I confide in bands that change. Whether it’s revamping their sound, sculpting something new with only mere scraps of their old identity intact, or just tweaking some elements here and there, it’s the progression vision of artists that should be honored. However, out of all the bands that could change their sound, Red is the last that I would want to do so. And on their fourth studio album, they find themselves evolving with much musical potential and richness left untapped. Release the Panic finds the band’s established rock-solid sound complete with alt-metal guitars and full symphonies replaced by grungy, generic, electronic-laced hard rock. Regardless of what this musical switchover means for the future of Red, it’s obvious that their fourth record is a bit of a disappointment.
The decision to use Howard Benson (Skillet, Seether, Halestorm) as producer instead of Rob Graves was a big mistake on Red’s part. Graves, who produced the band’s first three records, helped lay the foundation for the Tennessee rockers’ heavy, melody-rich rock style. While I applaud the band for going out of their comfort zone and aiming to recreate themselves under Benson, they’re a band that doesn’t need to do so. On each of their first three records, Red progressed their sound and musical approach, but retained the strongest elements from each previous effort. Release the Panic would’ve been a success if the band had focused on building upon the sleek, edgy feel of Until We Have Faces. Instead, they start over. They replace strings with electronics and lose much of their musical edge, and the corresponding sound lacks the pounce and inspiration that their first three albums boasted.
The title track provides much evidence of the musical restraint and weaknesses that Release the Panic contains. The production value feels very unfulfilling; Benson just seems like a poor fit for Red. The melodies are well-written and the chorus is extremely catchy, but the guitars lack oomph and the song feels very tame and generic musically. Throughout the rest of the album, this is quite true as well. Writing-wise, the songs are thoughtful and memorable but the instrumentation doesn’t follow through in the same manner. Rather, tracks like “Perfect Life” and “Same Disease” feel very uninspired and uninteresting musically, although they feature excellent writing and formulaic makeup.
Despite Release the Panic’s lack of power and musical stoutness, it deserves to be lauded for its excellent balladry and swift hooks. “Hold Me Now” is not only one of the record’s strongest cuts, but it should stand as one of Red’s top soft songs to date. Stable, resolute and emotional, this track feels richer than many of the tracks off the record. Closer “As You Go” is another impressive power ballad, flourishing thanks to Michael Barnes’ strong, masterful vocals and its smooth, well-balanced meshing of instrumentation and electronics. On the other hand, while many tracks come up short in terms of aggression and intensity, the hooks make many of the songs stick, specifically “Die For You,” a song that makes the best out of Red’s new craggy sound, and “Glass House.” The latter features some rare strings and piano; even though its organic approach doesn’t make up for the album’s oft-prosaic sound, it’s one of the stronger moments both musically and lyrically.
I respect Red’s willingness to change. Rather than recycling the same formula album after album, they took a huge leap in their sound and constructed a brand new musical feel. That being said, it comes up a little bit short of many fans’ expectations, and as a longtime Red fan, I felt a bit unsatisfied with this record. Release the Panic isn’t a poor effort per se; it’s just miles below the band’s first three efforts. With a lack of aggression and a more generic sound filling the place of Red’s old sound, I’m a bit concerned with the direction they are taking. But if they’re the same unwavering rockers that I’ve come to love over the past few years, I’m sure they can work out the kinks next time around and prove that their fourth album was just a mere misstep.