For Fans Of
Towards the end of their fantastic 2010 DVD, Another Station, Another Mile, Rise Against’s frontman, Tim McIlrath, spoke of the band’s message and impact, saying: “We’re still here to agitate, and agitating on this level is so exciting. Now, more than ever, I feel like our band is really leaving a mark in terms of presenting new ideas about change and awareness.”
In the years prior to that DVD’s release and even within the following ‘Endgame’ era of their career, Rise Against were indeed leaving a clear mark on the minds of many a listener. They accomplished this by writing some incredibly powerful and poignant punk songs; whether that was in the song’s actual sound and style, the thematic intention, or both. And one is just spoiled for choice when it comes to this aspect of their discography.
There’s the anti-war lamentations of ‘Hero Of War’ and ‘Survivor Guilt’, the borderline preachy but nonetheless kickass ‘Re-Education (Through Labour)‘, and the vast critiques of a flawed “American Dream” on the seminal ‘Prayer Of The Refugee’ and the blistering old-school classic, ‘Black Masks & Gasoline‘. Then there’s the soaring pro-LGBT anthem of ‘Make It Stop (September’s Children)’, ‘State Of The Union‘s fast and brutal addressing of bureaucratic injustice, or the defiant rally call against climate change on ‘Ready To Fall’. And one can’t forget ‘Audience Of One‘s warning of letting the few control the liberties and freedoms of the many, the very real cost of blindly justifying American imperialism in ‘Blood-Red, White and Blue‘, and the calling out of the U.S. government’s poor, mishandled responses to natural and man-made disasters on the undeniably catchy ‘Help Is On The Way’.
Even outside of the political spectrum, the always left-leaning Rise Against still consistently delivered deeply personal and heartfelt songs that could resonate with any punk rocker, protester, activist, or everyday citizen; regardless of whatever political court they sat in. We saw this with the stadium-sized ‘The Good Left Undone’, the emotional ‘Paper Wings‘, the romantically inclined ‘Like The Angel‘, the self-aware banger that was ‘Satellite‘, the empowering punk song about being a punk with ‘Give It All‘, and ‘Swing Life Away’s beautiful acoustic reprieve on mundane life.
What I have just listed off is a full album’s worth of the band’s own frankly better and far more engaging material; material stands leagues taller than anything found on their eighth and least-agitating album yet, ‘Wolves‘. For while ‘Wolves‘ is a positive, hope-inspiring, political rock record, it’s more akin to Green Day and Foo Fighters than NOFX or Anti-Flag. And that’s the real rub here – this is just a cliché, been-there-done-that call-to-arms album rather than a truly empowering sonic assault of livid punk rock.
The main issue with ‘Wolves‘ is that it’s devoid of any lasting sonic impact. This is only further bolstered by the fact that Rise Against are retreading the same musical grounds of 2008’s decent ‘Appeal To Reason‘ and 2014’s utterly mediocre ‘The Black Market‘. Let me be clear: this eighth outing from the four-piece isn’t a bad nor awful record – it’s most certainly passable – but my god, have they created better than this. Oh, so much better!
At this point, if you’ve heard even just one Rise Against record post-2004’s damn solid ‘Siren Song of the Counter Culture‘ and 2006’s exceptional ‘Sufferer & The Witness‘, you’ve heard them all. With their usual formula at play, the usual arena-sized choruses, McIlrath’s vocal melodies, the grating and recycled backing vocal “whoa-oh” chants and shouts of “hey!“, the unsurprising song structures, and their usual riffs and same-same power chords; ‘Wolves’ sure is business as usual. (Shit son, the only thing missing here is a phoned-in acoustic track like ‘People Live Here‘).
The personal romantic dramas of ‘Politics Of Love’, the hook-laden pop-punky ‘Mourning In Amerika‘, and the sickeningly formulaic ‘Far From Perfect’, ‘House On Fire‘, and lead single ‘The Violence’ only reaffirm the radio-rock realm that Rise Against exists in. But that’s just the music, and Rise Against are globally renowned for being more than just music; their messages of political dissent and government and presidential critique are well-documented and widely loved by their fans. Sure as the sun will rise tomorrow morning, they deliver such messages with these 11-songs, yet the effect isn’t as palpable or as raw as it was on past releases.
