Review Summary: Strung out.
For starters, this album surprised me. To say that it’s not a disappointment would be a lie, but it’s not a disappointment in the way that was initially expected. With the release of the two singles “Release the Panic” and “Perfect Life”, there was plenty of cause for an uproar about the direction Red seemed to be favoring. Bland, generic, and derivative were perfect describers of the path down which Red seemed to be heading. Now that we can see the complete product, however, I can’t really say that those statements are as accurate in the big picture. Red is still a standout within their genre in the songwriting department, and there is evidence throughout that they have not ‘sold their soul’ to the mainstream devil just yet. But for other unexpected, while still equally irksome, reasons, this album falls short.
Overall, this is Michael Barnes’ best vocal performance yet. His variation of delivery, his highs and lows, his screams and strained growls, are all perfectly on point. Even in the worst of songs (see Damages), his vocals make it listenable. And in the songs that are above par, he pushes them to the point of standing up amongst the best in Red’s discography. His lyrical content hasn’t changed, but that’s not unexpected, as a Christian alternative rock band really has a narrow path down which they can tread. The fact that this is the only consistently above average aspect of the album is where we run into the most issues.
With the lead singles, we were presented with a heavy, string-less Red that no one was really sure how to react to. To be honest, that’s pretty much this record in a nutshell. Red has essentially entered the realm of alternative metal throughout most of this, and it’s a bit of a surprise. Don’t get me wrong, they could certainly do it successfully, and it’s something that given specific circumstances could have turned out to be an impressive move for the band. But not here. Red stand’s up and shouts, “We’re back and heavier than ever!” but forgets that heaviness alone can’t carry a band like themselves, one that is still trying to achieve such a high level of melody.
This is where we see the nu-metal-esque guitar work, something that has always been a staple of Red’s sound, start to become stale and same-y sounding without the string instrumentation softening any part of the blow. Every song is a lesson in how we can make this riff different from the previous songs riff. And, somehow, they do a pretty good job with the variation and the product is somehow still moderately interesting. But as anyone who has heard their share of nu-metal songs in their life can tell you, it’s still just a downtuned guitar riff
. There is a plethora of ways that Red could have cushioned the blow of the wall of guitars, even the old standbys of violins and cellos, but instead our eardrums are pummeled with the same sounds for the length of the LP, creating monotony.
They didn’t completely abandon the strings, as evidenced in songs “Glass Houses” and “If We Only”, both of which turn out to be quite excellent and a wonderful change of pace. In addition, the ballads on here are far better than anything we heard on Until We Have Faces. But these moments are much too few and far between, and as a result the record suffers. As most have looked to place the blame on producer new Howard Benson, I’m not as willing. Red have made a strong effort to wade through waters they haven’t already, and in the process have seemingly forgotten what had set them apart from the pack. So unless he is entirely responsible for their dropping of stings, we can’t place all the blame on him for this lackluster effort. Conversely, if he is responsible, I would like his head on a spike.