Sound — 4
Let's face it, this album just feels lazy. Red tours non-stop, with something like 300+ shows a year, and this album is the result of that tour schedule. In the first song, "Release the Panic," it starts out with a bit of promise, with the drums and bass taking a lead, which sounds like it would be a great and new thing for Red, but this quickly gets annoying and old. Where Red's guitars once sounded sharp, crisp, up front, and slaughtered your ears with glorious riffs, the guitars in this album take a backseat... And then the bass takes a backseat too. It would be nice to say that the drums carry this album, but for about 90% of the songs the beat is essentially "boom-pop-boom-pop-boom-pop," bass-snare-bass-snare. Imagine the drums from the song "Who We Are" on the previous album, just the drums in the verse, and then copy and paste that into nearly all of the songs on this album. The effect is that most songs on this album feel like they were written SOLELY for the intention of being played on the radio, for bringing people who had never heard Red before. You can't blame them for wanting new fans, but you can certainly blame them for alienating the old ones. Soundwise, this album isn't just a step back or away from what Red is known for, it is miles in the opposite direction. Drums: disappointing, repetitive, simplistic for the most part. Bass: needs to be louder, more aggressive. It would be nice if it sounded more like the bass of Chevelle on "This Type of Thinking" or "Vena Sera," but it does not aspire to more than following the guitar. Guitar: generic, fuzzy, unimportant. No real catchy riffs, save maybe the acoustic guitar in "Hold Me Now," which is a nice change of pace. You won't hear any "Feed the Machine" or "Out From Under" riffs here, and even the more catchy riffs taste bitter before long. Other: the piano, when it shows up, is nice. Red should use more piano, period. Strings? What strings? They show up in maybe two songs, and whereas in all 3 previous albums the strings were played by real people, these strings are programmed. Red has gone the way of Breaking Benjamin, in that the string placement in songs seems more like an afterthought to make a track into a ballad. Howard Benson, known for his work with Thousand Foot Krutch, Creed, Three Days Grace, P.O.D., Papa Roach, Skillet, and Daughtry, produced this album, the first album not produced by Rob Graves for Red. Notice anything about that list of bands? Most of them have a poppy, not nu-metal, sound. While Howard can't be blamed for the material Red wrote for this album, he can be blamed for making it sound the way it does. While the riffs from previous albums have nice low string stabs or an interesting chord progression, most of this album feels full of simple chords. Sound gets a 4 because, though I hate to admit it, even on a bad day Red's music is still better than most things you hear on the radio.
Lyrics — 7
None of these lyrics REALLY struck me, not like the songs from the past 3 albums did. I'm becoming less impressed with Michael Barnes' writing ability, simply because the formula is trite. Ever since Linkin Park came out, this genre of music has loved to use the words "this," "you," "it," etc, to describe the subject in its songs. This can work sometimes, because you obviously want to make sure your audience can fill in their own subjects. Leave it ambiguous, and people will fill it with whatever means something to them. However, Barnes is capable of writing truly inspiring music, yet he sticks to the formula. He doesn't aspire to anything greater or more important in this album, or even anything different than what has been written before. It feels like he has nothing new to write about. Good metal comes from dark places, even if the band is labeled "Christian" (see bands like Oh Sleeper or August Burns Red, or even just listen to Red's previous songs "Take It All Away" and "Feed the Machine" for reference). The lyrics on this album are creative in a way, but the subjects seem to be all too familiar, like we're seeing songs that talk about the same subjects with different words. Having said that, Barnes singing has never been better. His screams are harder, his growling is lower, his highs are crisper and higher, his falsetto has more vibrato. This guy can SING. Regardless of what I have felt about each album as it comes out, Barnes has only gotten more skilled in his singing ability. This was probably the only new AND fresh thing worth mentioning on this album.
Overall Impression — 4
Sadly, amazing singing cannot save an entire album. It's difficult to describe the entire album by comparing it to past songs they have written, because their past songs, however similar, still feel better than these. Previous songs like "Overtake You" or "The Outside" are essentially what you find filling this album, except now they don't sound new or very good. This album feels far too much like a Skillet album or Thousand Foot Krutch. This is not to say that Skillet or TFK are bad bands, but the thing that has made Red so amazing is that they are NOT like any other band and they carved their own niche in the industry. No other band made it work quite like Red, but this album has brought them into the territory that far too many bands settle in. While the singing is more metal than ever, the guitars, drums, and bass just don't support the vocalizations they accompany, so the effect is flawed at best, and becomes something you've heard just a little too much before. An intense touring schedule, great success (and therefore little hardship or inspiring events to write about), the lack of Jasen Rauch's touch, and the new producer combine to make an album that is a pothole in the otherwise incredible road that Red has traveled. While the lack of strings in most songs on this album is the most noticeable, and therefore the most likely, reason to feel this album has gone downhill, the fact is that in most of the songs on this album, strings would feel contrived and forced. These songs would not mesh well with an orchestra, and the songs that would mesh well already have strings. Red didn't just decide after writing these songs that strings wouldn't work with them; they decided to focus on writing music with no intention of using strings altogether. It seems that Red did not really aspire to anything greater than what they have already done. Red is not known for putting in "filler" tracks; in all 3 previous albums, each song has held its own as a fantastic track. Yet this feels like a filler ALBUM, something that was released only to hold us over until Red comes up with something great again. Frankly, I am insulted by that, but I also hope it is true, and that the Red I love is not gone for good. I bought the deluxe version, and I would say that was the only saving grace of this album. The remixes, as well as the song "Love Will Leave a Mark," are probably the best, or the least terrible, tracks on this record. Red should do a "Reanimation" Linkin Park-esque album with dubstep remixes of their previous material, because the remix to "Death of Me" is amazing. I don't feel that this album needed to be "heavier," as in more downtuned; this album really just needs to feel more REAL, less radio friendly, to have subject matter and lyrics that have more bite and substance to them. I had read that Red had been hanging out with Brian Welch more, and that made me hope they would write something in the vein of Korn. It seems they rubbed off on him more than he did them. I finished this album and was unchanged and unaffected by what I had listened to, which is a first in my history with Red. If you want to hear what Red should be right now, look for the little known title track of the previous album, "Until We Have Faces." This song represents everything Red was and should have moved towards. I had hoped this bonus track would be a taste of what was to come, but in reality it was a wave goodbye to the Red we loved. If you like TFK or Skillet, or don't know Red very well at all, you might enjoy this album. If you are a big fan of Red, like myself, and have loved their past material, prepare to be disappointed.