Review Summary: I cannot forget this.“We had been touring non-stop, for two years. In the blink of an eye, dead stop. What I remember of the accident, it was like jumping out of a nightmare. We didn’t know what was going on; it was confusion. The first thing that came to my mind was, we’re dead. It was a pretty difficult time, we lost most of our gear. It took us quite a while to get back on our feet…There were scary moments for sure, but I don’t think anything will ever top that… there is no reason whatsoever we should’ve walked away from that accident.”
- Members of the band RED, recounting slamming into a guardrail on Interstate 24 going 70 mph in their 16 passenger van during a busy tour cycle.
Tragedy is often viewed as a catalyst for great art. Layne Staley, former lead vocalist of Alice in Chains, died of a drug overdose. Before his demise, his struggles with substance abuse crafted what would become Dirt
, one of the strongest and most acclaimed hard rock albums of all time. The members of RED claimed- both then and to this day- that a horrific accident that should’ve taken their lives and actually cost them both a drummer (to an injury) and thousands of dollars of equipment, electrified the writing process of their sophomore release. The group even went so far as to posit that the album “was forged from a storm of inspiration and catastrophe” and pushed them to stretch their creative boundaries even farther than before. The men sought to deliver the same emotional catharsis that End of Silence
had previously, while still forging into new ground, both lyrically and musically.
Musically, there is definite evolution, though perhaps not in the manner one would immediately expect. The tools themselves are largely the same as beforehand: electric guitars, programming/keyboards, drums, bass, acoustic guitars, screamed and sung vocals, etc. However, the method in which the tools are wielded is, by and large, vastly different than before. This is a heavier, darker project, and it isn’t ashamed to be that. The guitars are tuned lower, the screams are more viscous, the cleans are more powerful, there’s some double bass sprinkled in, and the programming and strings do more to terrify than enlighten its victim. The frequency of screaming has definitely ramped up as well. That said, it’s all done for a purpose, and it all serves to upgrade the band rather than detract from it. The riffs are thicker and more impactful (Anthony Armstrong’s signature, cutting and crisp guitar tone goes a long way in setting the band apart), the screams are unforgettable, and the experimentation in the rhythm section especially lends to steps forward in the song-writing department. “Start Again” lumbers forward like a tank, with the drum kit serving as its wheels. “Confession (What’s Inside My Head)” leans into speed metal and punk due to its pacing. The eerie programming and orchestral elements act as a warning siren in your head, often amping their audience up for what’s about to happen or just crawling under their skin (verses of “Death of Me”, beginning of “Fight Inside”, bridge of “Nothing and Everything”), and the improved riffage and screaming lends credence to the war-themed record (“Overtake You”, “Shadows”, “Death of Me”). The Korn-esque effect on the lead guitar in “Forever” packs just the right bit of gusto to slink into your brain and plant itself there. However, it never goes too far. If End of Silence
is hard rock, Innocence and Instinct
pushes just slightly into radio-friendly pop metal.
It’s worth noting, though, that not every sonic element cloaks itself in shadow. That is definitely the overarching theme (the foreboding intro track of “Canto III” more than makes that clear), but there are moments throughout that wouldn’t be out of place on the band’s initial work. “Start Again” may have an intense drum pattern, but it’s emphasis on its hopeful, soaring chorus and the playful guitar licks throughout the verses gift the listener with nearly five minutes of joy and levity. The verses of cover “Ordinary World” are dreamy, with muted electric guitar, acoustic flourishes, and tasty synthesizers and strings. The cohesive guitar-work strengthens the determined “Mystery of You”, and the emphasis on dueling electric and acoustic guitar spices up “Never Be The Same”. At times, the programming is most definitely harrowing, but at other times, it’s delicious ear candy, which means that this record is perfect for a good pair of headphones.
While still on the topic of the instrumentation, RED’s first true forays into more progressive song-writing can be located on this album. Fan favorite “Take It All Away” shifts between brooding verses, a melancholic chorus, and a building bridge before blasting out of the gate with its triumphant outro. Closer “Nothing and Everything” constructs its final stand slowly, even dropping into a bizarre, atmospheric bridge that wouldn’t be out of place in a horror/suspense movie. Both tracks near the six minute mark, but the listener is fully engaged for each and every second.
Lyrically, the situation is not unlike that of the music itself. End of Silence
was about breaking the fear and stigma of talking about serious issues, issue like depression, addiction, and abandonment. Innocence and Instinct
dives deeply into what causes those issues, and it does so pulling little to no punches. But that is arguably its greatest strength. Depression, addiction, loneliness, abandonment, love, faithfulness, trust, dishonesty, faith, confrontation. These are only some of the topics tackled here, and RED’s understanding of the human condition makes them all the more palatable. They wear their hearts boldly on their sleeves; “Death of Me” is a violent conversation between the dark and the light sides of a person, “Out From Under” discusses betrayal by the ones who say that they’ll be there but aren’t , and “Fight Inside” literally ends on the line “I’m falling apart”. The men aren’t afraid to be uncertain, and they also won’t shy away from telling you how uncertain they feel. RED doesn’t want to pretend that they’re emotionally stable or healthy when they really aren’t; they would rather discuss and confront the issue so that it cannot rise its head again. It is this specificity that pushes this album above its predecessor. This quality allows I&I to do what its predecessor couldn’t, and a perfect example is that of “Nothing and Everything”. “Nothing and Everything” is repetitive and reflective, and it ends with the refrain “It’s everything” being sung several times. “Already Over Pt.2” did the same thing with a different lyric, but that song is arguably one of the worst of the band’s discography. The former track is just a cheap, boring follow-up to one of RED’s greatest songs; the latter is a heartfelt, steadfast decision to confront one’s darkness, and it is backed by the long journey the listener has taken to get there.
Again, though, it isn’t all gloomy. There are several moments here where RED’s honesty does more to uplift; “Start Again” and “Never Be The Same” both promise to hold onto love and redemption no matter how dark things get, while “Ordinary World” (with slightly modified lyrics from the original by Duran Duran) holds its head above anxiety and searches for familiar, friendly ground. “Mystery of You” is a tribute to unrelenting faith and hope, and “Overtake You” boldly stares down at maleficence. Just as RED strike a balance between their poppy accessibility and their raw fury musically, they do so between brutal realism and cautious hope lyrically.
The accident cost RED a lot. It slowed them down, it robbed them of resources and a drummer (who would later be replaced), and it terrified them. Still, it also granted them a lot. The fresh perspective emboldened the band to embrace more unfamiliar territory, and this foray into untraveled lands allowed the artists to create a masterpiece of an album. With accessible but diverse song-writing, a penchant for unfiltered, no bull*** honesty, and power rarely matched by its contemporaries, Innocence and Instinct
will surely be difficult to forget.