: Recalibrated in response to fan reactions), and has more in common with RED's roots in their first three albums while still progressing with the use of electronic synths and stutters showcased on Release the Panic. I had mixed feelings for the first couple listen-throughs; but the more I listened, the more I enjoyed the album; I highly suggest withholding any initial judgments through a couple listenings as well.
Street Date for Of Beauty and Rage is February 25th, 2015. Until then, listen to the excerpts posted on YouTube, and preorders are available on iTunes. My sincere hope is that with this new album, and the return of Breaking Benjamin with one of RED's original guitarists, Jasen Rouch, that RED and Breaking Benjamin might tour together again in the next year or two. Fingers crossed. ;)

Track by Track Breakdown:

  1. Ascent

    The album opens in End of Silence/Innocence and Instinct style with a lovely orchestral/ambient intro which evokes feelings of longing and melancholy (and somewhat reminds me of Hans Zimmer's 'Time' from the Inception movie soundtrack). Ascent flows seamlessly into Track 2; 'Imposter'.
  2. Imposter – 4/5

    "Tell me that you were never real; You need another soul to steal;
    You’re my impostor; You tell me you were never really real..."

    Imposter is a true ass-kicker of a track. The shining stars here are the epic drums (some electronic, some acoustic), the contrast between heavy sections and softer accents. This track evokes some of the best elements of both Until We Have Faces and Release the Panic; while the chorus vocals reflect End of Silence.
    Best Moment: The utter badassness of the bridge's heavy drive at about 2:42.
  3. Shadow and Soul – 2/5

    "Shadow and soul; My untold still waits;
    Find me inside; The endless night; Our endless night..."

    I'm sad to say that this track is hands down my least favorite on the album, even though it does strongly remind me of End of Silence. There are some great riffs and progressions in this song, but the song feels disjointed and disconnected from itself, like A.D.D. Try as I might, the melody and chord progressions in the chorus couldn't get me to think of anything except old Rogers and Hammerstein musicals (Julie said it reminded her of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' done hard-rock).
    Best Moment: The falsetto outro vocals are plaintive, emotional, and showcase an rarely featured virtue of Michael Barnes' vocal skills.
  4. Darkest Part – 4.5/5

    "I never wanted you to see the darkest part of me;
    I knew you’d run away, I waited, but you never came;
    So afraid to be alone, I tried to let you go;
    Still I find you; Lost inside the darkest part of me."

    Booya! One of the best tracks on the entire album. Some of the best riffs and chord progressions, as well as what is probably the most irresistible chorus on the entire album. Excellent lyrics speak symbolically to something in our past that haunts or stains us, making the song immensely relatable. I find I often have the least to write about the songs I like the most; just trust me, you have to listen to this one!
    Best Moment: TIE: The chorus of this song is irresistible, and the bridge at about 2:56.
  5. Fight to Forget – 3/5

    "You’re a monster in my mind; You’re the one I can’t leave behind;You crawled inside, I watched you die, did you think that you could bury me"

    I loved pretty much everything about this song, EXCEPT the chorus. Armstrong's artistic application of pinch harmonics give this song's trademark riff an strong and unique identity. However, I felt the vocals in the chorus were not particularly compelling lyrically or melodically. Also, the acoustic guitar on the final prechorus, while pretty, just didn't seem to fit with the song as a whole and I found myself picturing kumbaya by a campfire.
    Best Moment: The opening of the song all the way up until the pre-chorus.
  6. Of These Chains – 4/5

    "I can still feel you here now in this cage;
    Every link another piece of you I saved"

    RED's ballads have been some of my favorite tracks on each album, and "Of These Chains" fits in right alongside "Pieces", "Hymn for the Missing", and "Hold Me Now". Powerful lyrics are carried along with the tender piano melody and strings.
    Best Moment: The simple piano melody line at 2:27 before the strings come back in.
  7. Falling Sky – 5/5

    "Under a falling sky, hopeless, there’s nowhere to hide;
    The terror is real this time; Under a falling sky;
    I’m under, I’m under, a falling sky"

    Opening from an ominous stuttering string melody to an electronic pad before tearing loose with a heavy melodic intro riff. The song is nicely accented with contrastingly delicate piano elements, and the polyrhythm that drives the verses is compelling. I get the feeling the lyrics were likely inspired by the Book of Revelations, but in true RED fashion, it's open to the listener's interpretation. In my humble opinion, this the best track on the album, and fully encompasses elements of both Beauty and Rage.
    Best Moment: The Whole Damn Song.
  8. The Forest

    A (sadly) brief but beautifully moody orchestral track that separates the major movements of the album.
  9. Yours Again – 5/5

