The post-grunge and nu-metal crossover popularized by the likes of Staind in the ‘90s and Breaking Benjamin in the 2000s proved palatable for Christian audiences. A wave of religious rockers like Skillet, Disciple and Pillar crashed over the early and mid 2000s. Results varied, but none came close to Nashville’s Red.
From its 2006 debut, End of Silence, and onward, the band’s best material transcended post-nu-metal tropes with orchestral bombast, heart-wrenching vocals and unprecedented heaviness. This added value made Innocence & Extinct (2009), Until We Have Faces (2009) and Of Beauty and Rage (2015) underrated alt-metal gems. The latter was unfortunately bookended by the regressive bro-rock of Release the Panic (2013) and the ill-fated electronic excursions of Gone (2017). As the band’s first independent album, Declaration lives up to its name as a revitalized statement of intent. Google search optics notwithstanding, this woefully under-appreciated band writes muscular rock on its own terms.
Opener “All For You” immediately nails the quintessential Red sound. Drummer Dan Johnson’s punchy mid-tempo groove propels the detuned riffs played by brothers Anthony Armstrong (guitar) and Randy Armstrong (bass), with atmospheric strings offering dissonance and melody where it counts. The Armstrong brothers pack so much low-end weight that you’d think they started using eight-string guitars. But the game changer this time around is vocalist Michael Barnes.
Barnes’ singing is as emotive and soaring as ever, but his screams have found a wellspring of primal anger. The instrumentation often shares this unhinged intensity. Take lead single “The Evening Hate,” for instance. At the bridge, its melodic nu-metal structure drops into an abyss of grimy or sludgy bass alongside haunting singing. The band then rockets skyward from the ultra-heaviness with neo-classical melodies and overwrought screams, which take over for the classic Red chamber music outro.
As reflected in the band Red’s cinematic videos, its sense of grandness and size sets Declaration apart. Swelling cellos and violins take the emotional impact of “The War We Made” to an entirely new level. The expanded instrumentation integrates naturally into the song’s heartfelt narrative of perpetual conflict and toxic cycles. Barnes makes full use of his multi-octave vocal range, commingling with the strings’ movie-ready legato with unprecedented fervor.
Whether it’s the Korn-esque bounce riffs at the start of “Infidel” or the seismic six-count groove of “Cauterize,” the Red’s orchestral side intuitively augments emotion and contrasts with mosh-worthy anger. Having honed its orchestral crossover for the past 18 years, Red simply dials it in like no other band. The unorthodox arrangements sneak their way through bold rock and roll, until you’re flying through the stratosphere with a harmony-fueled jetpack.
Where Of Beauty and Rage pushed Red’s eccentricities to a point where you could almost call it a baroque album, the thrashy intro to “Float” emphasizes Declaration’s more violent side. Without canceling out neo-classical grandiosity, this album showcases some of Red’s most extreme music to date. Johnson’s punk-inspired beats charge out of dramatic choruses and brooding verses, making way for frenzied shrieks from Barnes.
You can practically hear him shredding his larynx by the end of “The Victim.” With the band firing on all cylinders, he can lose inhibition and let his inner monster out. It’s the perfect contrast to impassioned, melodious singing. Sonic uppercuts like these would surely have scared Sony execs, making them the perfect deep cuts for Red unchained.
Unlike so many nu-metal albums, Declaration maintains a lifeline of interesting arrangements. If the main riff of “Sever” reminds you of Breaking Benjamin, it should. It was co-written with that band’s guitarist, Keith Wallen. Even so, well-placed staccato cello notes and an involved groove raises it above stagnation.
In fact, that’s really the closest Red gets to generic, as the band plays into its unique style with renewed enthusiasm. It’s to the band Red’s credit that penultimate track “Only Fight” builds up to an irate refrain with synth-laden, almost industrial verses—maybe Gone done right! The track’s extended outro sears the soul as a chilling string melodies layer on top of dissonant chords and bludgeoning drums.
“From The Ashes” closes out Declaration with some of the best hooks, brain-bashing riffs and swelling orchestration on the entire album. The chorus sums up Red’s mentality going into this album: “We are fighting to survive/ I’ll never break/ From the ashes we ignite/ Don’t fade away/ We live, we die, we fall, we rise.”
These guys could have given in to trends, or at least laid off the classical element, but they know what works best for them. You can’t help but buy into the emotional breadth Declaration lays out—from its heaviest breakdowns to the extravagant orchestral sonics—that lays it to rest. Without label constraints to hold it back, it’s great to hear Red elevating the post-grunge and nu-metal far beyond expectation.