“Real revolution begins at learning. If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.”
– Tim McIlrath
It would be quite redundant to have an introduction discussing the motives of Chicago based punk group Rise Against. They can easily be considered the heart, soul and lungs of the modern day punk scene. Rise Against seem miles ahead of their genre, as they always seem to be able to put together consistent albums with memorable and meaningful songs. They do it all while maintaining a vast amount of variety. After four records, that aspect about Rise Against has not changed one bit as their second major label release The Suffer and The Witness
will show. The group has not dumbed down their sound in the least, as it still packs the fury of a haymaker while keeping a melodic edge intact. Regarding core influences, the group still clings onto what everyone knows and loves about them. However, they manage to incorporate several new elements in the process as they always do seem to have a few tricks up their sleeves. The end result is a record which marks the peak of the group’s career, and in turn will continue to propel the group’s progression.
This is noise!
The opening lines heard in a distance along with the slow played octave chords over a slow drum beat sure build up an exciting intro for Chamber The Cartridge
. After a pickslide and a rapid roll the fury begins, as Rise Against has clearly not surrendered any of their core heaviness. Tim sings a mile a minute during the verse, keeping the intensity high while Brandon maintains a solid beat underneath it all. The rapid state of the verse is almost counter balanced by the catchy chorus. In traditional punk style backing vocals provide some oh’s while Tim sings
Can we be saved has the damage all been done?
Is it too late to reverse what become?
A lesson to learn at a crucial point in time,
What’s mine was always yours and yours is mine.
Clearly that aspect of the group has not diminished either, the record’s brilliance flourishes on Tim’s lyrics. This only adds to the greatness of the record, as it does not completely rely on them. Bassist Joe Principe adds some great accents to the chorus, as his lines can be consistently and clearly heard throughout the album. After the second chorus, another strong point for the band enters; the bridge. Bar none I don’t think there is a band that writes better bridges than Rise Against. Save us from what we’ve become tonight, eyes glazed with distrust no sense of wrong or right.
These already powerful lyrics are only intensified when delivered by Tim. After a segment of the intro comes out for a brief moment the group explodes into a final chorus, ending the opener in wonderful fashion. There is no doubt that the group can still create powerful heavy songs.
They seem pound that point into the ground multiple times as some more great tracks on the heavy side come out. At only 1:33 Bricks
no doubt has the blood of traditional hardcore punk running through its veins. Opening with a thumping beat from Mr. Barnes this forceful track launches off to a start. For being such a fast paced song it manages to clutch a catchy state. Of course it delivers a strong message, and the emphasis is really on the bridge to last chorus transition. Tim sings
We run on the fumes of injustice,
we’ll never die with the fuel that you give us.
So keep it coming cause I’m prepared to burn,
Keep running find me at every turn
Your life around, into something true.
Another fast paced song ends up solid and effective as the anger is the lyrics is unmistakable. One more strong angsty vocal performance is delivered by Tim in Drones
. The verse is dominantly bass allowing his lyrics and voice to shine. The lyrics here are really something and seem to jump out to no end.
Deep inside these burning bridges voices die to be heard
Years we spent teaching a lesson we ourselves have never learned
And if strength is born from heart break than mountains I could move
If walls could speak I pray that they would tell me what to do.
In such a lyrically driven genre, Mr. McIlrath proves himself to be the leading voice. Instrumentally this song maintains quite the heavy state despite the fact that it is far from the fastest on the record. The bass driven verse and the slightly down tuned palm muted bridge/breakdown all help contribute. Drones
is a great representation of the hardcore driven section of the album.
Now we all know that Rise Against loves to balance out these hardcore driven songs with some more melodic based tunes. That trait of the group has not shifted here either, as two ‘big rock’ songs as Tim refers to them as stand out drastically here. The first single Ready To Fall
lands in this category. Its moderate opening makes some great use of dual guitar progressions. Things lead right into a drum and bass driven verse, as some individual guitar notes create some accents in the background. Tim’s soft singing is immediately contrasted as he brings an intense yell out during the pre chorus. The chorus turns into a more melody based sound. Despite all of the mood changes, coherence stays superbly strong as the group pulls off the transitions wonderfully. In turn a great sing-a-long, catchy single with a bit of a big rock feel is created.
Possibly one of the group’s finest efforts is present on this record and needs to be highlighted. Dramatic, epic, and almost depressing only begin to sum up Prayer of the Refugee
. It is one of those songs that as soon as you hear it you just drop anything and everything you are doing. The power contained in this song is just astonishing. Opening with a delicate minor bar chord based progression things open with an incredibly solemn mood. Joe adds some phenomenal bass accents throughout the verse, really locking in the depressing state. Chris comes out with some quiet stop start power chord progressions, completing the instrumental section. Than it happens, possibly the greatest transition the band has ever written. A powerful chorus explodes with Tim’s vocals leading the way. Some strummed octave chords and a nicely placed roll accompany him while the underlying vocals create an epic mood. The oh’s are at the perfect pitch and sound level as they really add an epic and eerie mood to the chorus without overpowering the lead voice. Once more an incredible bridge comes out. However, this time Chris follows it with an octave chord solo. This is proof that a solo does not need to shred the fret board in order to be effective. Things sound so well worked out as the progression fits the song incredibly. Despite its basic state it is ever so convincing. A bit of a modified chorus with some more great backing vocals close this amazing song. Between the tempo changes, superbly worked out backing vocals, and the over present mood this song is just perfectly crafted.
