Rise Against has always been experimental. The Unraveling (2001) was an alternative to hardcore, with more personal lyrics and clearer vocals. Revolutions Per Minute (2003) delved into the melodic aspect of the subgenre melodic hardcore, creating memorable punk rock anthems. Siren Song of the Counter Culture (2004) brought a stripped-down acoustic song to a turbulent sea of hard-hitting tracks. The Sufferer and the Witness (2006) melded a poppier edge to their established sound, and surprised listeners with a Doors-esque spoken-word track (“The Approaching Curve”). Finally, Appeal To Reason (2008) proved to the world that Rise Against can, in fact, write radio-friendly songs.
So it makes sense their sound continues to evolve in their latest album, Endgame.
Endgame begins with “Architects”, a song many are familiar with, as it is the first thing you hear upon visiting Rise Against’s official website. “Architects” is your straight-up punk rock song — a return to form, some might say, as it seems to hark back to Siren Song or Sufferer. It is an excellent opening track, because it offers something to Rise Against fans old and new: It is aggressive and fast, for all those fans of Fat Wreck Chord-era Rise Against. It is also infectious, much like songs heard in their more recent releases.
We then segue into the first single, “Help Is On The Way”, which is just that: Generic radio-friendly rock. Although not by any means a bad song, in my opinion this is the weakest track, which is good since it gets out of the way early on, leading the listener to the first surprise of this album: “Make It Stop (September’s Children)”. Immediately, it starts off with an alarmingly haunting kids choir, which sets the tone for the song’s content of destructive teens. The interlude has a list of names and ages of these kids, adding to the power of the song. The format of this song forces a tug at your insides while the lyrics will break your heart.
Moving right along, the listener finds himself thrust back into familiar territory. Throughout the album are songs that scream classic Rise Against. Yes, the screaming so blatantly absent from Appeal to Reason makes a triumphant return in tracks like “Disparity by Design” and “Midnight Hands”. Interestingly, in this middle section of Endgame, you realize the band is also trying out a newer sound for them: A hard rock sound, evident in “Broken Mirrors” and the aforementioned “Midnight Hands”. Those two songs include fat tones from the guitars, and snare and bass drum strikes that will force your heart to beat to the same rhythm. These are truly headbanging songs, and yet Rise Against can pull this off without waist-length hair.
And what is Rise Against without a political edge? “Survivor Guilt” is described by singer Tim McIlrath as the sequel to Appeal to Reason’s “Hero of War”. During the opening clean guitar licks, a voice rings out, saying, “What are you talking about? America is not going to be destroyed.” Several more lines about other countries falling, ending with: “All great countries are destroyed. Why not yours?”, and then the sad chords drive this song, which is about remorse. A little more than halfway through, the song speeds up and boosts the volume dramatically, reflecting the rage of this soldier’s ghost that is the central speaker of the song.
Finally, Rise Against slows down the instrumentals and tones down the anger with two personal songs: “Wait For Me” and “This Is Letting Go”, both featured late in the album. “Wait For Me” feels like this album’s version of the now cliché soft rock song Rise Against has been known for lately. Or at least that’s how it starts off as. But when the rest of the band comes out of nowhere, the song transforms into a full-band version of Sufferer’s “Roadside”. Then, as the album nears a close, “This Is Letting Go” is a stand-out track that cries emotional connection. Yes, it is mid-tempo, but it has a satisfyingly fat, almost anthemic sound to it. This will be a crowd favorite. The chorus is big, catchy, and honestly fun to sing along to. Normally, I would say the fun aspect of a Rise Against song is a negative mark, but just listen to the song, and you will know exactly what I mean.
All in all, Endgame is a solid album. Sure, the production is definitely heavier than in earlier records, but to all of those complaining about it, Rise Against did record it in the same place (with the same producer!) that they recorded fan-favorite Revolutions Per Minute. They just have more money this time around to create the album they want to create.
Bass tones are thick, especially in the intro to closing track “Endgame”, which adds much-appreciated depth to each song. The urgency heard in the vocals and lyrics relates to the theme of “a dangerous time in civilization, the end of life,” as stated by McIlrath. This is a return to the in-your-face lyrics Appeal to Reason was missing. This album is a great combination of bark and bite, with more bite than anything I’ve heard since Siren Song’s “State of the Union”. McIlrath is not one to sit back and let the world crumble around him. He writes songs that make his audience sit up and think, before igniting their hearts with the passion of righting the wrongs in this world.
An important note is how the tempo and time signature changes in Endgame are handled much less awkwardly than those of Appeal to Reason. This is a new sound Rise Against is experimenting with, while managing to not lose their established aesthetic. They only build to the framework they have created over the years.
Endgame does not feel too long or too short. At a good length of 46 minutes, there is enough variety to keep the listener interested. With this release to add to their repertoire, Rise Against continues to be relevant in a world dominated by auto-tuned pop and hip-hop. And why is that? Well, the final thing I would like to add is–and this could just be the songwriter in me–I have found most of Rise Against’s songs very musically predictable, and that’s perfectly okay. Since when has Rise Against been about the music? They’ve always been more about the message. Add a not-to-distracting instrumental behind McIlrath’s lyrics, and you have an enjoyable listen, guaranteed.
And that’s exactly what Endgame is: A solid listen.
“Make It Stop (September’s Children)”
“This Is Letting Go”
Rise Against’s sixth studio album, Endgame, hits stores March 15th, and will be released on Interscope/DGC.
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