Review Summary: This record is filled with nostalgic and emotional music, with a determination and a clarity of communication that puts the band's contemporaries to shame. Rise Against has risen.
On Siren Song Of The Counter Culture, Rise Against bring back the vitality of punk in full force. Without any sort of pop, ska or hardcore inflection- in fact, the only variant is the powerful passion that reflects early, Postal Service-era emo in its urgency and feeling- the band creates a juggernaut of emotion in music. Not every song has the vitriolic bile of “State of the Union,” nor does every song keep up the desperate riotous momentum but they all resonate with a primal cry- for or against, to or from. The title is uncannily accurate- every song seems to be rallying harshly for something that the world could offer, but hasn’t because of greed, complacency and violence. And for a few sublime and elegant moments on “Swing Life Away,” there is a beautiful reminiscence on how despite the problems with the world, two people managed to hold on to some measure of hope by holding onto each other.
Sonically, the album is great. If a band changes its sound significantly when moving to a major label, there is less need for a crystalline production because the change in music shows why a change to a major label was warranted for anything other than cash. Rise Against clearly made the most of the resources at their disposal without compromising anything. The excellent mix by sound wizard Andy Wallace brings the appropriate elements into focus. The bass is mixed just high enough to hear well, which is always a relief- music featuring guitars these days seems to put them in more focus than anything else- but there is one tool that serves the band better than any other- the vocals.
The singer (whose name I can’t recall… Tim something) does an excellent job. He doesn’t have a lot of range, but he makes up for it with a passionate, vibrant voice that manages to fill every song with a fervent enthusiasm. It’s hard not to reuse the same adjectives when talking about him; passionate, emotional, and heartfelt all come frequently to mind. He may not be a good technical singer, like Mike Patton, and his range is significantly lacking (although for punk it’s good- see Greg Graffin of Bad Religion), but like Maynard James Keenan, he knows how to create a certain mood- and that is a soaring transcendence of the punk music genre to hit upon truly stirring melody.
However, from his barbaric yowls of acidic fury to his gentle lamenting, his skill never distracts from the instrumentation (Primus, Avenged Sevenfold) or overshadows it (Chevelle). The drums mainly serve to keep a beat, with no fantastic fills, but they do their job and serve to restrain the boundless energy of everything else. The bass’s audibility is relief enough, but it and the guitar never deviate from each other. There is nothing bad about the bass, but similarly to the drums, nothing stands out or shows any more skill than the next guy has. You might be wondering why I said that the instrumentation was so great if so far everything has been average. The guitars are the main reason. Just as melodious and sometimes even more powerful than the vocals, they dart from one idea to another in an almost Killswitch Engage-esque flurry of vigorous riffing. The fast-paced frenetic assault on songs like “To Them These Streets Belong” and the steady forward thrust on “Life Less Frightening” show more perception of good songwriting than bands like Black Flag and NOFX manage with their riffs.
Speaking of the songwriting, it too is good, but certainly flawed. The album is pared down to a mean, lean 40 minutes, which is a little on the long side for a punk album. Many parts seem to go on a little longer than necessary, and there are a few acoustic intros to songs toward the end of the album (a blatant attempt to make “Swing Life Away” feel less out of place) that could do with excision. Conventional song structures are adhered to, and surprisingly we receive bridges around the 2-minute mark of most of the songs, unlike the typical abbreviated verse-chorus-verse-chorus-end formula of a lot of punk music. A slightly more diverse pattern of songwriting, as well as a little less fat here and there (some songs seem like more of the same, which is good, but some border on unnecessary). It is the critical problem with the album, which is somewhat surprising since it isn’t all that big of a deal to begin with.
This album occupies an odd middle ground. It is a firm throwback to the old crowd of punk, an attempt to revive the spirit of bands that either disbanded or lost their fire. On the other hand, it goes past the typical boundaries of punk music to a realm of emotionally appealing music. Aside from the phenomenal “State of the Union,” very few songs deal with political subject matter- “Swing Life Away,” which is equally good, never once calls out a politician. Avoiding the unending sarcasm of the Dead Kennedys, the wordy treatises of Bad Religion, and the crassness of NOFX (and certainly the obnoxiousness of the pop-punk that the latter band seemed to help spawn), Rise Against have made a record filled with something that 90 percent of music has lacked for too long; sincerity. We could ask for more, but it’s enough. This is a success.