Rise Against – [Album]

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Most regularly, people look at the largest visible moments in a band's career and assume that those are the explosive instances which define all the successes that said band has enjoyed, but that isn't always true. If one were to look at Rise Against, for example, they'd see 2004's Siren Song of the Counter Culture as being the moment when all of the elements aligned and the band just exploded into the world's popular consciousness. There is validity in that opinion, but that does not mean it's accurate. In fact, the ignition for every great achievement Rise Against would later enjoy can be found very easily on Revolutions per Minute; the album which came after their debut, The Unraveling, and immediately preceded Siren Song of the Counter Culture.

Almost exactly two years and a whole lot of touring after their debut came out, singer Tim McIlrath, bassist Joe Principe, guitarist Todd Mohney and drummer Brandon Barnes emerged with Revolutions per Minute – an album which does bear a debt to its predecessor, but doesn't lean on the basic building blocks set forth on that debut so much as keep it in mind as the band orchestrates an enormous creative leap forward; the bare bones and altruistic hardcore with which the band first introduced itself has been refined, polished and updated significantly to produce an album as muscular as The Unraveling was sinewy, and further emboldened by a far more modern take on the music they're envisioning. Simply said, the difference between The Unraveling and Revolutions per Minute is comparable to the changes that have happened in entire genres of music over the course of a decade, in this case expedited to occur in about two years; with a better producer (Black Flag and Descendents alumnus Bill Stevenson) working with them, a set of significantly stronger songs than the band's debut possessed and a more confident air about them, Rise Against leap forward from their debut and unleash something more modern in its design and more universally accessible to listeners.

The differences and improvements made between records are immediately felt as “Black Masks & Gasoline” crashes through to announce these proceedings, and Rise Against hits the ground running full tilt. Stevenson's production instantly opens up more space in the mix as he reigns in the drums and tightens them up (knowing the instrument as he does, Stevenson immediately proves that he was the man for the job here) which gives Mohney more space (and opportunity) to wreak havoc. The interplay between Mohney and Barnes is a thing of beauty as each player gives and takes of the other to arrive at a juggernaut attack that cuts and punches in a profound way; it's solid, ceaseless and absolutely sure no matter what. That higher-energy but more dynamic production style proves to be inspiring for McIlrath too as, no longer just snarling and barking his way along, the singer tries his hand at more involved melodic structures and discovers that he's capable of unrealized and arresting tones; the catharsis and genuine heart and hope in the singer is fantastic and revelatory when placed in the context of both punk and hardcore. 

The plot only proceeds to get deeper and more engaging as Rise Against incorporates elements of Skate Punk (check “Dead Ringer”), an almost singer-songwriterly capacity (“Like An Angel,” “Voices Off Camera”) and further refines its subtle touch at social and political commentary as the band holds up a mirror to American Beauty in the most critical of ways in “Last Chance Blueprint.” In each case, unlike the album's predecessor, Rise Against presents these songs as being delivered from the pit – a call out from members of the faceless mass to the faceless mass―to organize and seek change because what's among them is troubled and the only hope that anyone can hope to find is within themselves (see “Broken English” and “Last Chance Blueprint” for the best examples). It's a remarkably endearing sentiment given that, at the time of its release, a more personal (rather than communal) tone had overtaken punk and both the music and musicians making it were becoming progressively more insular. Revolutions per Minute lives up to its name because these dozen tracks seek to assemble a large group of like-minded people to work toward a single line of thought. It would work too – Revolutions per Minute would later prove itself to be the first great album from Rise Against – the sort of album that people could band around – but, ten years after the release of the album, Rise Against and Fat Wreck have revisited the album and tweaked it, just a little.

Now, it's important to point out that RPM 10 has clearly aged well, as even the first listen proves, but some fans might balk at the reissue initially. First, while Fat Wreck has updated the production ever so slightly, it will take more than a few listens to really find any of the differences which have been made to the production. Some fans might say that's understandable (“Of course,” they'll yell, “It was awesome as it was!”), but the first change which will make listeners cough will be the absence of the unlisted cover of Journey's “Any Way You Want It” which originally appeared at the end of Revolutions per Minute's run-time. As soon as they realize it's not there, listeners will forget (for a minute) that there are nine other tracks included in its place, and wonder why the hell it got left out. Happily though, the loss is quickly forgotten as listeners get clipped hard in the mouth by the set of RPM demos appended to the reissue in place of the cover.

