I’m not a fan of punk in general. Sure, I’m able to get into some (albeit more accessible) hardcore, and much of my recent listening has come from what’s been classified as post-hardcore, I still have a rather strong distaste for most punk. Rise Against
had always been a part of this; well, at least since they had released Siren Song of the Counter Culture
. I thought it was rather boring, generic stuff with a terrible singer. I still believe myself to be right in regards to that album. However, the release of their new album, The Sufferer & The Witness
, has proven me wrong in a way.
I did not buy Siren Song of the Counter Culture
; rather, I gave it one listen in a car. This may have been my major folly, as having this album playing clearly was a major plus in its favor. The musicianship in general is very solid, particularly for their brand of punk/melodic hardcore. The guitarists, while not on the level of a band like A Wilhelm Scream
, in general play their parts quite well, making inventive riffs and putting their effects pedals to good use, AKA using them when they need to be used, and forgetting about them otherwise (some other guitarists could learn a trick or two from them…). The rhythm section is similarly tight, with solid drumbeats and fills being scattered throughout the album. The biggest surprise for me on the album was the quality of the basslines, with bassist Joe Principe creating highlights on the album with his basslines in Ready to Fall
Yes, the musicianship is particularly good. However, my biggest gripe with both punk in general and Rise Against
is the vocals. Tim certainly does not have a generic voice; it’s certainly got its own unique tone and pitch, and combined with the way Tim delivers his vocals, he sounds more like Serj Tanakian of System of a Down
than a variety of other punk vocalists. However, he ruins all this by having a painfully small range, often keeping essentially the same exact volume throughout any given song. It’s a cripple, as many songs could have benefited from more vocal dynamics. He gets closest to this in the chorus to The Approaching Curve
, but even then, he continues to be too monotone to be enjoyable for long. In contrast, the chorus to Prayer of the Refugee
as Tim yells “Let me Down Down Down!
” loses most of its emotional punch as its sung in the exact same manner as the rest of the song. A few vocal lessons would Tim a tremendous amount of good, and perhaps develop him into one of the better vocalists in music in general.
The album lyrically is actually not too shabby, considering the pretenses I came in on. Supposedly it’s a loose concept album, but in my traipses with the album,, I really only got an overall theme than any sort of storyline as I was informed on. Regardless, it’s got a strong series of messages to impart, and its written in perfect fashion for Tim’s voice (although it also means he doesn’t have to try much unique…). While some of the lyrics are obviously over the top, slanted in one direction, or leaning towards being overly righteous, it’s obvious that Rise Against have some strong beliefs. There’s no true strong point to the album in lyrical quality, as its generally strong throughout, except for the mostly spoken word song The Approaching Curve
. Obviously, spoken word songs depend on excellent songwriting ability, and it of course contains just that. It’s the most obviously concept related song on the album, detailing a conversation between a young couple breaking up. It’s sweet, powerful, and has a haunting ending. How much more could ask for but a string section. Oh wait, never mind, this is punk, lets not get ahead of ourselves.
My biggest gripes with the album are, strangely on opposite ends of the spectrum. My first is the large inconsistency the album has. There are some incredible songs on here, easily laying the groundwork for a mind-blowing album. Songs like Injection, Drones, Prayer of the Refugee,
and even the ballad Roadside
(one of the best punk ballads I’ve heard in years, with ace female vocals) are moving and well executed, with everyone in the band contributing strong individual performances and showing how close they are as a band.
However, then there are some absolutely horrid songs. Bricks
is one of the worst pieces of recorded music I’ve heard, being a ramble of a song more than anything else. Chamber the Cartridge
is too bombastic for its own good, with the “whoah-oh’s” just not working in any real fashion, and instead making the song feel bloated. Then there are moments in songs that completely ruin an otherwise enjoyable tune. First single Ready to Fall
is the most apparent of these; containing one of the most unique verses on the album and an enjoyable and catchy chorus, it’s dragged down by Tim’s horrific screaming. That sort of thing happens too often on the album to overlook, and its unfortunate, as many of the poor songs on the album do show individual promise.
Strangely, the next problem is the monotony the album contains. Being an untrained punk listener, I may not be the man to make this assumption, but a lot of the album just sounds the same. Sure, there’ll be a neat bassline occasionally or a new and “ooooh” inducing guitar tone, but in general, they recycle the same (albeit interesting) riffs and drums beats, causing much of the album to feel the same. It causes the dreaded “Uh…what song am I listening to again"” effect, which in general is an album killer.
Luckily though, the albums good songs are enough to save it from being a waste of time. Rise Against
are a tremendously talented band, and they certainly have a good idea of what they want to do. Once Tim learns to sing with more variety and the band themselves get a few more tricks (not too many; they’ve got a good amount of dynamics as it is), they’ll undoubtedly create an album that’s accessible to anyone. For the genre, it’s undoubtedly a strong piece of work, one of the most distinguished of the year and certainly one of the best. However, to the casual music listener or to someone who really doesn’t care for punk, I can’t recommend the album as a whole. Giving it a reserved 4 it’s genre, and a generous 2.5 for otherwise, the album ends up being a high 3. It’s certainly worth your time to pick up if you’ve liked anything they’ve produced before, or if you just like this brand of punk/melodic hardcore. It has the potential to be an album you’ll love, and then again it has the potential to be an album you’re severely disappointed in. For me" I’ll enjoy the good songs off of this and just forget the others exist.
Reccomended Tracks (AKA The Good stuff)
Prayer of the Refugee