Review Summary: An overall pleasant album, but one that still falls short of Rise Against's earlier material due to uninspired and generic song writing.
Rise Against have been around for a while - more than a decade to be exact. Their breakthrough record came in the form of 'Revolutions per Minute', where they hit the ground running with spectacular hardcore punk that eventually (and inevitably) evolved into the mainstream sound you hear on 'Appeal to Reason' and 'Endgame'. In between that transition we had 'The Sufferer and the Witness', a milestone in punk rock and melodic hardcore that still stands the test of time. The material they released afterwards fell short of its greatness and appeal.
However, ahead of the release of their 7th studio album we've seen words like 'alive' and 'revitalized' thrown around, especially after 'The Eco-Terrorist in Me' surfaced online. The hype train embarked on a full-scale journey. Unfortunately, it reached its final stop rather quickly with the release of 'The Black Market'.
As almost every Rise Against album, it features a great batch of songs that rarely disappoint. The opener and the title track are good examples of this, mixing the familiar punk vibes from Endgame with a fresh blues-style approach. What you'll notice is the sheer diversity - tempo changes, breakdowns, solos and a few technical improvements on songs like 'Zero Visibility' which, accompanied by the energy-filled 'A Beautiful Indifference' really add variety to the album's pace and brings it close to a roller-coaster ride.
Unfortunately, it's not much of a ride in the end. The diversity doesn't make up for the serious lack of anything memorable. Most choruses and hooks are weak, especially on pop-influenced songs like 'Tragedy + Time' and 'Methadone' that sound about as generic as your standard radio rock song. The problem is not the softer approach towards song writing, the problem is that the song writing feels completely uninspired on a vast majority of tracks. There's a lot of filler content, the most tragic of them all is the last song which brings a forced end to a seemingly forced album. 'Bridges' is a terrible closer that leaves a bad taste in your mouth and brings the album down quite a bit.
All this negativity on the music aside, it's refreshing to finally hear a switch from the political thematic of their previous three albums. 'The Black Market' focuses on more personal matters, mainly concerning individuality and relationships among people. Tim McIrath's concern towards natural disasters and religion are highlighted in 'People Live Here' - a mix between the acoustic 'Hero of War' and the superb cello-driven 'Roadside'. Lyrically, it's more appealing than the former, but musically less impressive than the latter. However, there's a distinct feel of intimacy that hasn't been present in any Rise Against song since 'Swing Life Away'. McIrath is completely open on many of these songs, enhancing the album's overall vibe at least from a lyrical stand point.
Ultimately, apart from the 'The Eco-Terrorist in Me' and 'Zero Visibility', Rise Against's 7th studio album does not feel like a band coming back alive. They're merely continuing the tradition they started in 'Endgame', which is writing some pleasant sounding songs that unfortunately fall short of their earlier material. As stated before, the problem is not the softer approach and the even more persistent switch to mainstream. A vast majority of these songs simply sound uninspired and forced attempts at molding another record together just for the sake of it. Lyrically, they're just as stunning, but musically they're starting to age. And not everybody ages well.