Sound — 8
Rise Against is a popular American punk band from Chicago. Since the release of their first album in 2001, it seems like their popularity has only risen over time; their last two albums were their biggest hits. There is a good probability that the band's growing popularity is due to the recent stability in their lineup; since 2007 there have been no lineup changes. The band's stability might have allowed them to write music with a more focused sound. It is also somewhat possible that Rise Against's popularity is due to the global economic recession, which started around the same time that stability arrived in the band. Considering their leftist views, which have ostensibly become more popular since the start of the recession, it is not too far-fetched to believe that Rise Against's fan base grows as does the number of people who share their views.
Regardless of how they got their popularity, it is impossible to deny that Rise Against is the premier punk rock band of recent memory. Considering that "Endgame," the band's last record, went to #2 in the USA, Rise Against do something pretty spectacular to continue the trend and get the #1 spot.
In my opinion, they've done it. Well, kind of. I believe that the album will reach #1 or at least beat the first week sales of "Endgame." But, if it happens, it will not be due to Rise Against writing an incredible album. It will be due to their increasing popularity as a whole.
In short, this album is a logical step in Rise Against's career. It displays a slightly more polished and well thought out version of the Rise Against that fans know. In terms of guitar work, there is slow but steady improvement. Maybe, as Zach Blair becomes more comfortable in the band, he feels he can think outside the box more. Of course, he has not turned into some sort of John Petrucci, but he has become a bit more creative. Specifically, there are more riffs that I can hum to myself after a couple of minutes of listening to the album periodically. In addition, though the vocals, as always, take center stage, the guitars play a comparatively larger role in driving the songs on this album. In essence, listeners may be intrigued enough to concentrate on the guitar work throughout the songs, not just the vocal melodies as was often the case before with Rise Against.
However, do not be mistaken, this album definitely sounds like traditional Rise Against. The songs are fast. There are a ton of power chords, octave chords, and predictable chord progressions. The vocals are hard-edged yet completely comprehensible. The most important part of each song is each's overarching message. For the most part, this album is just typical Rise Against. But there is a bit extra added, a little icing on the cake. Something that makes the album sound fresh and exciting even though the base vibe remains the same.
Perhaps the largest contributor(s) to Rise Against's slightly more refined sound is their production team. To be sure, this album is not some hastily thrown together mish-mash of punk demos recorded in a garage. No, the band and their team approached this album carefully. The guitars are layered with much more skill and complexity than one would have expected from a punk group. The vocals are recorded well, with the harmonies and group shouts adeptly incorporated into the mix.
Lyrics — 7
On the topic of vocals, they are exactly what one would have expected from Rise Against's lead vocalist, Tim McIlrath. They are powerful, driving, and above all, heartfelt. For anyone unfamiliar with Rise Against, McIlrath hails from the line of alternative and grunge singers that succeeded so well in the '90s. With this type of vocal style, it is almost a given that his vocals are powerful, driving, and heartfelt.
Yes, his style has been done, and done again. Moreover, McIlrath doesn't appear to have grown as a vocalist on this album. But with his performance, impassioned as ever, you would never know. From a critical standpoint, his voice has not depreciated. In summary, McIlrath refuses to back down.
Lyrically, McIlrath continues with the same themes that he has for some time, namely questioning society. The only critique I have of his lyrics is that they are fairly bland; there is rarely any specific substance to the lyrics. Nor is there any sort of call to action that has not been put forth by every anti-establishment punk band in history. Nevertheless, this album's lyrics are solid, solidifying the album as a whole.
Here are some sample lyrics from my favorite song, "Bridges":
"There's a place that I'd rather be.
There's a voice deep inside of me
Saying the progress we are making
Is not progress at all.
Into a world of promises
Is where we let ourselves been led
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
Once you pass us by on
We paved with our bare hands."
Overall Impression — 7
In conclusion, though this album seems to be a logical step in the evolution of Rise Against, I hesitate to call it their best work. While "The Black Market" is a solid album, the revolution embodied in the Rise Against name is not as powerful as it once was when the band was just starting out. Rise Against's sound is as polished as ever before (even then, their sound is not too polished). Nevertheless, this approach may alienate fans who started to have problems with the band's sound the last album.
With "The Black Market," it seems that Rise Against has reached a creative crossroads. For their next album, Rise Against will have to decide whether to turn toward their old school punk roots or forward toward the more mainstream brand of rock that has vaguely promulgated itself on this album.