Review Summary: Independence is key.
After an entire career confined to their previous label, Declaration
displays RED as a band being true to themselves, no longer attached to the influence of others. With the last handful of records, the band’s fan base has been greatly divided, criticizing the poppier elements of Release the Panic
while praising the return to form characterized by Of Beauty and Rage
. Responding to such fan opinion, the band’s newest release takes all of the elements of their past successes and adds a newer, revitalized sound to the mix.
In comparison to the rest of their discography, Declaration
pushes deeper into the darker, heavier elements of their sound as displayed on Innocence and Instinct
. Utilizing lower tuned guitars, eerie orchestral elements, and greater emphasis on screamed vocals, RED experiments with a more abrasive and aggressive atmosphere previously hinted at only by a handful of songs off of previous records. With only the occasional softer breaks in songs and the comparatively calmer “The War We Made,” Declaration
contains no shortage of sheer energy and intensity. Although focusing on the much heavier aspects of their sound, the record also holds many of the band’s past staples, producing massive, climatic choruses and applying the versatility of orchestration to further accentuate the aura of the album. This amalgamation of the ferocious nature of RED and their melodic features creates a strangely cohesive experience that fails to falter throughout the record.
From the first track, Anthony Armstrong makes his presence clear, initiating the album with a heavily downtuned riff that erupts into a strong chorus progression in “All for You.” Throughout the entire album, this pattern of heavy riffing and massive power chord progressions remains prevalent through every song, each varying to different levels of intensity. With some of the heaviest riffs in the band’s career, the Armstrong twins show off their ability to formulate riffs and grooves of sheer intensity. Tracks like “Infidel” and “Cauterize” display the six-strings immense magnitude in creating a solid groove that maintains a heavy atmosphere and a catchy phrasing while the pure aggression contained within “Float” further exemplifies the emphasis of heaviness embodied within the guitars. On the other hand, the more reserved progressions found on “Sever” and “The War We Made” highlight the twins’ ability to take a step back and focus on the more melodic aspects of their craft. Complementing the Armstrongs, Dan Johnson’s drumming provides the backbone for the progression of the album, alternating between heavy, in-your-face beats and tighter grooves. From the high impact aggression confounded within “Float” and “Infidel” to the more compact, consistent grooves of “The War We Made” and “Only Fight,” his versatility of patterns exudes throughout Declaration
Overlaying such aggressive instrumentation lies Michael Barnes’ impressive vocal performance. As expected, his expansive range is highlighted throughout the duration of the record, amplifying the climatic choruses of tracks like “The Evening Hate” and “From the Ashes.” However, although occasionally used in the past, Barnes’ emphasis on screaming is unlike any other previous album from RED. With tracks like “Only Fight” and “Float,” his powerful screams take the forefront, creating some of the band’s heaviest, aggressive moments of their entire career. Moreover, Barnes’ tackles some interesting vocal melodies, taking on new approaches to his performance emphasized in the pre-chorus of “Cauterize.” This combination of the ferocious harsh vocals and melodic cleans forges a contrast that is both intense and beautiful simultaneously, as exemplified through the chorus of “The Victim.”
Similar to their past records, RED focuses on utilizing orchestral elements to underscore the already impressive instrumentation. Although generally used in a harmonious manner to enforce an “epic” atmosphere to the choruses of tracks such as “From the Ashes” and “The War We Made,” the orchestration is also used to create a haunting ambience to the darker moments of Declaration
in the progressions of “Only Fight” and the verses of “Cauterize.” Furthermore, the band utilizes a fair amount of experimentation that adds a uniqueness to many of the tracks compared to previous efforts, especially “Only Fight.” The odd lack of structure and almost unsettling guitar and vocal layering creates an experience not quite developed in RED’s musical catalog before.
Despite such grand experimentation and impressive musicianship from the band, the album does suffer from faltering production and weaknesses in the mixing. Although a step up from the original releases of “The Evening Hate” and “From the Ashes,” the record fails to fully address the issue of production and falls short of the same value embodied in their previous records, holding Declaration
back slightly. However, the album as a whole greatly succeeds in providing fans with the desired heaviness and return to form they have been awaiting. Perhaps the loss of a contract with a label was a gain in motivation for the band to pursue their identity without restrictions. Maybe this new independent form of RED is the beginning of a new era for the band’s future, unhindered by the influence of a label.