Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Raen's Review: Innocence and Instinct


I have been anticipating this CD for some time. I'm doing my best to review it objectively, rather than as a fan. Most of my interpretations of the songs are drawn directly from the band's quotes as well as my personal thought process.

Most bands go through what people refer to as a “Sophomore Slump,” meaning their second album lacks power and seems to have an identity crisis. Red completely shattered that tradition. Their debut album, End of Silence, was a good album, but it was under developed. The complaint most often mentioned (and my greatest complaint) is that most of the album sounded like the same song, with the exception of Pieces and Already Over Pt. 2. Sure, the basic beat changed from song to song, but that was as unique as they got. As good as the album was, it had issues with variety.

That completely changed in Innocence and Instinct. Every single song has its own unique character, things that make them stand out in a powerful way. They added in more acoustic elements, employing the use of acoustic guitar for some of the intros, and piano and strings play a role throughout the album. Some of the vocal harmonizing that goes on is beautiful. They toned down the amount of screaming they use, letting the melody and the emotion of the lyrics speak for themselves. But what I love the most is the theme of the album.

From the moment Canto III (Intro) starts up with its haunting chanting in Latin and echoing, piercing piano chords, there's a connection to something that's beautiful just because it's so desperately real. Then Fight Inside, the first single that was released, crashes in with heavy guitars and lyrics that define the entire theme of the album:

And it finds me, the fight inside is coursing through my veins

And it's raging, the fight inside is breaking me again.

That's what the album is about: the fight. The struggle between who we are and who we want to be, what we love and what we hate, the person others see and the person we see, our longings and our shame, our faith and our agony. It's a battle of the soul, where Heaven and Hell collide in a raging battle... a battle between innocence and instinct.

Death of Me follows, a track where there seems at first listen to be two primary characters, until you realize that the singer is actually addressing himself. This was the third single released, and the first music video for the album was made for this song. It's another of the hard-rocking songs that we came to expect from Red after End of Silence.

Mystery of You changes the pace a little, with a remarkably unique intro that's somewhat reminiscent of Linkin Park's work. This song basically deals with feeling left alone. The instrumentation in this is absolutely brilliant. I would say it's easily in the top four tracks on the album.

Start Again follows in somewhat the same vein musically. It details the longing to start again, to heal a broken relationship, to get a clean slate – whether with God or in relationships with people. The vocal work is stunning, but probably the strongest part of the song is the intro and the outro. Both are masterfully done.

Never Be the Same was the second single from the album. The first time I heard it, months ago now, I wouldn't have believed it was Red except that I recognized Mike Barnes' voice. I can easily see this one getting a good deal of air time on the radio, as it's on the softer side of rock. The use of piano is very well done, and the lyrics are a beautiful picture of regret. You led me hear, but then I watched you disappear. You left this emptiness inside and I can't turn back time.

The softer track is followed by the hard-hitting Confession (What's Inside My Head). I've heard multiple reviews refer to Never Be the Same as epitomizing innocence. If that is the case, then Confession epitomizes instinct. It's a picture of shame and anger and rage. The song ends with the desperate plea take this away, help me escape, take this away.

Next is the song that Red co-wrote with Benjamin Burnley of the secular hard rock band Breaking Benjamin. [Anyone who has talked to me much within the last few weeks will have heard about this song, because I've been listening to it dozens of times every day.] Shadows is another song about feeling lost and abandoned, and longing to be loved and rescued. It can be summed up by the last few lines of the chorus: I'm holding onto You, I'll never let go. I need You with me as I enter the shadows.

Slowing down the pace, Shadows is followed by a cover of Duran Duran's Ordinary World. The original was before my time (early 90s if I have my facts right), but at the time it was immensely popular. I haven't heard the original, but I can tell it's a cover because it has a melody that's quite different from Red's usual style. This song seems like the kind of thing to listen to late at night after a long day; it's quieter than their usual style, and the vocals are smooth.

Next is the hardest song on the album, Out From Under. This continues on a similar vein to Breathe Into Me from End of Silence – it's a desperate call for rescue, a glimpse into the nightmare of life without hope. I would also consider it to be the darkest song on the album. The intro has a muted sound to it, which crashes into intense guitars and raw vocals.

The last track on the standard CD is Take it All Away, my personal favorite. It is mostly acoustic guitar and piano, with achingly fragile vocals and a haunting melody. It's a final picture of brokenness, when the anger and hate and the rage have bled away and all that remains is an aching emptiness. But it ends with a resolution – a recognition of God's presence, of His ability to take it all away.

For those of us who bought the deluxe edition, it doesn't end there. Overtake You follows, a track that reminds me of Wasting Time. It's not so much about fighting as knowing that you'll overcome: I know that I'm dying right now, and it seems that I'm so far gone, but not for long. I'll just be strong and keep knowing that now I will overtake you. I would love to hear this one live.

What follows is a love song, a departure from the theme of the rest of the album. I personally haven't formed much of an opinion on it yet, but some of the lyrics are absolutely beautiful. Somewhere between brokenness and healing, Mike Barnes sings I can feel you breathing, sunlight burns inside and I feel so alive, and help me now, tell me how, how can this last forever.

The finishing track is a stripped and re-done version of Fight Inside, bringing the album to a conclusion. Nothing and Everything is completely done in piano, strings, and acoustic guitar. It's a mellow, haunting, thought-provoking piece. They changed the lyrics in one section however: the bridge of Fight Inside whispers it's nothing, it's everything, it's nothing, it's everything. In Nothing and Everything, Mike Barnes simply sings it's everything, it's everything. It implies a realization, a conclusion to the fight and denial that's been raging throughout the album – a kind of release.

The whole album is a powerful, intense, beautiful piece alive with emotion. There are the customary, signature hard guitar riffs with a liberal sprinkling of piano and string work. I'd been waiting two years for this album. I was not disappointed. My expectations were met and surpassed a thousand times over.

It's an interesting album in that it never comes outright and says “Jesus” or “God,” even though Red is a Christian band. They've made an effort to reach out to the mainstream, and I believe their new album will bring them farther than ever before. I messaged the band and asked them if they write their songs with direct Christian meanings or just leave them open to whoever wants to interpret them, and they replied and told me “all of our song are written with Christian themes because that is who we are.” I think they can speak for themselves.

Overall, I would say this is the second best album I have ever heard, second only to Skillet's Comatose. I've heard a lot of music over the past two years, but I would only classify a small fraction of it as being “good.” Innocence and Instinct isn't just good; it's brilliant. Its strength lies not primarily in the brilliant instrumentation, strong guitar work, or vocal talent, but in the raw, bleeding, honest emotion portrayed as they give us a glimpse into the greatest struggle of all time – the struggle of the human soul.

[Final note: do you like the banner at the top of this post?  So do I.  I made it with two awesome friends of mine - it was a collaboration, and I am absolutely thrilled with the way it turned out.  I never could have done it alone; these girls are AMAZING with graphics.  You can see the full size by clicking here]

1 comment:

MangyCat said...

Ah, thanks for the review, Elraen. I'd read a lot of CPers talking about this album when it came out, so I was curious what it was about. Based on your review, I'll definitely have to check it out.