Review Summary: Seemingly taking their craft more seriously, this may be Rise Against’s least accessible album. Yet, it is still a solid, even & cohesive listen that played a huge role in shaping the band’s future.
One gets the feeling that the eventual quality of their debut full-length release ‘The Unraveling’ may have even surprised Rise Against themselves. On their follow-up, titled ‘Revolutions Per Minute’, it seems as if the Chicago quartet has taken their craft a whole lot more seriously. They have realized that they are good enough for people to listen to and are going to do their best to successfully convey a handful of messages to them.
This is evident with the very first words we hear on opener ‘Black Masks and Gasoline’, as lead vocalist Tim McIlrath lectures “Simply because you can breathe doesn’t mean you are alive or that you really live”. It is the kind of message we have learnt to become accustomed to from Rise Against, both before and after this recording. However, it was on this album where the band kick-started their aggressive socio-political commentary. No place is this more startling than on the strikingly titled ‘Blood Red, White & Blue’, which contains a bridge of “Would God bless a murder of the innocents? Would God bless a war based on pride? Would God bless a money-hungry government? Noooo”!
In truth, this may in fact be Rise Against’s least accessible album. There is less reliance on melody than on any of their other releases, and as much as it is even and consistent, ‘Revolutions Per Minute’ lacks the standout tracks to rival their very best. As solid as the song is, lead single and live favorite ‘Heaven Knows’ doesn’t exactly define accessibility and seems to lack that certain something to separate it from the pack. ‘Like The Angel’, which was released as the 2nd single is better, with its more conventional structure and effective guitar solo.
Album highlight status however, would have to go to track 8 ‘Broken English’. With its uplifting motivational refrain of “so push us down and we get right back up again” taking center stage, this cut switches tempo constantly and uses a nice guitar-based lead-in to its catchy chorus where a gang chant accentuates the words “right back up again” to maximum effect. Elsewhere, tracks range from the relatively catchy chorus reliant (‘Voices Off Camera’, ‘Last Chance Blueprint’ & ‘Amber Changing’), to 90 second thrashers (‘Dead Ringer’ & ‘To The Core’) and the strange cover of Journey’s 1980 hit ‘Any Way You Want It’, which brings some familiarity for casual listeners as the closing hidden track.
Another aspect which Rise Against have apparently taken more seriously here is their improved musicianship, since the songs predominantly seem more tightly crafted around Brandon Barnes’ passionately frenetic drumming than previously. Credit should be given to new lead guitarist Todd Mohney since his thick riffs often impressively add weight to tracks (see ‘Halfway There’ & ‘Torches’), while the occasional solo (‘Like The Angel’ & ‘Any Way You Want It’) is also welcome. However, the MVP of this album is clearly bassist Joe Principe, who pretty much lays down sensational bass lines on every track… So much so, that it is often difficult not to completely concentrate on his work at the expense of the rest of the band!
As with many 2nd releases, ‘Revolutions Per Minute’ is an album that Rise Against have used to find their feet and hone their craft. While it is not altogether successful as an isolated grouping of songs, the band should be given credit for how even and consistent the album still is, and for the fact that it is a solid and cohesive listen. Most importantly though, ‘Revolutions Per Minute’ has clearly played a huge role in shaping what was to come afterwards from this fantastic band. And for that, we should be very thankful.
Recommended Tracks: Broken English, Like The Angel, Last Chance Blueprint & Black Masks and Gasoline.