Album: Of Beauty and Rage
Release Date: 2.24.15
Reviewer: Lee Brown
- Shadow and Soul
- Darkest Part
- Fight to Forget
- Of These Chains
- Falling Sky
- The Forest
- Yours Again
- What You Keep Alive
- Gravity Lies
- Take Me Over
- The Ever
- Part That’s Holding On
In reviewing Red’s 2013 effort Release the Panic, I noted that: “Release the Panic is neither a masterpiece, nor is it deplorable. Despite claiming to cover mostly new ground, the final product is scattered.” In every way, that album felt as though it aspired to be something great, but fell just short of it. In talking to the band, an irony developed in that RTP was pitched as something wholly unique, but ended up feeling very much like a parody of RED that was heavily pulling from Brian “Head” Welch (so much so that I had to check multiple sources to make sure he wasn’t doing guest vocals) and 1990’s Skillet. While I did not dislike the album, these problems lead to the reality that it never crossed my ears again after my review was completed.
This fact aside, RED is and has always been a stellar band. Their End of Silence still rates as one of my all-time favorites. As fans of the band know, Red literally goes the extra mile when it comes to their albums. From production quality to band involvement, from video production to instrumentation, from concept to execution, Red has defined a category of music which they make all their own.
Of Beauty and Rage may just be their best album, yet. While Release the Panic felt like a parody of Red, Of Beauty and Rage feels like an unveiling of what they’ve always aspired to be. From diverse and skillful instrumentation to the musical journey, from lyrical storytelling to visceral impact, this album defines what has always made Red stand out. From start to finish it is apparent how much blood, sweet, and tears went into this project.
Though they have always been above the grade when it comes to the level of pure cinematic feeling their music has (both in audio and well-produced videos), even the teasers for this album point to just the level of immersiveness the listener can expect:
In short, Of Beauty and Rage may just be that new masterpiece fans of the band have been waiting for. It is an evolution of what they have done best in every way. It is an immersive experience. It is lyrically complex, yet deceptively simple and single-minded. It is hard rock at its apex, and yet employs classic piano and strings as dynamically as ever before. In every way, it is an engaging experience that you want to dive into again and again.
Add to this the fact that multiple tracks deserve their time in the spotlight as radio singles. Among others, “Darkest Part,” “Fight to Forget,” “Falling Sky,” “Yours Again,” and “Take Me Over” all have the qualities and ingredients to be massively popular as individual experiences. The remainder of the track listing is no filler, either. “Part That’s Holding On,” for example, is one of the best closing tracks (not counting the instrumental outro) Red has ever produced.
Even those tracks that are short instrumentals serve to feed an immersive experience from start to finish, while also assisting with the spiritual/emotional visceral feeling of the album. Fittingly, these tracks begin with “Descent,” which drives home the somber nature of what is to come, and ends with “Ascent,” which gives weight to the rebirth from the grave that happens in the flowing tone of the album. While the remainder of the tracks may not quite stand out as much as those listed above, I did not find a “bad” song in the mix, at all.
If there is one complaint that could be leveled, which is not uncommon to the band’s work, it is that the songs do all end up sounding “the same” if you’re not engaging them as you’re meant to. The first few listens through I found myself, when not paying close attention, not seeing much difference from one track to the others. However, as I engaged the music in the way I believe the band demands, I found a world of nuance and precision that defines each track in such a way that there is an experience as a whole album, and yet still also one for each individual track. Just as true masters tend to do, it is the subtlety that really defines the experience.
Similar could be said for the story of the album. While not quite as literarily epic as Project 86’s recent Knives to the Future, Of Beauty and Rage weaves a beautiful and complex story of addiction and rebirth. Though the exact beats of the tale are not new territory for Christian rock – nor even really for the band – the way these similar themes are employed are nuanced and unique in execution. Thus, you have a winding tale of false saviors (“Imposter”) that are clung to. You have the desire to return to truth (“Fight to Forget”) complicated by a cycle of addiction (whatever addiction or demon that may be) and relapse. In this, beautiful affirmations of hope such as “Yours Again” are immediately paired with the accusing voice of addictions and demons in “What You Keep Alive” – which sounds like the title to a Walking Dead episode, by the way. This cycle replays itself until the third act that is “Take me Over,” “The Ever,” and “Part That’s Holding on” gives the story grand closure. In this, the album’s themes come closest to Everything in Slow Motion’s own masterwork Phoenix.
Musicianship: Of Beauty and Rage sees an already excellent band up their game considerably. Though pianos, strings, electronic elements, and brutal screams are nothing new to Red’s repertoire, never before have these elements come together in such beauty. Unlike many hard rock bands, Red seems always to find a balance and accessibility. I know many who hate “heavy” music that still find RED completely accessible, while those who really love heavy crunchy music find more than enough to whet their palate.
With this album, however, it is the precision of subtlety and nuance that really makes the music stand out. Strings and pianos are used in just the most purposeful moments, for example. And, while Release the Panic seemed to draw heavily from Invincible era Skillet, Of Beauty and Rage expertly uses just the subtlest of electronic flourishes at just the right times.
Lyrical/Spiritual Content: Red weaves a tale of spiritual oppression, addiction, and dependence that is quite gripping. Though the protagonist seems aware of the darkness that has enveloped his heart, he also understands innately his complete dependence on it. This theme, as mentioned, is echoed in the instrumental tracks which take the tone down, metaphorically through the woods, and finally upwards towards the sun/Son.
Though this theme has been done with great frequency across Christian hard-rock, the eternal nature of it ensures that the overarching plot never gets old. Just as with Phoenix and other albums like it, Of Beauty and Rage is not only great music, it might also be the exact message the listener needs to hear.
Lasting Value: I have no doubt that this album will hold up across the ages. This is not just a great Red album… it’s not just a great piano/string-infused hard rock album… it’s not just a great heavy album… It’s a great album. And, great albums stand the test of time and changing styles.
Overall: Red brings to the table their best album so far. Of Beauty and Rage is subtle, yet powerful. It is heavy, yet tender. It weaves an eternal story of darkness to light that perfectly encapsulates both beauty and brutality. And, as with all of their work, the level of polish, skill, and craftsmanship is undeniable. Although I do not think it has quite overtaken Lil’ Dre’s amazing and personal Homework as best album so far this year… Of Beauty and Rage is an album that will hold firm as one of the best albums of 2015.
RIYL: Skillet, Love and Death, Staple