Now somewhere in between their dominantly hardcore state and their magnificently melodic state lies an ever so pleasurable blend of the two. A good deal of the closing songs fall into this category, including the riff driven Behind Closed Doors
. Guitarist Chris Chase is newest addition to the group (around the time of recording Siren Song) and this record marks his first under the position of lead guitar. He makes his presence felt when the time calls it. After a vocal and single guitar intro, he presents an insanely catchy riff. While Tim keeps rhythm with some palm mute chords, Chris brings out a variety of riffs as he keeps similarity from setting in throughout the song. While the chorus goes back to the typical mix of power chords, it works out for the better. As said before Chris is very calculated in his writing process and seems to know when and where a riff should go, allowing a solid song to be written as opposed to merely solid sections. His riff driven sections really add a nice touch to this song and give it a melodic feel in certain sections. The pickslides before the chorus as well as the bridge seem to mark the heavier portions of the track. Overall a very balanced mix is in play making this track very memorable.
Unfortunately all things must come to an end, but the group brings that news to listeners in the best possible way. Survive
is one hell of a track and marks a new viewpoint from the group as things sound a little more personal than usual. It slowly builds up with about a minute of a very slow tempo riff under bass. Drums only touch on certain sections, keeping the drama and tensions high. After a tiny section of rapidly palm muted chords, the fury begins. The verse holds a very intense state and the chorus only adds to the madness. Lyrics are incredibly present here, as they are some of the best on the record.
Life for you has been less than kind
So take a number stand in line
We’ve all been sorry all been hurt
But how we survive is what makes us who we are
Tim once again delivers an outstanding vocal performance as his delivery really captures the mood of discontent and angst. A slowed down bridge and bit of a drawn out chorus end the song and record in terrific fashion. Things sounded polished and epic as the record comes to a close.
Well that’s the record than, same old Rise Against for the most part as I’m sure you are thinking. Top notch lyrics and overall well put together songs in abundance. Some melody driven tracks, some hardcore hitting ones, and some mixes of the two are found here but for the most part that has all been heard before in the group’s previous efforts. If these thoughts come into your mind than you are absolutely correct. If you think the band is satisfied there and has no tricks up their sleeves you are dead wrong however. The first surprise found on the record is The Approaching Curve
. Cutting to the chase I have never heard a song like this before. I am a fan of Rise Against and trust them not to put filler on a record but for some reason this song did not digest well with me at first. After around five listens I began to fully grasp how incredible this song really was. The lyrics to this song are the longest on the record for the simple reason that every section of this song is spoken save for the chorus and bridge. Its atmosphere is very dramatic and depressing throughout the verse. The lyrics are so incredibly detailed that I couldn’t even begin to pull out individual one liner’s or sections. Palm muted chords make up the rhythm while some drawn out chords play atop of them. The sung chorus almost shines a light on the song, as the singing implies a sense of hope. Following the second chorus there is a tiny harmonized break leading into one monster of a bridge. Tim is accompanied by a second voice as a female vocalist echoes him leading into the final chorus and outro. It is easily one of the most memorable moments of the entire record. It seems to act as an ever present crescendo as the song begins to close. The song itself locks in a unique atmosphere and very clearly distinguishes itself from anything the group has ever done before.
In their last effort the acoustic track and second single Swing Life Away was a bit of a break from routine for the group. Needless to say they took the path again, this time creating a more passionate and diverse track in Roadside
. That out of the way, comparing this song to Swing Life Away should be considered a crime as the only thing they have in common is the volume contrast with the rest of their respected records. From the opening clean riff a soft and gloomy mood is set. Chris really plays some gorgeous clean melodies which sound incredible over the vocals. There is another guest female vocalist here as she accompanies Tim very successfully. The unique elements do not stop there, as there is a string section in the background. Mainly a cello is present but as a whole the section really adds a lot more of a back bone to the song. The strings only further close the lock on the gloomy and almost ominous mood created. During the bridge the string section really shines as there is a bit of a cello break over the intro riff. Violins become prevalent over the last chorus, once more only enhancing the song’s ambiance. This song is another track completely different than anything the group has done in the past. It is just incredible how they can naturally progress and make songs like this work. One would imagine a band in this genre would be reluctant to even attempt this. Not only does Rise Against dive headfirst toward it, they make it work successfully and make it flow with the tide of the record. It is a definite highlight of the record as well as proof that the group has a few tricks up their sleeves.
So what is next for the group? What more is there to prove? “As a punk band going into our seventh year of existence and our fourth album, survival is a big part of what we do. Some of us are approaching our thirties; some of us are already there. And you’re talking about playing a scene where there’s some 18-year-old kid with fancy hair who wants your job. So you’re out there trying to remain relevant, pushing yourself to remain true to your fans and yourself.”
– Tim McIlrath As far as this record is concerned the group did just that; they pushed themselves forward while keeping their message intact and staying true to themselves and to the fans. Judging by that quote the future will be more of the Rise Against that we all know and love. There will be more progressions by the group without a doubt, but this is one band that has honesty running through their veins and will in turn never surrender their beliefs or viewpoints to trends. This record will prove that you can progress while staying true to your roots. They have done just that, as this is the same Rise Against just with some new tricks up their sleeves. Things are equally if not more brilliantly written than before as the group’s message comes out in full force through these unique songs. Filler is not present in the least bit, as every track is strong on itself. The album as a whole is a very smooth listen all the way through and is really the peak of the modern day punk scene. Motives are quite simple, as Tim puts it “…if someone gives you a microphone and a stage to say something, then you’d better say something.”
Needless to say that quote is solidly backed up by the group’s fourth record. The Suffer and The Witness
is a darn near flawless record and is by far a classic as well as the peak of the group’s career thus far.
Rise Against is…
Lead vocals/rhythm guitar – Tim McIlrath
Bass/backing vocals – Joe Principe
Lead guitar/backing vocals – Chris Chase
Drums – Brandon Barnes
Final Rating: 5/5