Much of what you need to know about Rise Against can be ascertained from their name. It sounds rebellious, bordering on anarchist, from which you can infer that they are not only a punk band, but one of those punk bands that dissents from the norm through their lyrics. The title of their fourth album, 2006′s The Sufferer and the Witness, implies that the band is concerned about apathy in the world—particularly in the areas of politics and animal rights, it turns out—and the title of 2008′s Appeal to Reason is particularly crucial in understanding the band’s optimism that, given the chance, people can discern morally correct actions (and undertake them).
A band like this will likely leave the Chicago punk rock scene to record their albums in a relatively small, relaxed, liberal city like Fort Collins, Colorado. They will likely name their songs things like “Kotov Syndrome” (wherein a person will struggle to make an unclear decision, and after running low on time, will likely make a bad one), “Re-Education (Through Labor),” or “Survivor Guilt.” And they may even decide, as they do on 2011′s Endgame, to name a song “A Gentlemen’s Coup,” despite the fact that punk music is not known for its gentlemen. Their lyrics will often be written in the third person.
This is a different breed of band than most. Tim McIlrath’s indignant-yet-inspiring growls are immediately recognizable, as are the band’s polished-yet-raw guitar tones—which have remained remarkably consistent over the last decade, despite the fact that the band has a revolving door for their guitarists (now up to five).
Rise Against also seems unafraid to use pop/rock sensibilities on their songs, from the folky-singer/songwriter of “Swing Life Away” to the soaring pop melodies on 2006′s “The Good Left Undone” to the choir on “Make It Stop (September’s Children),” the most immediate of the new tracks.
Endgame takes all of these elements and mixes them together to form a reaction. Sometimes the chemical mixture is like nitroglycerine (“Architects,” which mourns the loss of youthful defiance with age), but occasionally it is as fleeting as the spume caused by mixing Diet Coke and Mentos (the boring “Wait For Me”). Most of Endgame, however, falls in the middle of these two extremes.
Rise Against are nearly always better when they have something of paramount significance to discuss through their lyrics, and Endgame is no exception. Songs like the raging “Disparity of Design” and “Satellite” would be rather lost without their cries in support of welfare and helping the poor. It’s a subject Rise Against previously tackled on 2006′s “Prayer of the Refugee,” but they confront it even more aggressively this time around.
And aggressive is wonderful for a band that can put the punch behind their names. But by the time Rise Against reach the title song and finale of Endgame, their apocalyptic lyrics like “all the shoulders on which I wish to cry are gone” are tempered by the fact that 12 songs have come and gone without a significant change in tempo, noise levels, or length (approximately 4 minutes on every song, which makes some drag on much longer than punk rock should). The choruses all explode in the same manner, and many of the tracks, like “This Is Letting Go,” are simply too careful to move from the middle of the road. Endgame would pack much more of a punch if there was some variation, some form of album-oriented crescendo.
Instead, the fist is a little more predictable than usual, and the result is proportionally less remarkable.