Towards the end of the 20th century a band calling themselves Transistor Revolt emerged from the Chicago underground scene. Singer Tim McIlrath and bassist Joe Principe were soon joined by drummer Brandon Barnes and guitarist Todd Mohney (who had played in side project The Killing Tree with McIlrath) although the enigmatic Mr. Precision (aka Dan Wieklinski) handles most of the lead playing. In 2001 Rise Against put out The Unravelling on Fat Wreck Chords with post-punk producer Mass Giorgini at the desk in his Sonic Iguana Studios. The remastered version of this album is essential discovery material thanks to Bill Stevenson adding a cleaner, crisper mix that doesn’t sacrifice volume for clarity.
Their second independent release is Revolutions per Minute, which includes the single “Like the Angel” and the onset of the message music that is their lifeblood. Again it’s well worth checking to enjoy the birth of a band finding its feet and perfecting its craft.
The first release on a major label is Siren Song of the Counter Culture, a persuasive title that is backed up by some staggering hard rock on “Blood to Blood”, “Tip the Scales” and the thrilling “Rumours of My Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated,” where the mixture of Morrissey style wit and Bad Religion-class fiery rhythms combine to full effect. But this is hardcore with genuine brains and the addition of Chris Chasse on guitar and backing vocals broadens out the sonic backdrop with welcome harmonies.
Another fan favourite is the acoustic “Swing Life Away”, first heard on the compilation album Punk Goes Acoustic. This will give Rise Against their chart entry with the parent album slow burning its way to US Gold. Another track that doubles up is “Give It All”, first heard on the Rise Against Bush compact disc. The hard-hitting video for this piece pushed the band to the forefront of the radical counter culture and boosted their social network status overnight. The YouTube entry has 11 million hits and rising.
The band returned to producer Bill Stevenson to create The Sufferer & the Witness, whose liner notes include a reading list, recommending tomes by Ayn Rand, Aldous Huxley and various other historical and Science Fiction classics. Outstanding cuts “Ready to Fall”, “Prayer of the Refugee” and “The Good Left Undone” indicate no lessening of fervour in the face of gathering stardom. If anything McIlrath ups his lyrical game on “Drones” and “Worth Dying For” and this is their biggest seller to that time.
Appeal to Reason sees the arrival of new guitarist Zach Blair in 2007 (the Texan is a former member of hard-core punk group Only Crime) but otherwise it is business as usual: organic hardcore, urban politics, scathing anti-war dissections and full-on noise. This is a great place to discover Rise Against since it includes the key track “Savior”, their most downloaded song and Billboard’s top rock choice for 2010, beating off Muse, Breaking Benjamin, Weezer and many others who might be deemed more famous.
This best-kept secret angle stops holding true and ceases to be relevant once Endgame drops in 2011 and becomes their highest charting album on the US Billboard 200, making #2, and cementing their reputation in the UK, boosted in part by the success of “Help Is on the Way”, which references McIlrath and the band’s experiences of visiting New Orleans after the double whammy of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil disaster. In the UK tour to support the album McIlrath dedicated the song to those affected by the Japanese tsunami and earthquake. It’s unarguably powerful, also poignant and purely punk. Rise Against in essence, really.
The big selling compilation Long Forgotten Songs: B-Sides & Covers (2000-2013) is a pleasurable way to link into their B-sides, covers and rarities. The depth of the band’s influences can be heard as they tackle Bob Dylan’s “Ballad of Hollis Brown”, Malvina Reynolds’ “Little Boxes”, the Minor Threat theme, Black Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown”, some Journey and Black Flag, a great version of Bruce Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (featuring Tom Morello, Brian Fallon and Wayne Kramer), also the latter man’s “Kick Out The Jams”, the archetypal MC5 rock classic.
Back in the studio for The Black Market, where the environment and the petrochemical industry come under scrutiny. Their highest UK chart entry, this was pre-released for stream via iTunes and topped the US charts in every relevant field, also going Gold in Canada, a fanatical market for the band.
Upbeat, catchy and always provocative this is a modern hard rock classic with a subtle shift in emphasis towards elements of funk and anthem sized epics like “The Great Die-Off” and killer hooks throughout. Well into their career by now there is also time for reflection and pause for discussion on the nature of the band and the process of songwriting. McIlrath summarises the process as “…getting dirty to create something that I could share with somebody that could potentially be a cathartic experience. I was thinking, ‘what is it that we do, or what do people expect or want from us? Where do we fit in their lives with the songs that we write?’ I ended up not knowing what to write about, so I just wrote about that.” And much more besides.
One of modern punk’s most vital and exciting acts, Rise Against recently embarked on their most impressive tour to date, taking their music and message to the crowds who have already discovered their singular appeal. Those siren songs are calling.
