By Isabella Dionne
On February 24, Christian metal band Red released their fifth studio album, titled Of Beauty and Rage. It is the first album written by the band without the influence of founding member Jasen Rauch, who, despite recording or touring with the band since 2009, had continued to contribute to songwriting up until Release the Panic, the band’s fourth album. But after Release the Panic’s lack of commercial success, however, audiences might have be skeptical of Of Beauty and Rage’s potential. Returning fans, however, will be reassured by the band’s recurring themes of dark versus light and inner conflict, and metal audiences as a whole will appreciate the always promising blend of strings, piano, and standard rock instruments.
The album begins with the instrumental track “Descent,” which features a haunting string arrangement reminiscent of both the “End of Silence” intro on Red’s debut album and the “Canto III” intro from their second, Innocence and Instinct. The arrangement continues into the album’s second track, “Imposter,” until the distinct gritty tone of Anthony Armstrong’s guitar-playing comes in about twenty seconds into the song. The album then flows into “Shadow and Soul,” which features intense minor vocal melodies from lead singer Michael Barnes set against choppy strings and juxtaposed with breaks to calm and poignant piano, making the track musically one of album’s strongest tracks.
“Darkest Part,” the album’s nostalgic fourth track and first single, begins softly before building into its powerful and impassioned chorus. The lyrics “I never wanted you to see / The darkest part of me” recall themes of disguise and identity found in the band’s third album, Until We Have Faces, while the line “till I find you lost inside of me” brings listeners back to thoughts of isolation and inner conflict that heavily influenced Innocence and Instinct. Later lyrics note “the black state of your perfect life;” returning Red fans will surely recall Release the Panic’s track “Perfect Life,” a bitter song condemning a shallow, unnamed subject who could easily be the same person at whom “Darkest Part” is directed.
From there, the album moves into the heavy and angry “Fight to Forget” before hitting the token mid-album ballad, “Of These Chains.” Again, motifs of disguise surface through the lyrics: “Another mask you wore that only I can see.” While these themes are very reminiscent of those in Until We Have Faces, the recurring symbol of a mask points to the album’s artwork, which features a robed and masked figure walking through a black and white forest covered in crimson leaves.
The album continues with “Falling Sky” before breaking into its instrumental interlude, “The Forest,” which is followed by the album’s second single and arguably its best song: “Yours Again.” The love song, while not quite a ballad, is significantly less dark than many others on the album. “Is this a new beginning / Of beauty and rage?” incites powerful emotion and is a nod to the album’s title.
The albums really hits its stride musically on the next few tracks, which fade and flow from incredible intensity in drums and guitars to expressive instrumental arrangements. The album begins its close with the heartbreaking “Part That’s Holding On,” with the last lyrics of the album being, “Another fall through the dark of the shadows, / I reached for you, only you, / There’s still a part that’s holding on.” Red concludes the album with the instrumental “Ascent,” which to mirrors the intro in tone and purpose and ties the entire work together, leaving listeners with parting thoughts of somber strings and heartwrenching piano.
Of Beauty and Rage‘s lyrics mirror the concern fans and critics had with Release the Panic: that the band has continued to recycle themes present in all of their previous albums. Are recurring lyrical themes simply a part of the band’s consistent style? Absolutely. Does that mean Red should refrain from exploring different ideas and emotions in their work? No, and unless the band progresses and incorporates themes other than fear and disguise, they will continue to find themselves receiving stagnant, average critical reception. Musically, however, Of Beauty and Rage is perhaps Red’s most hauntingly beautiful work yet. The contrast of piano and strings against elements of metal is a tone the band has been perfecting ever since End of Silence, and the passion from this sonic hybrid has never hit quite as hard as it does in this album, most notably in the intro and outro tracks, “Descent” and “Ascent.” The raw emotion of Of Beauty and Rage’s music speaks volumes before fans even look into the album’s repetitive and routine lyrical themes.