    "I can almost feel you breathing; Like a whisper in my ear;
    I remember how you lost me; Or how I lost you;
    I stare into the blackness; It’s staring back at me;
    Why did I try to live without you?
    I want you, I need you..."
    This track is true RED. Powerful guitar chord progressions and staccato verse rhythms melodically augmented by the orchestration, vocal harmonies, and some unobtrusive synths. While not a ballad, it has an undeniable romance and beauty to it. This is another symbolically rich song that will likely resonate with something inside everyone, and is one of the best tracks off the album.
    [SIDENOTE: This track perfectly embodies one of the major plot arcs in my new Wolf Road Chronicles novel; Bearing Raven's Mark. 'Yours Again' and 'What You Keep Alive' have both been added to my writing playlist. ^_~]
    Best Moment: The chorus vocals and time signature shift create one of the most memorable and compelling choruses I've ever heard.
  10. What You Keep Alive – 5/5

    "You picked me up, you watched me shine, like a razor in your hand;
    And when I cut beneath your skin, you want it all again;
    I am the call in the night, I am the truth behind your lie..."

    And now for something completely different... This is arguably the darkest song RED has ever created. It stands in stark contrast to the hopeful romance of 'Yours Again', and . Opening with pitch-shifting orchestration that adds and uneasy undertone to the otherwise lovely chords, the song then explodes into one of the heaviest riffs on the album. From there, eerily dissonant vocal harmonies create the creepiest chorus and verses I've ever heard. As if that wasn't badass enough, the song explodes into a blistering breakdown around 3:54 with my absolute favorite guitar riff on the album (which is happily reprised at the outro of the song). Lyrically, this song evokes symbolism that runs the gambit from personal demons like addiction, to literal external ones.
    Best Moment: Literally, the WHOLE DAMN SONG!
  11. Gravity Lies – 4.5/5

    "Take it away, I never thought I’d let it grow;
    This cancer inside, the villain plays the victim so well..."

    The acoustic guitar arpeggio that creates the bedrock of the verses creates great contrast against the heavier parts of the song, leading into the most explosive and dissonant prechorus on the album. The chorus is beautiful and compelling with strong underlying chords and multilayered vocals. Armstrong's string bend accent gives the main riff of this song a unique identity with very slight similarity to 'Feed the Machine's signature riff.
    Best Moment: The prechorus breakdown screaming "Lies!"
  12. Take Me Over – 3.5/5

    "Echoes in the night, like a melody, is haunting me;
    But, then I meet your eyes, with the fire of a rising sun..."

    'Take Me Over' marks the thematic turn in the album's overarching progression, adding for the first time a feeling of hope. Reminiscent of Release the Panic's pop-rock sound, I like the overall feel of the track, and it fits better with RED's sound. My one gripe about the song is a purely personal one; instead of doing anything for yourself, it's all about waiting for someone or something to rescue you.
  13. The Ever – 4/5

    "But you saw more! You saw my deepest part;
    With the light of a thousand stars, you saw them awaken me...
    And through your eyes! You showed me everything, you woke me up inside; I'm back to life, I lost myself... Now I breathe again..."

    Continuing the upward arc of 'Take Me Over', 'The Ever' is an overall wonderful song with an excellent chorus. However, my biggest turn-off for this song is the over-repeated insistence on the album's title as part of the lyrical content, as well as the references to their other previous album titles; I don't like songs that oversell themselves.
    Best Moment: The choruses; both lyrically and melodically.
  14. Part That's Holding On – 3.5/5

    "I gave it all, but you were fading;
    Where’d you go, all alone, I couldn’t stay...
    Another fall, through the dark of the shadows;
    I reached for you, only you, there’s still a part, a part that’s holding on..."

    Concluding the Of Beauty and Rage's story arc; this track strongly reminds me of Innocence and Instinct's soundscape. The chorus is haunting and bittersweet, but still melodically uplifting. Symbolically, I feel the song is about processing through loss and how someone can still live inside our memories. The verses seem to suffer lyrically from being the message's vehicle to conclude the album, and seem mostly to function as a storytelling mechanic for the album's storyline than a cohesive song in its own right.
    Best Moment: Wonderful choruses that key into feelings of loss and hope.
  15. Ascent

    The longer reprise to 'Descent'; that carries the melody to conclude and resolve the album.

Have you heard Of Beauty and Rage? Leave a comment with your favorite tracks and pick up the album on February 25th!
Find RED online at http://www.redmusiconline.com/, https://www.Facebook.com/redmusiconline, and https://twitter.com/redmusiconline. #OfBeautyandRage

Is RED new to you? I recommend these tracks:
Breathe Into Me Faceless Feed the Machine
Fight Inside Release the Panic Death of Me
Let Go Lie to Me (Denial) Pieces
Run and Escape Ordinary World (Cover) Damage
Hold Me Now Let It Burn Hymn for the Missing

FTC Disclaimer:
  1. I do not receive any compensation from any company for my product reviews in cash or free products.
  2. I do not receive free review products (may change in the future).
  3. I purchase all products that I review and keep them, unless I resell them or give them away to a friend/relative.

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1 comment:

  1. Check out the short teaser vignettes for Beauty and Rage! Excerpt I: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3zujo_XU9o