Review Summary: An over-produced, almost painfully mediocre album, "Release The Panic" is Red's weakest effort to date.
In early summer 2006, Red burst into the music industry with their debut album, "End of Silence". With hit songs "Breathe Into Me", "Already Over", and "Pieces", the CCM band rapidly gained mainstream attention. Still, their music seemed to lack something original; something unique. They remedied this issue in their next release, "Innocence & Instinct", which is arguably their best effort to date. Cutting down on some of the techno elements that put them a little too close to the likes of Linkin Park, I&I was a record filled with hard-hitting, string-laced songs scattered throughout. But if I&I was Red discovering their sound, their 2011 release, "Until We Have Faces", was Red refining their newly discovered sound. Although this release lacked some of the creativity of I&I, it contained more polished, well-written songs (though overall, it wasn't quite up to par with its predecessor).
So how far have they come since then?
It was announced a while back that Red had changed producers; instead of Rob Graves, they would now have Howard Benson working with them. This unsettled a great many people as they flashed back to some of his previous projects ("Awake" by Skillet and "Life Starts Now" by Three Days Grace, to name a couple). When the first song - the title track - was released (which was not the first single, mind you), the new producer's variance in production was apparent from the start, as subtle as it may have been. There were some smaller changes that had little to do with Benson (the chorus was all screaming, which is somewhat out of the ordinary for them), but the most obvious difference was that there were no strings at all. This came as a shock to many, and numerous people were worried that Red's "signature sound" would be lost. Now that the full album has been released, the answer to this concern is clear. Or is it?
The techno elements are back; that's one thing that I can say with confidence. In some songs ("Damage" and "Same Disease"), these techno elements are just that: elements. They compliment the guitar riffs, and sometimes act as lead instruments for solo sections. However, other songs ("Die For You") are driven more by these sounds than the guitars themselves, which comes as a bit of a surprise. And while these effects may be back, people's suspicions that came about when listening to the first song are found to be true: the strings are, indeed, missing after all. They don't really show up until the seventh track, "If We Only". Then they're lost again, and return one final time on "Glass House" before vanishing entirely. The fact that there are only two songs on the album that have strings and almost all the other tracks are techno-driven nudges the "completeness" of the collection slightly off-balance.
Unfortunately, these are just the beginnings of the offbeat production qualities of this record. The copy-paste feature is utilized, as is done on many mainstream bands these days. This technique can cut down on time spent in the studio and boost the stamina of musicians, and, when used properly, can sometimes result in a better final project than if the whole song actually had to be recorded. However, in the case of this album, it can be painfully obvious at times ("Die For You", "The Moment We Come Alive"), giving the tracks a "fake" atmosphere, and therefore losing the rawness of their previous works.
The production isn't the only thing lacking on this album, though. The songwriting ranges between average and undeniably sub-par, somewhat with the vocal melodies and instrumentation, but mostly with the lyrics. Lines such as, "I never thought I could feel condemned, I never thought I could feel all your sin" ("Die For You") sound like they were written by a twelve year-old, whereas most of the rest of the lyrics fall into the typical clichés ("Hold me now, 'till the fear is leaving, I am barely breathing" - Hold Me Now; "I throw my arms up in the air, why do I disappear? How can Your love be so close, when I'm so far away?" - So Far Away). They also stretch some of the syllables too far in select areas, resulting in a few awkward transitions between verses and choruses. These flaws may not sound like much at first, but in the end they definitely add up, resulting in a sum of some less than impressive songs.
There are a few highlights, such as the dark, airy atmosphere in “As You Go” (included in the Deluxe Edition), and even a few lead guitar parts in some songs – an element that was never really there for this band. Sadly, these qualities are not enough to make this album any better than average.
All in all, with the combination of over-production, lack of unique content, and poor songwriting, Red probably should have waited more than two years to Release the Panic.