Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Rise Against strikes a mellower tone on Endgame

To survey the history of Chicago based punk rockers Rise Against would be to observe a band from humble roots trend more and more toward the mainstream.

Bassist Joe Principie, along with former guitarist Dan Wleklinski, cut their teeth in the hardcore punk outfit 88 Fingers Louie before that band disintegrated. But as the saying goes, every ending is just a new beginning, right?

Principe and Wleklinski recruited vocalist Tim McIlrath and drummer Brandon Barnes, and the foursome began to rise, against all odds, to form a band that would set a new standard for melodic punk rock.

Ten years have passed since then, and the Rise Against that largely aped the hardcore sound of their predecessor have become increasingly more commercial and mainstream, beginning with 2003's Siren Song of the Counter Culture.

Fortunately, Rise Against is one of a rare breed of bands where adding pop elements hasn't really diluted the music too much. In fact, I tend to prefer the melodic punk sound over the rough around the edges sound of the first two albums.

Following the release of their last album, 2008's Appeal to Reason, however, the band has come to a crossroads of sorts. At a certain point you've got to admit there's not much more your band can do to become poppier short of putting on *NSync shirts and rehearsing dance routines.

So reasonably, Endgame doesn't make much of an effort to trend any further toward the mainstream, but this album has its own set of issues.For one, the level of intensity seems to be declining compared to what we've seen from this band in the past.

To be sure, there are still some hard hitting tracks here, but not much of the blow your speakers out and kick in your bedroom door type of assault that defined cuts like "Chamber the Cartridge," "Bricks," and "To the Core."

Also, the level of musical creativity isn't quite what it was. Rise Against was once a band of fist pumping melodic guitar leads and driving drum lines; see songs like "Behind Closed Doors," and "Drones" for evidence.

On Endgame, the band spends much more of its time playing second fiddle to the vocals of McIlrath. The closest thing this album has to a standout guitar lead comes on "A Gentleman's Coup," near the album's close.

Despite these shortcomings, however, Endgame is above average as a whole.

The opener, "Architects," is an obvious standout, with McIlrath challenging his listeners to seize control of their own destiny. If you missed hearing Tim's screams on Appeal to Reason, you'll be delighted to know that you'll only have to wait until the second track to hear him break it out on Endgame.

"Help is on the Way," which seems to deride the federal government's slow response time to national disasters, has sick verses, but the chorus seems tailor made for mainstream radio play.

The band seeks to make a statement with "Make it Stop (September's Children)," which rails against homophobia. The band makes their case by citing examples of homosexual teens who committed suicide due to harassment over their sexuality.

McIlrath and Co. condemn the mindset of intolerance, then call for change:

"Make it stop.
Let this end,
This life chose me, I'm not lost in sin
But proud I stand of who I am
I plan to go on living"

"Satellite" is a track I feel a little torn about. It's definitely one of my favorite tracks on Endgame, but at the same time something doesn't quite sit right. Listening to it, it feels like it's built to be featured on some pre-game highlight reel for the Atlanta Braves.

It's just that when one of the biggest standout tracks on the album also sounds like one of the most radio friendly things they've ever done, that's not a good sign.

And let's not forget "Survivor Guilt," the song that McIlrath dubbed as the sequel to "Hero of War," the bloodchilling anti-war protest from Appeal to Reason. Don't be fooled by the talk; the two tracks have very little similarity to one another.

That aside, it's still a fine track, which tells the story of a man who died fighting in war, then questions whether the cause was truly worth it.

The only tracks I weren't big on were "Disparity by Design," "Wait for Me," and "Midnight Hands." None of those felt very inspired to me.

As a whole, Rise Against has put out an album that is close to the level of Appeal to Reason. The best cuts from that record - "Re-Education (Through Labor)," "Hero of War," and "Savior" - are better than the best that Endgame has to offer, although both albums pale in comparison to the awesomeness that was Sufferer and the Witness.

And therein is the main dig against Endgame. It's a good album, but the problem is just that - lately, we've merely been getting good albums from Rise Against, when we've become accustomed to hearing greatness from this band.

Score: 75/100

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