Words: Max Bell
If ever there was a year to release a political punk album it was 2008, when the U.S. was consumed by the wildest presidential campaign in modern history. It seems like the perfect backdrop for Rise Against to release Appeal to Reason, their third major-label record, and in a way it is -- certainly, the group rages against the moral decay rotting the core of the U.S. on the opening "Collapse (Post-Amerika)," just as they strike out against the slow dumbing down of America on "Re-Education (Of Labor)" and tell Iraqi soldier stories on "Hero of War." The latter showcases the acoustic guitars that helped goose 2006's The Sufferer & the Witness into the Billboard Top Ten but the rest boast the manic rapid-fire hardcore delivery that hearkens back to Rise Against's politically minded forefathers Bad Religion. This balance of plaintive modern folk and carefully traditional protest punk is offset by Rise Against's increasingly strong fondness for heavy, slick production, the kind where the rhythms are too tight and the guitars overdriven and clean, the kind where it sounds more like '80s metal than '80s punk. Rise Against is hardly the only modern punk band to be weighed down by this contradiction -- it's entirely too devoted on chops and gear, Guitar Center punk -- but it stings a little more with them as their ambitions, smarts, and skills are higher than their peers. They seem like they shouldn't have such a beefy, big sound, particularly as it obscures their message, giving the group a weird dichotomy: they are clean, accomplished musicians and sincere, socially conscious rockers but those two halves don't complement each other well, at least not on the well-intentioned Appeal to Reason.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
After spending the last 12 years waging war against society's ills, Rise Against square up against their own inner struggles on their seventh album, Black Market. Rather than a rallying cry against the status quo, the album finds the band looking inwards, exploring the dark places they need to go to in order to create music meant to rally others to get fired up and take action. Writing about what makes them tick rather than what ticks them off, Rise Against offer up an album that feels more intimate than their past work. Musically, the album feels like an extension of Endgames driving, but not quite as furious. While this might disappoint fans pining for the intensity of their early work, their current sound beautifully marries the Black Market's narrative angle, making room for emotions other than outrage with its (relatively) slower pace. Although Black Market might not go down in history as the band's greatest album, it's a strong contender for the most timeless effort, avoiding the "you had to be there" outrage of their politically charged work and replacing it with something more universal. The message of a song like "I Don't Want to Be Here Anymore," which examines those moments when you look at your life, realize that you're not in the place you want to be, and resolve to change your situation, is one that most anyone can relate to. Black Market may not be the enraged political album that fans want, but it most definitely feels like the cathartic self-examination Rise Against needed, proving that a move doesn't have to be loud to be bold.
Words: Gregory Heaney
The Sufferer & the Witness finds Rise Against continuing on the path begun on 2004's well-received Siren Song of the Counter Culture. Their melodic hardcore may still sound more mainstream accessible, but this can hardly be looked at as a bad thing. After all, the band's sincerity and passion emerge very much intact -- their socially conscious approach no less pressing -- and new and old fans alike should take to Sufferer with open arms. With producers Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore manning the controls this time around, the band's inner grit is aptly drawn out amid all the pit-ready choruses and fist-in-the-air, stirring lyrics. As such, Rise Against continue to muscularly confront political and personal grievances to the tune of swirling guitars, assertive rhythms, and Tim McIlrath's sandpapered vocals. However, "Chamber the Cartridge" doesn't quite open the record with the same acidic bite as past lead tracks, as the chorus is lacking something in its delivery to really hit a nerve. This later happens again in songs like "Under the Knife" and the ferocious-yet-still-slightly-missing "Worth Dying For," but moments like these are, in truth, more the exception than the rule. "Injection" and "Ready to Fall" bring things back into invigorating Rise Against territory early on, while "Bricks" stands out as a vicious blast of old-school hardcore energy and power. This record is basically one shout-along, mosh-worthy song after another, though the guys do throw in some interesting moments outside of continual rushes of pure adrenaline. The excellent "Prayer of the Refugee" jarringly alternates between plaintive guitars and weary singing to an empowered chorus and exploding rhythm section to affectingly address the plight of displaced families of war; the frustrated disconnect distressing a troubled relationship is represented surprisingly well in "The Approaching Curve," with its driving use of spoken word and complementary female backing vocals. Essentially, The Sufferer & the Witness showcases Rise Against maturing within the realms of major-label hardcore revivalism, while still remaining relevant and exciting. So even with the occasional letdown, there's a lot to be said for Rise Against pulling everything off with as much substance and strength as they do the whole way through.
Words: Corey Apar
Rise Against's somewhat sudden major label-ness has slightly diluted their direct assault on melodic hardcore, but the adjustment should only invite more sugar punkers to the Chicago combo's bittersweet party. Rise Against has moved up in the sonic nicety department -- loud rock vet GGGarth produces, and the Andy Wallace mix is a flawless cross section of thick, grit, and slick. But Siren Song of the Counter Culture is simply the band's latest statement, combining their significant yet not unwelcome Bad Religion influence with nods to the rousing choruses of peers like A.F.I. Beyond that grandiose title -- that line could've been lifted from a Crass treatise, for Pete's sake -- Rise Against seem to have diversified their lyrical base. There are still salvos of sharply defined social criticism -- "If we're the flagship of peace and prosperity/We're taking on water and about to f*cking sink," begins the blistering hardcore opener, "State of the Union." But Rise Against also rock on the personal reflection or relationship tip. "Paper Wings" builds a sad story about growing apart around a winning lead guitar lick straight from their Fat Wreck past, while the staggeringly paced "Blood to Blood" is in the bitter first person. "'I don't love you anymore/Is all I remember you telling me." Sometimes Siren Song gets carried away with its own melodic urgency. The multiple layers of guitars and somewhat obvious mixing tweaks in "Tip the Scales" and "Rumors of My Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated" lead Rise Against to lose the thread of hardcore volatility that's driven them since the beginning. Still, this is their major-label debut, and a band's gotta eat, so maybe the fuller sound and occasional forays into acoustic guitars and cello overdubs ("Dancing for Rain") are OK. Rise Against has always been pretty sincere in both its politics and commitment to hardcore revivalism, so if Siren Song nods to accessibility, it's only to recruit more kids for the raging.
