Review Summary: Newer fans that have been won over by Rise Against’s recent more polished releases need not fear, as this is a surprisingly accomplished debut that contains all of the band’s trademark strengths.
It took a long while for me to give Rise Against’s 2001 debut LP ‘The Unraveling’ a listen. Prior to the release of 4th album ‘The Sufferer & The Witness’ in 2006, if you had told me that this punk / melodic hardcore band would soon become one of my favorites, I would have wondered what drugs you were on. But so it was to be with the phenomenal ‘Sufferer…” sandwiched between two other excellent releases. I was hesitant to listen to ‘The Unraveling’ fearing it would be a raw inaccessible mess. What on earth was I thinking? This is Rise Against, ever as reliable and impressive as they obviously always have been!
Practically all of the ingredients that have made the Chicago quartet such an awesome force can be heard on album opener ‘Alive and Well’. Following the apt opening of Jack Black (from movie ‘The Cable Guy’) asking “Are you ready to rawk?”, a frenetic pace sets in that displays all of the band’s musical trademarks; excellent guitar-work from Dan Wleklinski, Joe Principe’s always terrific bass-lines and Brandon Barnes’ passionate drumming. And then of course there are Tim McIlrath’s vocals, which switch from throaty screams in the verses to deceptive melodies during the chorus.
The opening four tracks of ‘The Unraveling’ are not only impressive songs individually, but also effectively showcase the range that is to follow on this 40 minute album. ‘My Life Inside Your Heart’ may be the most accessible of the tracks with its “Take my hand…” refrain delivering on multiple levels. Follow-up ‘Great Awakening’ is then a hardcore piece belted out at a frantic pace, while track 4 ‘Six Ways Til Sunday’ brings the punk with its long closing outro of gang chants.
Suggesting that the LP “settles down” during its mid-section is not exactly the most fitting and accurate description, but in a sense that is what it does as it alternates between sub 2 minute hardcore thrashers and slightly longer conventional sounding cuts (relatively speaking, of course). Most of these contain something or other to like about them and there is nothing anywhere near bad, however these tracks are arguably better in the moment, rather than being memorable.
And then, as with later Rise Against releases, a song emerges from seemingly nowhere to knock you off your feet with its lyrical maturity and songwriting craftsmanship. The Unraveling’s said piece is track 11 ‘Everchanging’, a cut which begins with sparse background music to allow McIlrath’s suitably emotional voice to hit a bullseye. His vocals are near-perfect here as his rasp contains an apt quiver as he proclaims “Have you ever been a part of something that you thought would never end?”, before matter of factly following up with “And then of course it does”. The outro is just as on the mark as McIlrath repeats the line “Something has kept me here too long and you can’t leave me if I’m already gone” as if he is attempting to convince himself to end a relationship.
The album then keeps up the momentum to the very end, as following two melodic hardcore cuts that total a little over two minutes between them, the very good ‘1000 Good Intentions’ makes its presence felt. In a sense, this is the track which most gave listeners a glimpse of Rise Against’s future, since it contains many base punk traits, yet also showcases a more hooky mainstream rock sound that really is the best of both worlds. ‘Weight of Time’ and ‘Faint Resemblance’ then close the LP suitably as a nice summation of everything that has come before them.
What was I thinking indeed? Newer fans that have been won over by Rise Against’s most recent and more polished releases need not fear, as ‘The Unraveling’ is a surprisingly accomplished work that contains all of the band’s trademark strengths. While the songs are a little rawer and arguably harder hitting, the melody, passion and thought-provoking lyrics are all still there and accounted for, making for an excellent listen from beginning to end.
Recommended Tracks: Everchanging, 1000 Good Intentions, My Life Inside Your Heart & Alive and Well.