When an established outfit veers from a perceived musical pathway, a reaction garnered by many faithful Red followers after Release The Panic in 2013, it can set the stage for an endless meandering or a triumphant return. When this, the fifth offering Of Beauty and Rage was dubbed as a “concept album,” emanating ripples of shock waves seemed to have Red’s core audience rocked once again.
Well, the core is definitely rocked — but the February 2015 release, debuting at #14 on the U.S.Billboard 200 chart (#2 U.S. Top Alternative Albums, #1 U.S. Christian Albums), has already proven to be a fan favorite and is bringing the band’s faithful followers back to Red’s roots heard on debut recordings End Of Silence and the sophomore Innocence and Instinct. In addition, Red self proclaims “We’ve created, hands down, our best album yet” as voiced on their PledgeMusic.com profile page, where fans came out in droves to support of Beauty and Rage.
We agree with singer Matt Barnes, guitarist Anthony Armstrong, and bassist Randy Armstrong, the collective we know and love as Red — this is, to date, their watershed recording. Aside from any negative connotations the term “concept” may conjure, the formula just seems to work on of Beauty and Rage, as the band does a masterful job of utilizing sixty-plus powerful minutes to package the story of hidden beauty we find waiting for us beneath the darkness.
We catch up with twin brothers Anthony and Randy and dive deeper into the concepts from of Beauty and Rage.
CCM: In addition to an intense soundtrack, Of Beauty and Rage also incorporates some pretty dark imagery — which is accompanied by a companion graphic novel — how potentially dangerous is it to put so much emphasis on this?
RA: It can illicit reactions of “Are you guys really who you say you are,” or “Have you changed because you put a scary-looking figure on the cover on the album?” This reminds me of an article I recently read by Dan Haseltine of Jars Of Clay in which he talks about bands increasingly receiving criticism as their audience and popularity grows, and how the first things people seem to reach for are fear and anxiety. We do those things to provoke thoughts and questions like these and to hopefully have the opportunity to have intentional conversation about Who we believe in.
We’ve always been a band that has tried to push the limits—to not ignore the dark things. A lot of us have a hard time getting out of the darkness because we suppress it, but through Red we choose to confront those things head on. Plus, we know who we’re running to, so this ultimately provides for an opportunity to engage others about our Savior. God has given us a story to tell through the music and art we’ve created, but He creates the opportunity.
CCM: The song “Yours Again” talks about finding a peace in God and returning to Him — how would you encourage someone who might be struggling in their relationship with the Lord?
AA: Some people will put God to the test and want some sort of physical proof. They might yell to God and say “OK, last resort, if You’re real prove it!” But it’s amazing all of the signs along the way that go unnoticed or ignored that are intended to help get ourselves out of our own way and back to Him. For some, they have been lingering in the shadows for so long it finally gets too dark to see their hand in front of their face. It’s a sad reality that sometimes it takes us getting to the absolute lowest parts of our lives, when there’s no other way out, to realize we need our Savior, but He’ll take us any way the He can get us!
RA: I don’t think God ever leaves us, He’s always there — it’s us that wind up distancing ourselves from Him. As we walk through dark times together, sometimes as Christians we wonder why bad things have to happen to good people. But take courage in knowing that throughout all time God has used broken people. Also be encouraged to keep your foundation in Him because He uses broken people to lead other broken people through the darkest parts of life.
CCM: The song “Gravity Lies” is about our identity in Christ — how would you encourage someone who might be struggling with their identity or even self-worth?
RA: I would encourage that they talk to someone that they can really trust.
AA: A simple, but good answer is to go to church. Try out a local church youth group. But trust your instincts and also use caution, because sometimes even those places aren’t always necessarily filled with light. Find a place where you can connect with other people, and once you’re comfortable, dive in a little more and begin to truly understand the differences compared to how things were when you started. Ultimately, I think it’s about relationships. Jesus Christ is all about them—He wants to be in relationship with all of us. In the right and best of situations, He can use the relationships that we foster in being a part of the body of Christ to dram Himself nearer to us, and to help us with figuring out who we really are. encourage that they talk to someone that they can really trust.
CCM: What can we, as believers, immediately grasp from the new album?
Anthony Armstrong: Sometimes as believers we think that we’re immune to the darkness that the world can bring to us. We can be guilty of living in an “ignorance is bliss” mentality and when the world attacks we’re caught off-guard and sometimes don’t understand the why’s and how’s to it happening. This is where the album is based.
CCM: What is the album’s redeeming message?
AA: We approached this album feeling responsible to revisit the darkest things that had been happening in and around our lives to then extract the emotion from those situations, rediscover what God has brought us through and where we are now, and to recognize the beauty that came out that rage, hurt, and pain.
CCM: What were the challenges you faced in making this record?
AA: In order to capture the emotion of those moments, we had to dive back into and relive a lot of darkness that we as a band, which also included some close friends and family of ours, have recently been through. We had to get up close and personal and have a “know your enemy” mentality. It was a scary thing to do because you had to guard against getting sucked back in to those dark parts.
This was important because in the exploration of those things we felt a sense of getting stronger in knowing that when the enemy comes back around we will be that much more knowledgeable—much more prepared. It’s a constant thing—you have to keep putting on your armor.
CCM: How would you encourage or even caution people, other believers, in approaching this practice?
AA: It’s sometimes funny to think that a rock band — who you hear screaming their heads off — really has something to say. But people often don’t take the time to dissect what’s actually being said coupled with the emotion that is poured into the process of making this kind of music. We have been through some pretty dark and scary places the past few years, and we can certainly empathize with others who have been or are going through their own dark times. Wise men seek wise council—if this album doesn’t speak to someone in just the right way, we encourage them to seek out a trusted source that has both been through and come out of the darkness before.
CCM: To date, what kind of reactions have you had from fans on this subject matter?
AA: As believers we’re often told that we will never encounter anything that we can’t handle or get out of, but a lot of people choose to end their lives—it’s a scary and sad reality that kids are out there taking their own lives! A lot of kids end up handing over razor blades and bullets after we talk with them, it’s no joke to be in those scary places. Again, I think it’s about reaching out to and rallying around other people that have been there before, have come out it with wicked scars, and are proven to now be in a better place.
CCM: Randy, you’ve opened up in admitting that you’ve recently struggled with judging others — how has the process of recording of Beauty and Rage allowed you to overcome this?
RA: Writing for the album was more of a struggle. I was watching a brother go through some really difficult things in his personal life and it was very hard not to harbor negative thoughts toward the party that was putting him through it. So, at times, you really have to be aware of those thoughts and battle them the best you can and realize that everything in life is not going to go according to plan. God’s plans are perfect, ours aren’t, and sometimes there’s not much we can do about a situation but to continue having faith in Christ.