RED is a somewhat polarizing band in the Christian community of hard rock listeners. Many love the rather generic overall sound that has them banging their heads, but others have grown tired of the monotony. Last time out, the rockers released a heavily electronic album that drew the ire of many fans. Now, with Of Beauty and Rage, a concept album, the veteran outfit has returned to a sound more reminiscent of the Innocence & Instinct era. Most of the band's faithful are clamoring to hear the finished product as a whole, while others will remain skeptical until their first listen at least.
The album starts off with the intro track, "Descent." Unfortunately, the band's attempt to start the album in a different way than the past winds up a bit tedious. An intro track that is a minute and a half long gives way to an opening number that has a forty-five second intro of its own. One looking to delve right in will have to remain patient. Overall, "Imposter" is a solid start. Chunky guitar riffs, angry snarls, and full on screams highlight the song. While "Imposter" checks all the boxes for things you want in a hard rock song, the overabundance of strings is evident early. "Shadow and Soul" follows up the official opener as another enjoyable song. The track features more chunky guitars and screams, but the almost haunting way Michael Barnes sings the chorus really grabs your attention most. After skipping forward a few spots you will find the obligatory soft piano ballad. While "Of These Chains" is a pretty song, and is a notch above many of the group's other ballads, it honestly just feels like these kinds of songs are thrown in to appease certain fans or fit into a particular formula.
The next song that stands out above the rest, "What Keeps You Alive," is probably the heaviest song on the album. A nice sounding riff playing throughout, coupled with a catchy bridge, should make this one a favorite for hard rock fanatics. However, "Gravity Lies" feels a bit odd. What starts off as a very typical RED song just dies after two and half minutes without warning. Softly picked acoustic guitar with strings play for nearly a full minute before going back full-throttle just as abruptly as it hit the brakes. It's a neat concept, but ends up making the song somewhat disjointed. Following is the rock anthem "Take Me Over." While it's not a particularly bad song, it, like "Of These Chains," seems to just be thrown in to fit "the formula." With things winding down, the guys get another solid one out of "The Ever." "Part That's Holding On" is the last track with lyrics, but out of all of the songs present, it feels the most familiar -- as in "I've heard this one on every RED album." From here, the album goes to the closer, "Ascent." Unfortunately, the album ends with a rather lackluster tune, followed by a nearly four-minute string instrumental that doesn't offer up much interesting.
Let's be honest. There really is a lot to like about Of Beauty and Rage. If there is some sort of master equation to making the "perfect" hard rock record, then RED likely holds the patent on the formula to get the right answer. I realize that word (formula) was used a few times within this review, but as a whole, the record feels quite formulaic. A first overview listen reveals a solid and enjoyable rock album. Subsequent listens, though, reveal a lot of chinks in the armor. The biggest factor is the nearly unbearable amount of strings that play throughout each and every song present. It's unfortunate that strings turned from a highlight in hard rock songs to the main feature. At times, they even take a lot of edge out of heavy riff driven sections. On the upside, some of the hardest music RED have written to date is present on this album. Also, Michael Barnes' screams are more on point, and more fully featured, than ever before. Sonically, Of Beauty and Rage could be the band's finest work, but it seems the band needs to get away from the "go to" tracks to create some truly creative art. Long time RED listeners will likely fall in love with this one, but it's doubtful to sway anyone who has disregarded them in the past. It's a mixed bag of good music and frustration, but from the low start of "Descent" to the high of "Ascent," the story and concept here is worth at least one listen.- Review date: 2/22/15, written by Michael Weaver of Jesusfreakhideout.com
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