Thursday, June 15, 2017

Album Review: Rise Against - Wolves

Given the state of world politics, it seems we are going to see a wave of punk and hardcore music rise up, and at least attempt to wash away some of the filth we have been wading through. But since an album usually takes months to write, record, and release, we aren't yet at the point where that anger is going to manifest itself in a string of albums that try to claim the throne of this decade's "American Idiot". Rise Against is angry about the state of things, I'm sure, but they've been angry for a long time. "Wolves" may have some commentary about our current leadership, but there is plenty of vitriol for other issues as well from this long-running band.

As I don't listen to or review very much in this style, "Wolves" is my first exposure to Rise Against. The first thing that strikes me about their music isn't the energy, or the anger, but rather a similarity that is unexpected. Tim McIlrath's vocals roar through the album, but they do so with a tone that immediately brings (at least to mine) to mind Johnny Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls. That's a rather unique tone, and a good one, so hearing that was notable.

Rise Against's music is the right balance of righteous fury and restrained melody. They understand that a subversive message is more likely to work when it comes in an appealing package. When you give an anti-establishment message a catchy hook, it sinks in, even if people don't realize what they're actually hearing. It's hard to listen to "How Many Walls" (the best song here) and not get caught up in the music, even if you don't get the message on first listen. It's sneaky, but it works.

The best of Rise Against's music accomplishes that, pulsing with energy until the hook comes, at which point the music smooths out just enough for the melody to catch you. The aforementioned song does that, as does "Welcome To The Breakdown". Those are perfect examples of how to fuse punk and hardcore with strong hooks, a skill that not many bands are able to demonstrate.

That being said, not everything on the album is quite as sharp. There are other tracks that wander a bit too far into the punk waters for my tastes. They aren't bad by any means, but they feel too direct and blunt, when compared to the more nuanced approach some of the other tracks take. This is most evident through the beginning of the album, where the songs are stacked to make it clear this is supposed to be an angry album. That's fine, but those songs are less interesting, so it makes for a slow start. Once you get beyond those first few, the rest of the album hits the sweet spot and finishes strong.

So what I will say about "Wolves" is that while there are a few missteps here and there, it's a gripping excoriation of the world around us. They sum it up when they say, "this is bullshit". The world might be, but Rise Against isn't. "Wolves" won't define the generation, but it's a very good album.

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