REVIEW: Rise Against: Siren Song of the Counter Culture

Melodic-punk band Rise Against’s first record on a major label (Geffen) may be the most accessible when compared to those that came before, but it still manages to keep the raw elements that earned it a respectful following on the underground circuit in its early years. Siren Song Of The Counter Culture is an incredibly catchy and emotionally rewarding forty-minute experience.


This was actually the album that first introduced me to the artistic vibrancy of the Chicago-based band. Upon hearing ‘Give It All’ — one of its most prominent songs — as the backing music to a random freerunning video on YouTube, I felt intrigued to hear more. So I picked up the CD for a few quid and have been hooked on the intelligent, heavy punk sound ever since.


You immediately begin to feel Rise’s hardcore energy on the thrasy opening track ‘State Of The Union’. This sets forth singer Tim McIlrath angrily delivering his socially-conscious lyrics atop of some fiery percussion and frantic chord strumming from fellow band members Brandon Barnes (drums), Joe Principle (bass) and Chris Chasse (guitar) (“If we’re the flagship of peace and prosperity/ We’re taking on water and about to fuckin’ sink.”)


This may well standout as the hardest of the twelve tracks, but there is an infectious sense of urgency that is carried right the way through to the bustling, Mark Twain-inspired ‘Rumours Of My Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated’. In between, there’s a lesson in war’s harmful effects on health, habitat and culture (‘Dancing For Rain’); a raw, first-person confession of a broken relationship (‘Blood To Bleed’); and a call for the realization of individual aspirations, which we should each strive towards to bring a greater political change (‘Life Less Frightening’ and ‘Tip The Scales’).


My favourite track, though, is ‘Paper Wings’, which is a bittersweet tale of one person’s decision to pursue their own path in life. This song is just phenomenal in its arousal of the human spirit via its prominent guitar riff and thought-provocative lyrics:


“Is this the life that you lead, or the life that’s left for you?/ Will you take the road that’s been laid out before you?/ Will we cross paths somewhere else tonight?”


Rebellers against anything appearing on a major label may complain that the band’s melodious sound is at its most fetching here, but at least the song still manages to come across unfeigned in its subject matter. As if a statement for the whole album, the music is instantly pleasing without ever compromising the band’s free-thought, discontent and individualist punk values.


This is further evident on the eleventh track, ‘Swing Life Away’, an acoustic ballad concerned with living the simple life. This song depicts a beautifully calm atmosphere, where one person is able reminisce about good times with their closest friends, free from stress and anxiety in the uncertain world. The song is obviously distinguishable from the others on the album because it is performed acoustically, but there is still that liberal, anti-authoritarian attitude in the way it is delivered, which once again depicts the band’s serious political consciousness.


Rise seems to have a fantastic natural talent for creating music that is delicate yet edgy at the same time. McIlrath, in particular, demonstrates that he is a passionate singer as well as a talented screamer throughout Sirens — another reason why the record is so accessible is his lyricism — which discerns change on both a personal and a political level. He manages to tap into the potential of the listener’s mind whilst sharply criticising the large-scale bureaucracies. He shows great leadership, judgment and passion in the band’s quest for positive change, inspiring the individual as well as human behaviour on a broader scale. The melodic rhythms of Brandon, Joe and Chris are brilliant, but Tim really steals the show on this album with his lyrics and delivery.


Having listened to Rise’s entire discography excessively since I first heard this album, I can conclude that Siren Song is hardly a departure from its raw, early sound, as heard on The Unravelling (2001) and Revolutions Per Minute (2003), as some like to point out. The latter of the two said albums may still be the best of Rise’s records, but one cannot deny that the band is progressing to world domination with a hardcore edge that remains, to date, uncompromised by its major label signing. This is still a fantastic album in its own right, even if it does get pigeon-holed with the work of watered-down, multi-platinum successes (Fall Out Boy, for example).


So if you are one of those people that likes to criticise a band for “selling out” just because it has achieved some commercial recognition, then you have seriously misinterpreted the sincerity of Rise Against’s commitment to politics and reviving the melodic, hardcore sound here. Sirens is just full with songs that are impressively energetic and full of heart, resulting in an ultimately riotous record, overall. I can only commend the band for its formidable effort and well-earned success.



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