Rise Against’s decision to move away from the intense, angst-ridden sound of its hardcore years in favour of a more melancholic, mid-tempo, commercially-viable sound became most evident on the band’s last album, Appeal To Reason. As the band’s popularity grew, though, so did the desire of the long-standing fans to hear more music like the thrashy, screamy favourites heard on earlier albums such as Revolutions Per Minute and Siren Song Of The Counter Culture. So when the lead single, ‘Help Is On the Way’, dropped to promote their forthcoming sixth album, Endgame, there was again a mix of apprehension and excitement amongst fans for the new record, considering that the band had seemingly chosen to pursue a mainstream music career, rather than attempt to re-capture the underground vibe of their old-school sound.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. I’m all for artists receiving credit for their work where credit is due; and whereas Appeal To Reason wasn’t bad, from the evidence of Endgame it does seem as if Rise Against is more comfortable with their ever-growing commercial sound — made up of plenty of “WOAHHHH OOHHHH OHHHH’S” and a simple verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure — this time around. I had mixed feelings beforehand, and the album didn’t grab me at first, admittedly — it may not have any stand-out anthems like ‘State Of The Union’ (Siren) or ‘Black Masks & Gasoline’ (Revolutions) — but I’ve had the album on repeat numerous times throughout the past three days, and I’m pleased to say it sounds more impressive by every listen.
Lyrically, Endgame is up there with Rise’s best albums. With lines such as, “If we just take a step back, a bigger picture we might view,” on ‘Disparity By Design’, frontman McIIrath urges thought behind our actions, which sets the moral standard for the whole album perfectly. Likewise, on the track, ‘Survivor Guilt’, which follows up to ATR’s ‘Hero Of War’, he sings, “The cowards preach on pedestals with words of courage and resolve, but one thing that will fuck them all is that freedom isn’t free,” looking to motivate as many people as he possibly can to overcome the harsh realities of the world in which we live. What’s more, McIIrath seems as content as he’s ever been in his leadership of the band (and I mean that in the positive sense), not only his writing, but in his vocal delivery, also, which is fiery as well as composed. There may be a distinct lack of screams when compared to the singer’s earlier years, but that is not to say he is without attitude and has lost his passion for music and global political issues.
In fact, Rise Against, it seems, is determined not to take things lying down. Joe Principe’s bass playing and Brandon Barnes’ drumming still provide a very solid backing for the band. Lead guitarist Zach Blair, despite recycling some of his earlier riffs — ‘Disparity By Design’, for example, has an opening riff similar to that of ‘Collapse’ on Reason — showcases a number of distinct melody variations, also. His guitar work here sounds more accomplished and memorable than it did on the last record, and, along with McIIrath’s lyric/vocal work, this is primarily what makes Endgame a very catchy, enjoyable and successful album for the band.
My favourite tracks include the incredibly-catchy ‘Satellite’, ’80s-rock-sounding ‘Midnight Hands’ and ‘Broken Mirrors’, a dark song concerned with change deep within. ‘This Is Letting Go’ is also a typically feisty and uplifting Rise Against track about not giving up, but letting go of the past and continuing the revolution on one’s own path, which also fittingly describes the band’s new-found comfort zone in the mainstream. Thankfully, there is also no ambient, acoustic piece this time around, which benefits the inspiriting pace of the whole album (I can’t speak for everyone else, but I was getting pretty fed up of hearing ‘Swing Life Away’ and ‘Hero Of War’).
The biggest disappointment of Endgame would have to be the lead single, ‘Help Is On The Way’. The lyrics, which address world events, such as Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill in Deepwater Horizon, are fine, but the musical delivery feels incredibly weak by the band’s high standards, and on that basis fails to do justice to the strength of the rest of the album. Because of such, it is likely that the album as a whole will not re-attract attention from a majority of the older generation of RA fans, who’ve become frustrated and sceptical of the band’s sound as a result of the more accessible direction they’ve been heading towards in recent years.
If Rise Against’s happy with the way its music is going — and it would seem the band is from the confidence displayed here on this album — then fair play. Endgame is a definite improvement upon the last album, and a very assured effort overall. It make lack the rawness of earlier material, and, sure, a few more screams from Tim would’ve benefited (anyone that doubts the frontman is now incapable of letting rip with a few more high-pitched shouts like he used to, should check out the self-titled 7″ EP, which the band released shortly after ATR), but that isn’t to say that Endgame is not a great album. It proves that the band is capable of balancing catchy hooks and instrumentation with politically-themed lyrics, which make their music not only an enjoyable experience, but a very thought provocative one at that. One could say their mass following is justly deserved.