When one thinks of Christian rock stalwarts, a few bands come to mind, each for their own reasons. Petra for their longevity, Disciple for the consistent strength of each subsequent album, and Skillet for their breaking the barrier that is the secular/sacred dichotomy. The Nashville, Tennessee band Red has found itself consistently falling in each category over their twenty-one year, seven studio album career. Three years removed from their first independent release, 2020's heavy Declaration, Red looks to continue the consistent output with their eighth album, Rated R.
Typically, my initial interaction with a release is to consider the packaging and title of said album, admittedly my first thought upon hearing the title was to wonder out loud to my wife, "look, now we are reviewing R-rated material at Jesus freak Hideout." Bassist Randy Armstrong explains the reason behind the name, "Its Rated R for Red and we always try and be a bit provocative to get our audience thinking with how our records look and what they're called."
I then take a listen through the album and just focus on the atmosphere that drives a band's new release. Often, this first listen through isn't as much about finding specific parts that truly stick out to me but looking for a cohesiveness that allows the material to flow and flesh out the themes in a digestible way. One thing Red has always excelled at, not withstanding a few missteps (here is looking at you "Gone" and "Feed the Machine"), is setting an atmosphere that is conducive to the subject matter that we primarily find the band diving into the depths of human depravity and the darkness we all wrestle against. I was admittedly a little hesitant upon hearing the EDM influences in the initial single, "Surrogates," but those fears were quickly relieved upon hearing the double singles "Cold World" and "Minus It All." For better or worse, the album opener notwithstanding, I was constantly reminded of a heavier Of Beauty and Rage throughout the first play through.
Thematic material always take precedence upon subsequent listens and Rated R finds itself covering much of the same ground that I have come to expect from a Red release. Whether it be calling out the hypocrisy of the rich and famous, "You bring the gun and bleed with a knife / The darkest sky is your paradise / Faceless fame on a heap you reign / You leave the hate but you still play the saint," or dealing with inner turmoil from surviving trauma in "Your Devil is a Ghost." Principle songwriter Anthony Armstrong pulls no punches when covering these darker topics while also being sure to point to the hope found in the one that can absolve and heal the broken parts inside of us all. One of my favorite instances, lyrically, is on the song "Tell me How to Say Goodbye" when lead singer Micheal Barnes sings "Tell me how to say goodbye / Peel away the shame so I / Can tear apart my ribs to shed the dark / And let the sun inside / Tell me how to say goodbye / Kiss away the stain of lies / Tear apart my ribs so I so I / Can let the sun inside." This is the epitome of the hope found in Scripture, in this world of hurt, shame, and pain, the remedy, and "way to say goodbye" to our old self is found in the redemptive power of the cross. Similar glimmers of hope are found peppered throughout the songs, "Our Time Will Come," "Last Forever," and "Emergency." This group of songs represent some of the strongest and most hopeful groupings of songs in all of Red's discography.
So, the big question that resides in any review, especially when the band are stalwart veterans in the industry such as Red, is how does this release stack up to their other material? Blending the ferocity of Declaration with the moody atmosphere of Beauty and Rage, Red finds itself really hitting their stride. The mixture of in-your-face technical riffs, passionate vocals, and emotional lyrics that have always been a staple are still here, and when you mix in a stronger dosing of hope throughout the record's entirety, compared to normal, you see a band with a renewed sense of mission and drive that - even in and through human depravity and darkness - that there is a path to change and hope. And even if they are not over-the-top with Who they have found hope in, they do enough to open the door to conversation, and that sometimes is the toughest divide to cross in our everyday cultural interactions. Be sure to catch them out on tour this fall with the band Saul in support.- Review date: 9/22/23, written by Matt Baldwin of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: The Fuel Music / RED Entertainment
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