Review Summary: The Great Write-Off.
Rise Against were never known for unique song structures or for technical chops. They were known and favored because, in unison, these musicians could achieve incredible energy and emotional resonance the likes of which were not always associated with their genre of music. The dynamic between a somber rocker like “Dancing for Rain” was juxtaposed with the soaring climax of “Rumors of My Demise...”. The prior album, Revolutions Per Minute
, saw the use of rapid-fire songs like “Dead Ringer” to keep listeners on their toes. The Sufferer & The Witness
held a forward-thinking attitude and an overall sense of hope that was conveyed, not only lyrically, but through the instruments as well. TS&TW
was especially notable because of its cohesiveness as an album as it marched toward the marvelous conclusion of “Survive”. Though their music began to grow a bit more predictable, RA have remained remarkably consistent over the years, continuing to write rousing anthems and quality rock music.
Despite this, the hope for many fans has been that there would be a bit more variability on future projects. More liveliness. More emotion. More personality. More excitement. However, it's time to acknowledge a sad fact.
There's nothing exciting about Rise Against anymore.
The moment “The Great Die-off” begins to trudge through it's first verse, it sets the listener up to be underwhelmed. Is this it" Really" Questions that should never enter a listener's mind begin circulate. Rise Against have an excellent history of energetic openers and, while there's nothing necessarily wrong with a slow(ish)-burner, the track disappoints in every way possible in setting any sort of tone for the rest of the album and comes across as simply by-the-numbers. Then again, that turns out to be, ironically, the exact leitmotif of the album. By-the-numbers, from start to finish.
Indeed, there's some good music to be squeezed out of the album's 46 minute run time. “Tragedy + Time” has a poppy vibe that proves as catchy and fun as anything else you're likely to hear on the radio. “People Live Here” shows the band delving a bit further into their acoustic side and it's followed by the near-triumphant sounding “Bridges”, a stellar closer to another album. However, underneath it all, undermining every good moment, is the inescapable theme of routine. Rise Against, by the books.
Wasted potential permeates nearly every song with “Zero Visibility” being the biggest, most obvious offender. Seriously, it's possible to write a thesis about how wrong everything in this song is. The track starts off very promising with a Zeppelin-inspired, galloping riff complemented by a fun verse presented in a loose, upbeat style quite different from what we've heard from Tim Mcilrath in the past. Promising, right" These 45 seconds of promise lead to... another melodic, half-assed chorus that doesn't fit what the listener just experienced in any discernible way. A song that started off so unexpectedly, returning to safety just as quickly as it began. After two of these mundane choruses, a great bridge comes in to kick the song back into gear, which it does, until it abruptly stops around the 3:15 mark and enters a stagnant malaise of subdued, underwater vocals and a guitar thing. It's almost as if the band, while recording, stopped the song at the aforementioned point to say, “Hey we're about to take an upbeat number to a naturally exciting, foot-stomping finale. Good thing we have some left-over, sluggish BS we cooked up in 5 minutes to throw onto the album. Here's a great spot! LOL Cheers with water because straight edge!”. The frustration is overwhelming.
This very frustration builds over the duration of The Black Market
, an album which shamefully mislead fans with the release of the fast-paced “The Eco-Terrorist In Me”, only to reveal itself as a work of monotony with a few scattered moments of goodness.
Rise Against made a name for themselves through their energy and their willingness to change things up just enough that it set them far apart and above their competition; only to evolve into a tame, risk-free, rock outfit. For a band that shined so bright by deviating from the norm... that's a damn shame.