The really cool thing about listening to the RPM 10 demos now is that it's possible to see definitively what album co-producer Jason Livermore meant when he said (in several interviews recounting the sessions for the album), “When we received the demos for RPM, I knew it was going to be special.” Here for the first time, listeners are able to see for themselves that, while the feel of The Blasting Room and the touch of producers Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore can be felt on the finished cuts which would ultimately populate Revolutions per Minute, a lot of the hard work had already been done; these demos prove that Rise Against had a very, very clear vision for what they wanted this album to be, and didn't deviate from that when they started recording . Here, the mania of “Black Masks & Gasoline” plays almost identically to the version which would ultimately open Revolutions per Minute, while the demo of “Blood Red, White & Blue” almost plays like even more of a live wire, if that's possible.

So, with that in mind, some listeners will ask what the point of including the demos for the songs which appeared on Revolutions per Minute here was; they pretty much sound the same, so why take up more space on this CD with a repeat performance? That's a valid question, but it's also one which is pretty easy to answer: in including the same-y sounding demos for the songs which appeared on this album in the first place, Rise Against is saying pretty clearly that this is how this record was going to sound, no matter who was twiddling the knobs on a mixing board. This is exactly how the band needed/wanted Revolutions per Minute to sound; they were going to bring a couple of guys that they really admired along to capture the audio, but no one would be changing anything. Listening to this reissue now, that point becomes clear and it is truly enlightening; Rise Against had the design and method for how it was all going to come together in mind already – it was just a matter of getting the music before listeners. That Revolutions per Minute was going to be Rise Against's first big bang was just inevitable.


Further Reading:
Ground Control Magazine – Rise Against – [Discography review]


RPM 10 is out now. Buy it here , directly from Fat Wreck Chords.


Rise Against – [Album]

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

While Rise Against’s affinity for Black Flag has been well documented over the years (they even portrayed Henry Rollins and company on stage in the movie Lords Of Dogtown and, to date, have had former Black Flag and Descendents drummer Bill Stevenson man production duties on three of their five albums – that’s only one produced by someone else since they broke with Revolutions Per Minute in 2003), listeners might be surprised to learn how deeply that affection and respect go as Appeal To Reason illustrates. Not that Rise Against spontaneously decided to walk into the studio and remake My War or Damaged or anything, but after breaking through and making waves with three absolutely remarkable records (Revolutions Per Minute, Siren Song Of The Counter Culture and The Sufferer And The Witness) had people believing in hardcore again, like Black Flag did around the time of In My Head twenty-three years ago, Appeal To Reason finds Rise Against stretching out stylistically and incorporating other sounds into its’ established vintage hardcore assault.

Instantly noticeable as “Collapse (Post Amerika)” blasts the proceedings wide open and into gear is the distinctly metal edge in guitarist Zach Blair’s adamantine execution coupled with a noticeable alt-rock approach to song dynamics that have a give and take between parts and will occasionally acquiesce to hard/soft verse/chorus/verse structures. That loosening of the screws opens some space in the mixes as well; “Re-Education,” “Kotov Syndrome,” “The Strength To Go On” and “Savior” all rank as some of the singer’s best, most involved and adventurous vocal performances to date.

As well, for the first time in a while, Appeal To Reason represents a politically fueled, anti-war document of biting criticism released to an already established and expansive before the aggressor in the proverbial cross-hairs (in this case, George W. Bush) has been evicted from office and hence not only seems timely, but remarkably defiant. Each time drummer Brandon Barnes lays into his kick drum, audiences feel it like a dead-blow hammer shot to the chest thus inciting them more and, by the time “Entertainment” shifts to an off-time rhythm in the bridge and the guitars begin to swirl into a worrisome cyclone listeners have already succumbed and share the band’s disorientation and disillusionment. It’s an incredible moment; and one that hasn’t been attempted by a band of Rise Against’s stripe since before punk broke in 1991.

With listeners still reeling from the effect produced in “Entertainment,“ the band shifts gears again and picks up acoustic guitars to offer the drop dead, hands-down best, most effective and scathing criticism of that misbegotten endeavor in the Middle East ever released. “Hero Of War” offers a crestfallen and disillusion American soldier’s take on what he saw in his tour of duty that is presented in a way that without overstating the point, will have listeners misty and McIlrath invites them down into a completely different take on the conflicted Hell that is armed (and dishonest) conflict.

With Appeal To Reason, Rise Against has surpassed their peers as well as those bands they call influences by not so much crossing over as totally erasing the generic lines that so many bands (and fans) consider crucial to the potency of punk rock and hardcore and still manifesting a fantastic effort that speaks to all corners. When the band broke through five years ago, they made a noise and when they released Siren Song Of The Counter Culture in 2004, they laid waste to the established notions about how far hardcore could or couldn’t go. Those albums are good and, one day, might be called classics but there’s no doubt about Appeal To Reason; the structures are there and, after beginning to pave the way even as early as The Unravelling  seven years ago, Rise Against is now building a whole new school.


Rise Against website

Rise Against on Myspace

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