Review Summary: Chicago’s (other) mainstream punks regain their enthusiasm and a fair amount of energy.
There are certain bands that seem to be eternal, constants in an ever-changing musical landscape. As countless groups in their respective genres come and go, these bands are able to stay stable and put out consistently solid music by keeping their trademark sounds while providing just enough of a twist to stay fresh. Genre staples like AC/DC, Iron Maiden and Bruce Springsteen have stood the test of time not because they constantly reinvented their sound, but because the music they made held up well in their respective genres, and they have added enough nuance and/or variety to their sound to make each album stand out. It can be argued that today’s mainstream hard rock/punk scene has been lacking a true constant band such as this, but with The Black Market
, it’s clear that they’ve been here all along, and their name is Rise Against.
Prior to the release of The Black Market
, Rise Against frontman Tim McIlrath gave a series of interviews, including one with Alternative Press, in which he stated, among other things, that the new album contained “no song for everybody”, and that the band doesn’t “need to try and go for big choruses and rock sing-alongs if we don’t want to”. These assertions, while not necessarily untrue, are ultimately misleading in terms of the actual sound of the album. While The Black Market does frequently come across as the band’s most personal album, with lyrics focusing more on internal turmoil than political strife, that doesn’t translate to much of a change in the band’s actual sound. And for this band, that’s perfectly fine.
From the opening track, “The Great Die-Off”, it is clear that the album will offer more of Rise Against’s trademark emotive melodic hardcore, tackling difficult political and socioeconomic issues while always keeping the focus on their human impact. The song begins with a brief orchestral intro that builds into an energetic opening, typical of Rise Against albums. It is immediately noticeable that McIlrath's vocal performance on this album will be a step up from his often flat showings in the band’s two previous, occasionally lackluster, records - Appeal to Reason
. The lyrics, which use global warming and tidal waves crashing down as metaphors for border unrest and political instability in the United States, have a sense of urgency that was often missing in the band’s more sanitized recent albums. It is as if without the Bush Administration to rail against, the band had lost their primary motivating factor for making political songs… but something changed along the way to The Black Market, and the band regained their spark. It’s a subtle change, but it makes all the difference.
At times, the album feels reminiscent of the band’s greatest mainstream work, The Sufferer & The Witness
. This can be felt thematically, such as in “Tragedy + Time”, a song with an almost pop punk-esque riff that echoes the thoughts of suicide and eventual triumph over depression that were felt on “Ready to Fall”. And it is also felt sonically on the blistering track “The Eco-Terrorist In Me”, a fast-paced, intense hardcore number that is a return to the band’s roots, and marks McIlrath’s first substantial use of harsh vocals in some time. The album comes to a close with “Bridges”, an emotional, poignant finale with a trademark tempo change leading into the chorus:
“We built the bridges
We now sleep under
We frame the door ways
We may not pass through
The very same roads
That we now wander
Who once you pass us by on
We paved with our bare hands
Paved with our bare hands”
As a band, Rise Against has never been afraid of asking the tough questions, and this is especially true on The Black Market
, and in “Bridges” in particular. What will become of a society in which stagnation has replaced progress? In which the middle class that built the backbone of society becomes an increasingly rare species, as the income gap continues to widen? In which we spit upon the very earth that builds the foundation for our sustainability and way of life? These questions do not have easy or palatable answers, but this band is one of the few in mainstream rock that is willing to ask them. And they do so on this album with a renewed vigor and sense of direction, producing a tight, enjoyable work that forces the listener to ponder the human implications of a world where an ever-expanding population is consuming an ever-dwindling set of resources. While The Black Market
may not quite reach the heights of Rise Against's independent albums or first two major label releases, it is still a worthwhile listen, and in the end, that can be just as satisfying as a band reinventing the wheel with every release.