Words by Greg Walker
Newly independent Red should be on everyone’s radar. The gold certified and Grammy nominated arena band have 20+ US #1s under their belt for hits comprised of their consistent blend of Nu-Metal /Alternative rock enhanced with symphonic and electronic atmospheres, all layered behind one of the biggest voices in modern music. Now with total control over their musical destiny, Red celebrates with the newly released Rated R which continues with an obvious sense of renewal on their long-designed path of boldly weaving their grand narrative across multiple albums and video clips.
Opening track Surrogates packs the solid thump of a very modern studio sound, lyrics brusquely delivered between clenched teeth before the chorus vocals take flight with an epic cleanliness. This ideal first single runs the gamut of Michael Barnes‘ expansive vocal capabilities, aggressive scorn to powerful cleans all displayed in the one song. Spiraling down to the angered grit of the bridge before ascending to the climactic finale, this instant favourite is arranged around traditional Nu- Metal aggression.
Directly following the energy of Surrogates is the delicate opening of Your Devil Is A Ghost, itself a massive tune but in the realm of commercial atmospherics rather than zealous attack. Working with Red’s overriding themes in Christianity, upcoming single Your Devil Is A Ghost lays out that our personal demons are an intrinsic part of our own self, however we don’t necessarily need to be beholden to the past when seeking a path forward.
Minus It All briefly leans on a detail that wouldn’t be out of place in a Korn song before breaking wide open with a chorus that blossoms with Red’s trademark comprehensive production.
Resplendent with string accents, this single perfectly represents Red’s strengths and sound. Released on the same day, single Cold World is as bleak as the title describes, outlining a lowest point many of us have found ourselves facing during our lives, questioning “Down again I’ve fallen through the same empty self-inflicted void again, how long can we survive in this cold world?”. The realisation of being thoroughly lost and despondent, and the longing for a need to find a better place through surrendering to something bigger than ourselves, is something many can relate to, to differing degrees.
Tell Me How To Say Goodbye follows in the continuity and seemingly tells of the shedding of the personal rock bottom at the heart of Cold World. The clarity of the opening acoustic guitar is stunning, the song riding a comforting wave of symphony and building to a rewarding triumphant punch. The Suffering is another potent Nu-Metal jaunt and is possibly the heaviest song on the album, barely letting up and only breaking for dynamic emphasis. Last Forever boasts a beautifully heavy chorus that is a highlight of the latter part of the album, paired with a melody that is just as epic and dark in its tone. On first playthrough this song earned itself an immediate replay and instantly became my pick of this new collection.
The soaring vocals are as endemic to Red’s makeup as Armstrong brothers Anthony and Randy (guitar and bass respectively), Michael’s delicious melody lines shining in choruses on Still Bleeding, Our Time Will Come, and final track Emergency. But the Armstrong’s writing abilities are not to be easily dismissed, able to swing between haunting ballad and chunk rhythm with ease. Combined, Red has again created an album of songs that don’t repeat themselves; without boundaries to pigeon-hole the scope of their material, each track has its own clear identity and feel.
Not entirely original, borrowing from the likes of Linkin Park especially, something about their sound and approach is unique and enticing; most striking is the human vulnerability Barnes conveys in his vocals at times. A fusion of rock styles, Rated R demonstrates Red have evolved beyond Nu-Metal while still leaning on the methodology. I’ve always liked Red’s approach; their commercial angle has its merits and comes across as genuine.
Rated R is not a groundbreaking formula, but it is all done very well. There’s no denying their mainstream appeal and the accessibility of their craft. Polished to a high sheen, stunning and crisp, flawless, which is either a pro or a con depending on which way you’re looking at it. Sometimes it’s nice to hear the humanity in recordings but other times to hear zero flaws is perfection for the ears.