Review Summary: The same base punk rock aesthetic as always, just in a more melodic and slickly produced package to enhance accessibility. There is not a bad tune here and this album includes the song of 2008.
When a band releases what you believe is a near-perfect album, the anticipation for their following LP is indeed a strange feeling. One-part excitement and one-part nervousness, the underlying feeling is that of hope. Hope that the performers do not let you down… Hope that the artist is rewarded for their past brilliance… Hope that the album matches its predecessor. However, deep down, you know the chance of that final hope occurring is rather slim.
When the follow-up is finally released, human nature will mean that it is practically impossible not to make comparisons between the albums, thus increasing the chance of disappointment. However, as the weeks and months pass by, you realize that these are two separate pieces of work, deserving of being judged in isolation as much as the human mind will allow. When one acclimatizes to that notion, they could in fact realize that ‘Appeal To Reason’ – Rise Against’s fifth LP – is right up there with the very best collection of songs that the Chicago quartet have compiled.
Funnily enough, if comparing track by track, the opening few cuts here suggest that the impossible may indeed be pulled off. This is especially the case concerning the rollicking fast-paced opener ‘Collapse (Post-Amerika)’. Thrilling from the start, Rise Against continue to showcase their politically and environmentally conscious side with the opening lyrics of “When our rivers went dry and our crops ceased to grow”. Topped off nicely by an effectively simple chorus – “This is not a test, this is cardiac arrest” – and a fantastic multi-dimensional bridge where the guitars and bass really shine, the song lays a blueprint for strong later tracks ‘Kotov Syndrome’ and ‘Entertainment’, which include sufficient variation to distinguish themselves.
Another strength of the opener is the inclusion of what can be referred to as a memorable moment. With Rise Against, these often are strikingly hooky vocal passages with no background sound. That comes here with the line “When the air that we breathe becomes air that we choke”. However, this is bettered by the not too dissimilar sounding opening lyric of anthemic lead single ‘Re-Education (Through Labor)’, where lead vocalist Tim McIlrath adds some of his own trademark brand of harmony to the line “To the sound of a heartbeat pounding away”.
The most memorable moment on ‘Appeal To Reason’ however, may in fact last four minutes. In a back catalogue filled with highlight tracks, ‘Savior’ tops them all. Both mosh-worthy and danceable to, the relationship-based lyrics of this phenomenal rapid-fire cut hit the mark near-perfectly. While Rise Against have shown an ability to write effectively personal lyrics on multiple occasions in the past, ‘Savior’ sees absolutely everything come together perfectly to make for one hell of a song.
Elsewhere on ‘Appeal To Reason’, the lyrics will be less personal to listeners than on past releases. For the most part, the topics are situational rather than all-encompassing, meaning that tracks such as ‘The Strength To Go On’, ‘Audience Of One’ and ‘Whereabouts Unknown’ won’t quite have the same effect as ‘Survive’ did on their previous album. “Maybe we’ve outgrown all the things that we once loved” sings McIlrath on ‘Audience Of One’. Cynics will suggest that this may indeed be the case, but growth is one thing that is bound to occur naturally as a band’s career progresses.
Clearly the most divisive track here will be the acoustic anti-war piece ‘Hero Of War’. Approaching its subject from the viewpoint of a naïve youngster not understanding what they were getting themselves into upon entering the service, it sees the soldier falling victim to peer-group pressure while on assignment. The effective lay-person narration sees McIlrath occasionally cross the line in order to make his point and seek attention, but the piece well and truly achieves its purpose when all is said and done.
The other criticism which is bound to be aimed at ‘Appeal To Reason’ is its want to head towards mainstream mid-tempo numbers more often than previously. While this is indeed a valid comment, it is all relative to the band’s past. They are still far from tame here and include the same base punk rock aesthetic as always, just in a more melodic and slickly produced package to enhance accessibility. Even on targeted tracks such as ‘Long Forgotten Sons’, ‘The Dirt Whispered’, ‘From Heads Unworthy’, ‘The Strength To Go On’ and ‘Audience Of One’, Brandon Barnes still strikes the drums as if his life depended upon it, Joe Principe’s bass-lines are striking, Zach Blair’s guitar wails away and Tim McIlrath sings passionately.
Quiz 100 different people for their best five tracks on ‘Appeal To Reason’ and you may get 100 different answers. This is because there is not a bad tune here, simply less variety than usual. The proof of this album’s depth comes when looking for its weakest song (excluding the divisive ‘Hero Of War’). It could well be ‘Audience Of One’ which has just been announced as the 2nd single, confirming that every cut on ‘Appeal To Reason’ is worthy of being released individually. Couple that fact with this reviewer’s opinion that the album includes the song of 2008 in ‘Savior’, and the result is one hell of an album which will be under-rated by many due to its fantastic predecessor.
Recommended Tracks: Savior, Collapse (Post-Amerika), Hero Of War, Re-Education (Through Labor) & Kotov Syndrome.