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Review: New melodic mold awakens in Rise Against’s latest effort

July 20, 2014

todd-smith.1@osu.edu
album review rise against

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Fans of Chicago outfit Rise Against eager to listen to the band’s latest record will be welcomed by a mix of the band’s edgy, older sound, a newly minted blend of backup vocal harmonies and guitar harmonics.

“The Black Market,” the punk rock band’s seventh studio album and first since 2011, was released Tuesday and features 12 new tracks.

The instrumental work is what has always made Rise Against’s brand of hardcore tick fundamentally, but lead singer Tim McIlrath’s vocal delivery has been the calling card that has differentiated the band from other crowd-rousing modern takes on punk rock.

But “The Black Market” could be a sign that points to the group’s dynamic changing.

The four-piece band wastes no time in changing things up effectively, as the leadoff track, “The Great Die-Off,” starts with a brief and rhythmic classical strings arrangement that gives way to pummeling drum work by Brandon Barnes.

The song is a strong and balanced opener, relying on the precise signature changes that have become the band’s specialty to keep the listener guessing.

Zach Blair has two spectacular guitar solos on “Zero Visibility” that bookend a robust breakdown by the band’s rhythm section. He also plays an effective guitar hook to drive the intro of what is easily the album’s most pop-infused song: “Tragedy + Time.”

“A Beautiful Indifference” is one of the more accessible tracks on the new album. While it might not be quite the bold, sonic leap it could have been with a few more minor chords, it does have a bit of everything and could be the perfect gateway song to make new fans want to dig deeper into Rise Against’s discography.

“Methadone,” however, is unequivocally one of the best tracks on the album.

You can hear the whine of amplifier distortion before Blair jams his fretwork into your ears. You can feel the guttural vibrations of Joe Principe’s bass lines as he wails on his instrument. Barnes has a razor-sharp drum fill to take the song from a quiet interlude back into a full-on head bob-inducing tempo.

But it’s these flashes of brilliance combined with the band’s embracing of their noticeably more team-oriented approach to melody that makes “Methadone” take off.

McIlrath sounds like the frontman of a complete band of individually talented musicians on “Methadone.” Rise Against doesn’t sound like a figurehead topping a wall of fun noise anymore.

The record’s namesake track is musically dissonant in its verses, far more so than is typical of the group’s sound on earlier efforts in their career. But a driving, melodic chorus rewards listeners who might be initially put off by the mismatched vocals and chords.

More to the point, “The Black Market” is the sort of song that is odd upon first listen but then seems to grow on you despite its peculiarities. In fact, it wouldn’t be out of place on a 30 Seconds to Mars album.

But in an interesting twist that might only make itself apparent upon listening to the album a second time, it makes perfect sense why Rise Against named its LP after “The Black Market.”

“Methadone” might be the most important song for the band in terms of learning to balance duties as well as shine independently together. The title track, though, turns out to actually be the best representation to the fans of this new, nuanced Rise Against sound, in which the freshly cultivated vocal harmonies collide just right with the ankle-breaking tempo changes that devotees have come to know and love.

“The Black Market,” as an album, still employs the band’s same old gritty approach to fast-paced punk, but the Illinois natives are figuring out ways to polish their sound. They’re impressively managing to still sound like themselves, despite the evolution, and not like some suddenly derivative, aging rock band.


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  1. Scott says:

    Andrew, that was a great and well thought-out review. Also, very well-spoken. Good on ‘ya, kid.

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