Review Summary: With their sixth release, Chicago punk ensemble Rise Against re-imagine their usual themes in a more mainstream and accessible package... but will old fans approve of the new sound?
Ask any longtime Rise Against fan about his feelings about the band's 2008 release Appeal to Reason and you will almost inevitably find yourself at the receiving end of a scathing commentary about how the group has "sold out" by moving in a more mainstream direction at the expense of their punk roots. With the release of their new album, Endgame, many of these devotees hoped for a return to the "old" Rise Against and the style of the group's early releases.
The answer to fans' biggest question was revealed with the premiere of lead single "Help is On The Way". With its catchy, repetitive lines (not to mention the fact that, for the first time in the band's history, the song managed to crack the Billboard Hot 100), the song seemed to reflect the trends shown throughout the album as a whole. Endgame isn't a repeat of Appeal to Reason, but it isn't a return to the "glory days" of the group's earlier albums. Instead, the release falls between the two extremes: it's still fast-paced and punk-based, but the rough edges have been exchanged for a sleeker, shinier style of performance which will no doubt appeal to newer listeners while potentially alienating older fans longing for a return to the original style.
Although not a concept album about the end of the world, as was originally rumored, Endgame nonetheless turns its focus to a variety of modern political and social issues. From his testament to the horrors of homophobic bullying in "Make It Stop (September's Children)" to his rallying cry for change in "Architects" to his desperate foretelling of nuclear war in "A Gentleman's Coup", lead vocalist Tim McIlrath's lyrics (always a focal point of the group's work) are indeed the highlight of the album. More personal themes are also present, as evidenced by "This Is Letting Go," which pays tribute to the end of a relationship (and sounds almost as if it could be a follow-up to Appeal to Reason's "Savior"). As a whole, the album is cohesive, if a little repetetive at times, and makes for a generally enjoyable listen. Musically, it lacks much of the "edge" of the early albums - McIlrath has traded his screaming style for a more melody-based performance, and the instrumentals are cleaner and more mid-tempo than previous releases - but the group has by no means become a pop-punk ensemble.
Overall, Endgame is not The Sufferer and the Witness. It is not Siren Song of the Counter Culture or Revolutions Per Minute or even The Unraveling. At the same time, it is not Appeal to Reason. Instead, with this release, the group has pioneered an entirely new musical style which combines their early grit and passionate message with a more accessible sound. Fans old and new should take heed: the "old" Rise Against may be gone, but their "glory days" could still be yet to come.