Review Summary: Rise Against have raised the stakes in the focused, if familiar, Endgame.
When asked to think of musicians and albums that require multiple listens to understand and truly enjoy, one does not often think of Rise Against. The group has solidified a reputation for delivering immediate, alarming, and perhaps most importantly, fun hard rock since their breakthrough album Revolutions per Minute
rose to prominence. However, in 2008 with the release of Appeal to Reason
, it seemed that for the first time, Rise Against was becoming unsure of themselves. By no means was ATR
a bad album, but it was ultimately forgettable in the face of the band’s previous work and failed to make a connection with many longtime fans. The music seemed to be stuck in cruise control and Tim Mcllrath’s vocals, while still quality, lacked the passion that had been so prevalent before and the words had seemed to lose their meaning. In short, ATR
lacked the raw emotion that the group is well capable of delivering.
That was then. This is Endgame
Upon first listen, Endgame
can’t help but seem like an update on the groundwork laid out by the band’s previous outing. Guitars are still nailing the power chords in punkish rock fashion for every song, drums are still tightly locked in up tempo rhythms, choruses soar, and bass work is subtle but marginally creative. When given more spins, however, a bigger picture comes into view that gives way to grand concepts, a theme of hope amongst bitter conflict, and gives great clarity to where the band stands today: heads and shoulders above the competition.
It’s hard to explain exactly what stands out so much about Endgame
, but it may simply be due to the fine tuning in what makes the band great to begin with. Tim Mcllrath’s passion has returned to his vocals and lyrics. The political aspect of Rise Against has always been divisive, but here, it is a big draw as the subjects tackled are, for the most part, poignant and timely. From the references to failed political revolutions in “A Gentlemen’s Coup,” the calls for an end to senseless hatred towards homosexuals in “Make It Stop (September’s Children,” and the arguments against wage disparity in “Disparity by Design,” the political and moral aspect of the music makes for a much more meaningful experience if one is able to embrace it. The spectrum clearly leans to the left and the band has absolutely been brushing up on their Noam Chomsky and Naomi Klein, but in a music scene (not to mention political scene) that seems to be dominated by ego, directionless anger, and misogyny, these topics are welcome. To top it all off, these ideas are presented with numerous cleverly worded passages along with Mcllrath’s impassioned vocals (which occasionally include a welcome return to his screams). Mcllrath sings from the heart and when he delivers lines such as “Do you still believe in all the things that you stood by before? Are you out there on the frontlines or at home keeping score?” it’s hard not to feel empowered when he suggests we grow up and take control of our fates. His words speak to the enraged activists and the hopeful dreamers of the world in a way few leading men and women can.
Backing all of this is a tightly-knit group of musicians who maintain a solid pace and incorporate plenty of melody throughout the album’s duration. The instrumental work is still kept grounded in the band’s new sound, however, which means you won’t be hearing any of the blatant frustration of earlier tracks like “Dead Ringer” or “State of the Union” which has no doubt displeased many longtime fans. In fact, if Endgame
has one true Achilles Heel, it’s the musician’s refusal to take risks. The guitarists don’t often step outside of their comfort zone and the bass is, more often than not, simply used to supplement the overall sound. This can be immensely frustrating.
The biggest offender comes around the halfway point of the album in the form of “Survivor Guilt.” The track opens with clean guitar notes that set the tone well for the feverish pitch that takes over in the verses and features heavily distorted, tremolo picked chords and pounding drums. It seems like Rise Against as a band, and not just Mcllrath, are ready to explode. But just when things are getting interesting and it seems they may break some new and impressive ground, the band settles back into its comfort zone during the chorus. The anger and raw power previously displayed all but vanishes. Instead of being a potential incredible song, we’re left with a merely great song. It’s a truly disappointing moment that encapsulates the main problem with Rise Against’s current sound: when it matters most, the band becomes uncertain when they should be surging forward.
Despite the weaknesses, Endgame
is a safe step in the right direction. So long as the group stays true to their beliefs, there will always be a reason to listen. It is rare indeed to find a group that so gloriously incorporates political concepts into accessible rock music, AND without sounding like a bunch of ranting idiots. It is delivered with passion and leaves the listener with a sense of hope, something all too rare in today’s world. They may be unwilling to truly break new ground musically, but the drive to do so is there. The individual members may be locked into their formula for now, but the formula allows Rise Against to create focused and emotive pieces of hard rock. Insofar as you’re not overly concerned with the technicality or creativity of it all, the album delivers a melodic, smart, and enjoyable experience.
If this is the endgame, then Rise Against have crafted a convincing reason to be here for the post-game.