But while not a “trve” punk rock release, ‘Wolves‘ is a decent-enough showing of angry messages and themes, and yet… it rarely displays actually angry musical moments. I mean, what is it really that makes angry music truly angry? Is it the lyrics and the message behind the music, or is it the actual heaviness and sonics of a song that makes it so? In my perfect world, it would be both the song’s lyrics and message coupled with a heavier-sounding musical palette. Outside my own wishful thinking, and in the case of ‘Wolves‘, it’s got the lyrics nailed with its pack-mentality message of motivational unification, but it’s rarely accompanied with the sonic punch and volatile aggression needed, bar a small few exceptions.
And I don’t fully begrudge Rise Against for not being as “punk” or as heavy as they were once; it’s hard to genuinely remain the loud, shouting young men they once were without coming off as old dudes grasping at straws (see: Blink-182 in 2017). Nor do I begrudge the band for the capitalistic gains they’ve garnered from their more “commercial” records (hey, even punks have to eat) and finding larger success with that, as their overall protest message has remained steadfast. Meaning that they haven’t sold out here. But instead of selling out they’ve just written a really mediocre album. (I’ll let you decide which is better or worse).
However, as I briefly mentioned above, there are thankfully some exceptions to that rule. Similar to ‘The Black Market’ and its one and only standout – ‘The Eco-Terrorist In Me’ – this record manifests a handful of tunes that protest far and wide to the bleary masses. These come in the form of the upbeat but indeed aggressive anti-apathy rager, ‘Bullshit’ (drink every time the song’s namesake is said and you’ll be one drunk SOB in no time flat), the beefy, hard-hitting riffs that carry out the solid album closer of ‘Miracle‘, and the fast but melodically widescreen “fuck you” to climate change deniers on ‘Parts Per Million‘. McIlrath himself does invigorate a few tracks with a real sense of energy as he screams like it’s 2004 all over again on the opening title track as well as the circle-pit inducing, anti-Trumpian ‘Welcome To The Breakdown’.
But a couple of okay songs and old mate occasionally screaming do not a great, politically agitating punk rock album make. For ‘Wolves‘ is a weak yelp instead of a glorious, all-commanding howl. And as a longtime fan of Rise Against, it pains me to say that.
What’s most unfortunate about ‘Wolves’ is that many will regard this record as a career standout for Rise Against. Not because it’s actually a great Rise Against release, but simply because ‘Wolves’ just so happened to be released during the truly fucked up year of our Lord 2017. As when people see pillocks like Donald Trump sitting at the helm of American power, shills like Malcolm Turnbull in office, vile terror attacks being carried out around the world on a scarily frequent scale, an international refugee crisis, Adani getting all lubed up to rape Queensland’s Galilee Basin via a furthering non-sustainable industry, and racist idiots like Pauline Hanson sitting within Australian Government, people turn towards music. Whether for mere escapism or to find like-minded artists who share the listener’s belief and whose art reflects our stranger-than-fiction word,
Thus, when people hear a political-based record – even a goddamn mediocre one like ‘Wolves’ – they fall for it; praising it to the high fucking heavens. Despite the sheer recycled musical moments of the band’s now weary rock formula. Despite the utterly generalised political lyrics like “Light all the torches/Wake up the king/The smoke you’ve ignored/Is a flame you can’t contain” and the sappy, personal affirmations littered throughout. And despite the fact that countless older (and better) Rise Against songs carry just as much weight, impact and relevance as these newer 11 songs do; if not more so. The cynic in me says that’s because this is one of the first major releases from an American punk-rock band during the Trump administration and that Rise Against is still largely floating on from the goodwill instilled from their 2000’s era.
2. House On Fire
3. The Violence
4. Welcome To The Breakdown
5. Far From Perfect
7. Politics Of Love
8. Parts per Million
9. Mourning In Amerika
10. How Many Walls
‘Wolves’ is out now via EMI Music. You can buy it here.