Words: Johnny Loftus
B-side compilations can very easily be a hit or miss proposition for listeners, and more often than not, it's only the most die-hard fans who are interested in listening to the also-rans that weren't good enough to make it to the big leagues. In the liner notes to Long Forgotten Songs: B-Sides & Covers 2000-2013, Rise Against let the listener know that the songs that don't make their albums aren't cut for being bad, they're cut for not quite fitting in, and listening to the collection, it's a sentiment that seems to hold true. The songs here all feel fully realized and fleshed-out, so it's easy to imagine the band making some tough choices in the eleventh hour as they were putting their albums together and trying to decide which unlucky song was going to get voted off the island, so to speak. More enlightening than the B-sides are the covers. Tackling tracks from Nirvana, Black Flag, Journey, and Bruce Springsteen (just to name a handful), the compilation provides a keen insight into the influences that helped the band craft their driving and accessible sound. On the surface, it almost feels like the band are playing the covers a bit too close to the originals, but played alongside some of their originals, the imprint these bands had on Rise Against is undeniable. While Long Forgotten Songs: B-Sides & Covers 2000-2013 might appeal more to longtime fans than casual listeners, it's a solid compilation of songs that hold up on their own and it's not immediately apparent to the listener why they were relegated to soundtracks and compilations in the first place.
Words: Gregory Heaney
Following in the footsteps of the wildly successful Appeal to Reason, Rise Against deliver another blast of driving, politically charged, melodic hardcore with Endgame. While their sound isn’t as fiery as it used to be, the band has dialed up the intensity with their message, telling a tale of an America that’s been through one disaster after another, and the kind of world that we might be able to find on the other side of the darkness, providing listeners with a rallying cry to get up and do something about the world if they don’t like the way it is. Musically, Rise Against are as solid as ever, but this time around, it feels like a lot of the heavy lifting is being done by singer Tim McIlrath. At times, McIlrath seems to be channeling the thought-provoking lyricism of Greg Graffin (and even sounds like him here in there), providing listeners with a frank and honest picture of what’s going on in the world, concerning himself more with what he thinks people need to hear than what they want to hear on tracks like “Broken Mirrors.” Though it could be said that Rise Against have ditched their punk roots for a more radio-friendly approach, the sound of Endgame feels more like a logical progression than a good old-fashioned selling out. As the band has grown as both individuals and musicians, so has its sound. The great thing about punk is that it’s not how you say something, it’s what you’re saying, and Rise Against are still a band with plenty to say. All the d-beats and raw vocals in the world don’t mean a thing if you don’t have a message you believe in.
Words: Gregory Heaney
With clenched fists in the air, boots to the floor, and anger swelling in their chests, the members of Rise Against return with their second album, Revolutions Per Minute. It's a two-pronged attack. From the north blows the fury of their hearts, swept up as they are in their passion for a girl who is "Like the Angel," but love that strong almost inevitably eventually engenders the opposite emotions -- and so it is with Rise. And even as they beg on "Amber Changing" to pretend that tonight will never end, the relationship sours, and even their "Last Chance Blueprint fails to change the emotional landscape, leaving nothing but hatred it its wake, reaching a paroxysm of viciousness on "To the Core," a ferocious, fever-pitched number written and delivered with pure vitriol. If that's the bitter northern wind, bringing with it blizzards of wintry emotions warmed only by the heat of anger boiling in their hearts, the gale from the south comes as no relief. This, to continue the metaphor, is the wind of political change that descended with hurricane force on 9/11 and left all of us, Rise included, reeling in its wake. Across the rest of Revolutions, the bandmembers scan the wasteland around them and see people running for cover, desperate to find a shred of security again. But as "Blood-Red, White & Blue" makes clear, safety is an illusion, and our bomb-laden reply futile. "Would God bless a murder of the innocents?...a war based on pride?...a money-hungry government? No." Desperate for a real leader, we are left with the blind leading the blind, where "every problem is solved with a fight." "Is this the point where we give up?...give in?...turn ourselves in?" they demand to know on "Halfway There." Railing against a government bent on revenge and friends blinded to reality, the band cries out for a revolution with "Black Masks & Gasoline." Like all Revolutions, this is an album filled with anguish -- spiritual, emotional, and political -- a roar against the tide of history washing over us, echoed by the wrenching pain of love lost. The music is as impassioned as the lyrics, rubbing emotions raw and minds numb.
Words: Jo-Ann Greene