Review Summary: Sensational album which delivers energetic, passionate & accessible punk rock. With many highlights, Rise Against have furthered all facets of their music to become a little more mainstream without selling out their origins. Thoroughly recommended.
I have a confession to make. It is an honest one that will hopefully significantly underline and strengthen some of the points I am about to make in this review. Following the first few listens, I rated this album 4 out of 5.
I have often questioned myself on what would constitute a 5 star album. Two factors readily come to mind: (1) Not one filler song and (2) Many standout tracks. I attempted to think of an album that had both and I struggled. There are albums I know which contain no filler, but have only a couple of standout tracks. Then there are those that had many memorable tracks, yet had a couple of ordinary songs as well. My conclusion was that I would rate no album a perfect 5 unless I relaxed the rules a little. Conclusion: Rise Against’s 4th album ‘The Sufferer and The Witness’ rates a perfect 5 due to criteria #2.
As I mentioned in my review of Rise Against’s previous album ‘Siren Song of the Counter Culture’ (rated 4), Punk is not a genre which has struck a huge chord with me over the years. I liked ‘Siren Song…’ though as it seemed to successfully blur the lines of punk, hardcore and surprisingly accessible rock. What that album didn’t have was a number of individually memorable songs, as it was more an even and consistent effort. Rise Against keep the consistency here, but remedy the individually memorable songs weakness multiple times over.
Strangely enough, the opening 1-2 punch delivered here is fairly similar to that delivered on their previous album as both ‘Chamber The Cartridge’ and ‘Injection’ are rampaging punk rockers. They are decent enough, but pale into insignificance compared to what is about to follow. If anything, I would have preferred if they were kept shorter, a’la track 4 ‘Bricks’ which only lasts 90 seconds and is a frenetic interlude of sorts.
Fear not though as pretty much everything on the album is excellent. First single ‘Ready To Fall is phenomenal with its controlled verses leading into a screamingly intense bridge that initially seems out of place. But it is an effective method of setting up one of the catchiest choruses of any song in the past few years. It’s difficult not to shout along with lead singer Tim McIlrath during this track and even that has to be done with volume! Later, track 7 ‘Drones’ practically attempts to replicate the formula and that is not a bad thing at all. In this song, Tim repeats his request for a “simple life” as he did on the previous album.
Once more, the lyrics contained on this album are extremely effective and one of the reasons for this is because they are simple and to the point. Take 2nd single ‘Prayer of the Refugee’ as a case in point. Comparable, but better than, ‘Life Less Frightening’ from ‘Siren Song…’, the chorus pleads “Don’t hold me up now. I can stand my own ground. I don’t need your help now. You will let me down”. Elsewhere, the track is another highlight as it has a successful slow verse/quicker chorus dynamic and an involving guitar solo in the mid-section.
While they are not in abundance, another reason to like this album so much is a couple of gambles taken by the band, both of which come off to varying degrees. Track 8 ‘The Approaching Curve’ is experimental in the fact it includes spoken-word verses, something you would not expect from this group. Yet, it works well to emphasize what is an effectively melodic chorus. It may not be anywhere near the best track here, but it is pretty good and successfully delivers some variety. As does track 11 ‘Roadside’, which is a dark & heartfelt ballad which is a duet with a female vocalist. Containing no drums whatsoever, Tim surprisingly pulls off the vocals superbly as he did on the best track from the previous album, ‘Swing Life Away’. The female touch on this song makes this just as compelling.
Proof that this album has many memorable tracks is shown by a number of solid songs seeming almost so-so only because they are being compared to the many highlights. ‘Under The Knife’, ‘Worth Dying For’ and ‘Behind Closed Doors’ fall into this category, although that may be a little harsh on the latter as it was released as the album’s 4th single. That track leads into what arguably could be the best trio to “ever” close out an album! Sandwiching the aforementioned ‘Roadside’ are 3rd single ‘Good Left Undone’ and the closing ‘Survive’. The former is a truly fantastic up-tempo song which has excellent all-round musicianship and a killer chorus that will get stuck in your head for days. Effectively switching pace, it has a very good vocal arrangement which means the song gets better as it goes along.
Then comes ‘Survive’ which is a real grower. What I love so much about this track is that it once more shows Rise Against’s uncanny ability to balance contradictory elements. Sensational breakneck pace drumming and guitar shredding combine with what some may feel are arguably corny lyrics. But in truth, they reveal themselves to be clever and simple all at once. Furthermore, they are uplifting and motivational. They are so good in my opinion that this is one of the rare times I will ever quote the lyrics of a full verse in a review:
“Somewhere between happy and total f**king wreck… Feet sometimes on solid ground, sometimes at the edge.
To spend your waking moments simply killing time… Is to give up on your hopes and dreams, to give up on your…
Life for you has been less than kind… So take a number, stand in line…
We’ve all been sorry, we’ve all been hurt… But how we survive is what makes us who we are”
Wow… what an album! Possibly the best thing about it is how Rise Against have achieved the difficult task of not selling out their origins, yet furthering all facets of their music to become a little more mainstream. Better production levels and better choruses are the 2 main ingredients that help this along. But it is also helped along by such an energetic and passionate approach to their craft. For those that may be offended by screaming vocals, this is the place to start as there is less of it here. However as it is used sparingly, it is all the more effective when it does pop up.
As I stated at the beginning of this review, punk is not my preferred genre, so rating this 5 out of 5 should say something. And please note that while this album is very accessible, it may not be as immediate, so give it a chance if it doesn’t take your fancy upon first listen. With many highlights, the bottom line is that this is one hell of an album that should appeal to all kinds of rock music fans!
Recommended Tracks: Survive, Ready To Fall, The Good Left Undone, Prayer of the Refugee, Drones & Roadside