Review Summary: A truly aggressive album that retains plenty of catchiness as Tim Mcllrath belts out his excellent lyrics in a unique harsh voice.
If one were to hear the actual phrase Rise Against, they would probably think of rebellion; rising up for themselves. Take rebellion, add it to music, we get punk. Punk is the genre in which we find Chicagoans Rise Against in. With catchy guitar riffs, a rumbling bass, and harsh vocals, Rise Against succeed in this genre sounding angry and annoyed. After two albums and 5 years in the music business together, they got their major label debut in 2004 on Dreamworks/Geffen Records. Siren Song of the Counter Culture, the albums title, shows a lot of ferocity and energy throughout as well as a small amount of variety within their genre. Although Siren Song of the Counter Culture isn't without its flaws, it’s a very solid record and sports, for the most part, very simple but intense and aggressive punk music.
The absolute greatest thing about Siren Song of the Counter Culture is its ability to stay consistent while still showing variety. Practically every song has something different to offer, but also Rise Against don’t jump around much and in each song keep up a strong sense of anger and aggressiveness. For example, the albums opener, State of the Union, is the most combative and heavy thing we find here. It explodes with a metal like guitar sound and a head banging riff before vocalist, Tim Mcllrath, shouts his angry vocals into the mic with pure energy and emotion. State of the Union could be easily called a "hardcore" or even "post-hardcore" song, but Rise Against dont create anything nearly as as,s-kicking for the rest of the album which is why they’re not labeled so. What the listener does find is catchier and slightly friendlier songs like Paper Wings and Anywhere But Here that still keep up the aggressiveness. Though also, Rise Against even create songs in between the poppier Paper Wings and the intense State of the Union like Tip the Scales and because of this we find Rise Against best described as "melodic hardcore".
The instrumentation on Siren Song of the Counter Culture is very tight. Joe Principe's deep bass is heard often and he manages not to simply just play the root of the chord all the time as he takes the lead in many songs especially during the verses such as in Life Less Frightening. Similarly, the guitar playing is fine too as Chris Chasse even shows off a fitting solo during Paper Wings as well as some use of effect pedals that aren’t overly displayed. The drumming doesn’t lack as it isn’t distracting put still shows some variety as the cadences keep the songs aggressive and flowing. Overall though, the instrumentation isn’t super impressive though it certainly is good enough and doesn’t bring the album down.
If there is anything that makes Rise Against pure punk music and Siren Song of the Counter Culture so awesome, its Tim Mcllrath's vocals. Not only are they energetic, they're satisfyingly harsh and violent as he belts out his passionate lyrics. Although Tim's voice is to some extent unique, he doesn’t show very impressive vocal range which tends to make some of the songs similar as his pitch doesn't move around a lot. But as this is punk music, not much should be expected of him range-wise anyway, rather than emotion and brutality. The one thing I personally despise about the vocals is the screaming or more specifically overly harsh shouts. They don't come up much and when they do they’re usually in the background, but when they’re upfront and in the focus point of the music like in To Them These Streets Belong, they just sound so ugly to me. Strangely, I haven't heard any complaints about the shouts before so I strongly believe this is a unique opinion, but for me it's a major flaw to the album. Besides Tim's vocals though, what really stands out is his lyrics. Tim strongly focuses his words on rebellion and the government; overall conveying a message most simply put as stand up! For example in The First Drop, he sings, "I'm not alone/ I stand amongst the voiceless; millions in the unforgiving sun/" or later "Come on stand up/ This system of power and privilege is about to come to an end/" Also, he uses some excellent metaphors with probably my favorite line from the whole album, "Rock Bottoms where we live/ But we still dig these trenches/ To bury ourselves in them/ Backs breaking under tension./" during Give It All. Tim's lyrics really stand out as very fitting to their punk sound and make the music so much more interesting and enjoyable.
The biggest problem probably with Siren Song of the Counter Culture is its fairly generic. Rise Against don't do a lot creativity wise and follow a very generic pattern of verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus in almost every song. Ultimately, this makes for an uninteresting album for the most part. Anywhere But Here, for example, stands out as a very repetitively tedious song and a clearly generic piece especially as it sounds so similar to most of the album and offers practically nothing different from what has been done earlier. Though despite these negative aspects of the record, the lyrics and most importantly catchiness are really what makes this music so great. Siren Song's closer, Rumors of My Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated, really displays this catchiness during the chorus that goes perfectly with the angry, aggressive verse. Similarly, an album highlight, Give It All, starts with assailing power chords and vocals but is toned down nicely during the chorus and ends with more of a punk anthem feeling. The song that stands out the most on the record, with the possible exception of State of the Union, is the solely acoustic track, Swing Life Away. On Swing Life Away, we hear Tim with calmer vocals as he strums his acoustic guitar with great passion. Although this may seem interesting for it's a punk band trying acoustic, it really is nothing special and features a rather unfitting chorus, so we find Rise Against's truly best music in punk. All in all, Siren Song of the Counter Culture’s biggest attribute is its catchiness while staying harsh and aggressive.
Whether it's the angry vocals, catchiness, or variety with consistency, Rise Against create a very solid record. It's not ground breaking or really too interesting, but its certainly angry punk music that is very enjoyable and energetic. Tim Mcllarth's vocals fit so well with the music and the rhythm section is very tight even though they don’t show off loads of skill. The lyrics are certainly above average and add a fantastic touch on Siren Song of the Counter Culture. Also, the relentlessly heavy opener State of the Union is a modern punk classic along with the punk anthem, Give It All. Siren Song of the Counter Culture is a great listen for any punk fan and, with its aggressive, brutal feel and sound, it causes a stir of emotion and enjoyment.
State of the Union
The First Drop
Tip the Scales
Give It All
Rumors of My Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
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