Imagine if you will, a happy little Chicago family; punk father, hardcore mother, and big brothers like Pennywise, Braid, and Bad Religion. This is where the little half-breed band Rise Against was born. This halfling is an example of musical evolution at its best, the infusion of some of the best aspects of two contrasting genres. From their dad they received a need to rebel, a social awareness, and a hardcore cutthroat basis for their sound. From their mother, they learned ways to cut out the melodic monotony so common in hardcore bands, and poetic, significant lyricism. Growing up in the late 90’s wasn’t easy for a little band in a big marketplace; luckily for Rise Against, they saw through the current fad of musical negativism and sought to bring a more positive feeling to their music, letting the world know that rebellion and depth don’t have to go hand in hand with despair, and defeating emo’s fault of simple, self-centered blind sadness. Don’t be fooled, however, although emo-ism is kept at a safe level throughout many of the songs, Rise Against have given us a fair number of relationship-centered/fairly tragic songs.
Now, seven years after its creation, Rise Against have released their fourth album, The Sufferer & The Witness. In the time they’ve been together, the band have matured nicely in terms of genuine musical ability and creativity. This, along with the novelty they present in sound and ideas, has earned the band a place at Geffen Records, on the Billboard charts, in the movie Lords of Dogtown, and in the CD collections of a generously growing fan base. Their most recently written album, Siren Song of the Counter Culture (Geffen, 2004), was responsible for three Billboard standing songs. It is a compilation of songs of society and relationships, ranging from nearly pure punk to almost emo, and everything in between. The Sufferer & The Witness follows the same line.
The album’s first single, “Ready to Fall,” is almost depressingly decent. As the band’s first single written and produced under Geffen, it follows the pattern of many of today’s songs singled out as representations of the entire album, and is little more than a tainted and conformed version of what the music was meant to be about. In the case of “Ready to Fall,” it’s one of the most emo, self centered, lyrically immature songs of the album. Even the guitar work is so dull and commonplace that this song could have no place except perhaps on MTV and radio stations that a call themselves “the WAVE.” As a background song on the CD, it is tolerable, almost enjoyable; as the pushed feature, however, it’s just not up to par.
This is a shame, because there are several truly good songs on this album. The crown comes close to the end with “The Good Left Undone,” a piece which successfully uses the band’s talents for both hardcore and melodic form of punk, and shows off the surprising versatility of vocalist Tim McIlrath’s scratchy voice with a mixture of non-grating but forceful screams and softer verses. Just before this song is “Roadside,” a slow, almost experimental piece with beautiful string and female vocal accompaniment. Almost too slow for any kind of general public recognition, it hits the listener like finding a twenty in a comfortable new pair of pants. Songs like “Bricks” and “Chamber the Cartridge” are enough to give us old Pennywise fans nostalgia, and others such as “Injection” and “Prayer of the Refugee” hit hard but leave an impression more simply than having been shaken. Few albums are perfect, however. Rise Against, in The Sufferer & The Witness at least, manage for the most part to maintain a strength in each song which contrast the weaker parts; for example, strong verses to divert attention from a mediocre chorus, excellent guitar work where vocals lack, superior vocals delivering trite lyrics. Because of this, the listener can walk away with a good feeling from any song.
On a whole, The Sufferer & The Witness is strong, hard hitting, and original. With a surprising mix of beauty, rebellion, and a hardcore attitude, it’s bound to make fans proud.