Review Rating: Catch It On The Radio [4.0 / 5]
With RIAA Gold-Certification and multiple Grammy awards, beloved hard rock band Red brings engaging sounds, thoughtful themes, and a perspective of faith to every song they write and perform. Five exceptional albums have given the trio - Michael Barnes, Randy Armstrong, and Anthony Armstrong - many opportunities to tell gripping stories and experiment with different sounds, all culminating in their sixth album. Gone is a collection of the band's legacy, drawing on their extensive discography, gritty sounds, and soulful lyrics to answer an ecclesiastical question: what will be left of us when our time on earth ends?
The album opens with the hard and fast "Step Inside, the Violence," a warning to listeners that the questions to follow will not leave listeners with warm, fuzzy feelings. Red's Release The Panic experimented with a rock/electronic sound to mixed reception, but this track finally finds that perfectly indisputable mix between experimenting with new sounds while keeping signature motifs. The track is preparation for the pre-released hit "Still Alive," a song that takes the electronic component and runs with it. A deceiving, fast-paced build-up crashes into intense drums and raging guitar, backing Michael's intense vocal work. The themes of the album become clear here as Michael builds the bridge - "if I lose the world I know … if tomorrow fades and nothing matters?". The chorus is simple yet powerful and presents the dilemma: "I am still alive," Michael screams, "what's it all for?"
The electronic aesthetic continues more prominently in the title track. Synths and keyboard build the melody while intense drums rage across the track - a fantastic balance between the two concepts has been achieved. Hints of electric guitar are sprinkled here and there, creating a sound that is distinctively Red. The lyrics highlight themes of living with limited time, as Michael asks, "When I'm gone, when I fade away, is the air I breathe my only legacy?"
Red intertwines moments of sincere transparency with their ballad "Coming Apart," a beautiful song of surrender and relying on God's faithfulness. "Fracture" delivers unique sounds with intense guitar work (no wonder the Armstrong twins cite this song as their favorite across the collection!) while lamenting the aftermath of pride and arrogance. The chilling and gripping "A.I." comes towards the close of the album, creating a unique sound that draws from Until We Have Faces and Innocence And Instinct while bringing new sounds and themes to the table - perhaps there's another chapter of "The Ever" story embedded within this song? All three tracks share similar themes, albeit in different ways with differing aesthetics and imagery. Impressively, Red nails feelings of brokenness and falling from glory, but where a resolution is expected, there is silence.
While there are a lot of jewels in this collection, Gone's close feels almost hollow, almost faceless. Ecclesiastical themes are prevalent across the album and compose the core of each song - from the questions in "Still Alive" to the brokenness of "Coming Apart." However, unlike previous albums, there is no resolution, no answers to the questions raised. Until We Have Faces answered questions of identity with "Who We Are" and "Best Is Yet To Come," while of Beauty and Rage's first half was resolved with the second half's "Yours Again," "Take Me Over," and "The Ever." Gone has no resolution, ending on chilling and well-orchestrated notes with "A.I." and a cryptic message from "Singularity" - but that is all. Even the bonus track "The Mask Slips Away" only raises more questions, not answers them.
Not every album has to end with a cut-and-dried answer, naturally - the beloved Innocence And Instinct doesn't wrap everything up with a nice bow. Regardless, Gone leaves listeners with relatable and critical questions - the kind of questions Solomon wrestles through in Ecclesiastes - but without themes of resolution or purpose, the album feels incomplete. In fact, the album could have ended with a familiar and beloved Red chorus, one that would not have only sounded amazing with the current audio palette and brought a sense of satisfaction to Red's ongoing journey, but would have ended the collection on a strong note. "I give it all to You, letting go of me, reaching as I fall, I know it's already over now, nothing left to lose, loving You again, I know it's already over."
Gone is as good an album as it is frustrating. In light of other collections that link themes of innocence, identity, and imperfection back to Christ's sacrifice, Red's latest feels like a step backwards. Make no mistake, this is their sound and their legacy, a fitting place in their discography. However, coming off of the remarkable and well-orchestrated of Beauty and Rage, the feeling of incompletion cannot quite be shaken. Perhaps there is more to follow with the next album; perhaps the story is not yet complete and only time will be the final judge. Until then, listeners are left once again in the forest, in the machine, chasing an echo across the eleven-track runtime.