Here we go.
Rise Against is coming out with The Black Market on July 15th in the States. This will be their first album of original music since 2011’s Endgame. With last year’s rerelease of Revolutions Per Minute, I had hope that Rise Against was returning to their heavier sound not hear since—arguably—2006.
What we have under the title of The Black Market is an introspective 12-track album that is pretty good, but not excellent.
Let me put on my nerd hat and say this: If Revolutions Per Minute is Rise Against’s The Empire Strikes Back (meaning, the peak of their creativity), then The Black Market can be compared to Revenge Of The Sith… a leap in the right direction after several missteps, but not quite the quality of that which grasped me from the beginning.
The Black Market has been described as the album that is different from others and will most likely alienate older fans. Upon hearing this, I was stoked. And I’ve been a fan of Rise Against since 2003. I’m all for experimentation and maturity in sound. For example, I like blink-182, but I prefer their eponymous album over their faster, punkier albums.
…and with that blink-182 reference, I probably lost about 75% of my readers.
All this to say is Rise Against is trying new things. I’m grateful for this because The Black Market is album #7. If they had stuck to the exact same sound, I would be bored beyond belief.
But are they trying too many new things this time around?
Let’s get the mediocrity out of the way first. Rise Against has fallen into formulaic songwriting. Early releases had me guessing in terms of song structure, but now it’s easy to figure out how each song is going to be. Intro, verse, pre-chorus, slow chorus, verse, pre-chorus, slow chorus, picked clean guitar instrumental, bridge, fast chorus, outro (I’m looking at you, lead single). This isn’t to say Rise Against hasn’t stuck to formula before, but not with EVERY SINGLE SONG. Remember the song structure for “Broken English” (off RPM)? Riff, verse, chorus, a verse that sounded ENTIRELY DIFFERENT from V1, back to the riff, a bridge thing, chorus, instrumental, bridge, chorus. Yes, formulaic songwriting is key in memorization, but it’s still fun to hear something that breaks the mold.
Maybe you, the reader, have no interest in song structure. Maybe you just want to know how the album actually sounds. We have been exposed to lead single “I Don’t Want To Be Here Anymore” and pre-order track “The Eco-Terrorist In Me”. Take those songs and put one on each end of a spectrum. The rest of the album falls between the two extremes. “I Don’t Want To Be Here Anymore (IDWTBHA henceforth)” is easily the cheesiest and most boring song on all of The Black Market, where “Eco-Terrorist” is by far the fastest, screamiest, deliciously punk song on the album.
Basically, if you loved “IDWTBHA”, you won’t be disappointed with the rest of the album… and if you loved “Eco-Terrorist”, you won’t be getting much more in terms of punk rock highlights. Take that as you will.
I mentioned earlier that Rise Against had gone a little more experimental this time around, and this can be seen explicitly in a handful of the songs. Opening track “The Great Die-Off” has this interesting intro that sounds like it should belong on an album by The Roots. Honestly, The Black Market seems to have quite a few interesting/awkward intros throughout. Alternative rock-inspired “Sudden Life” suffers the most from this awkwardness, as the opening 15 seconds feel disjointed from the rest of the song, despite being lyrics lifted from later on in the same song!
Another area of experimentation is the schizophrenic nature of some of the songs. Title track “The Black Market”, hard rock “Zero Visibility”, and album closer “Bridges” alternate between tempos, not just half-time, double-time, etc. Other Rise Against songs have toyed with tempo changes in the past, but it feels most natural this time around. However, they haven’t quite mastered it to a science like technical metalcore act August Burns Red, for example.
Finally, Rise Against experiments with several types of musical genres. The aforementioned “Sudden Life” has a Foo Fighters guitar pattern to it. You know which one I’m talking about. “Zero Visibility” continues the hard rock trend the band has been playing around with since 2008’s Appeal To Reason, and despite fans comparing this track to 2011’s “Broken Mirrors”, I’m seeing more similarities with Sum 41’s “Blood In My Eyes” of their experimental trainwreck Screaming Bloody Murder. “Methadone” quite fittingly evokes a sort of dark euphoria, something you’d find on AFI’s Sing The Sorrow. Finally, we have early track “Tragedy + Time”, which is the album standout for me. This is pop punk Rise Against, which will definitely alienate old fans. But this is also honest, positive, and ridiculously heartwarming. Definitely a highlight and my favorite track off the album.
And now, the acoustic song. “People Live Here” is another honest song, and because it is not called “Hero Of War”, it is instantly better than that atrocity. If “Swing Life Away” and “Roadside” had a baby, this would be it. It has a folky feeling to it, and is much more layered than “Swing Life Away”, giving it an epic feeling. Another highlight, this time lyrically as it deals with our current state of society.
A big concern among the older fans is the fact that half of the songs on The Black Market exceed the 4-minute mark. These longer songs don’t always feel that lengthy, at least to me. A notable exception is “Sudden Life”, as it starts to get a little repetitive at the end. In terms of overall length, The Black Market does not overstay its welcome, and I would credit the more experimental nature and variety of the songs. Just over 45 minutes of music. Not too short, not too long.
Guitars still have that thin feel that came into existence with Appeal To Reason, which makes some of the riffing fall a little flat. The brutality in guitar tone is absolutely necessary with a band like Rise Against due to their message and the anger behind their lyrics. Additionally, I need to hear more of that 88 Fingers Louie bass stuff that made me want to pick up a bass guitar and play like Joe. Unfortunately, I doubt we’ll be hearing much of that anymore. At least that trebly bass tone is present, as it adds so much to the bite that is so needed in these songs.
The drumming… The running joke about Rise Against is you learn the drums to one song, and you can play them all. Once again, little variation between drum beats in this album, but you don’t listen to Rise Against for the drums, right? Sorry, Brandon. Nothing personal. It’s just that drummers looking for the second coming of drumming will be disappointed.
Tim’s voice is better than it has sounded in years (kind of an evolution of his voice heard in Endgame), but it’s not quite as raw as I’d like to hear. I understand the raspy screeching he had back in the day can’t last forever, but this sounds too clean. I read somewhere that the band wanted less vocal takes in the recording process, but I don’t really hear that in the finished product. Oh well. Just a matter of personal preference that many older fans would want to know about.
There are so many “whoa”s in this album. Enough to make The Offspring jealous (seriously, listen to the 2:40 mark on “A Beautiful Indifference”… the most explicit Offspring reference by RA since “Ready To Fall”). This is a very good thing. The backing and (occasional) gang vocals are PERFECT in this. Never overpowering, but perfectly blending in with the rest of the instruments.
So, is Rise Against trying too many new things this time around?
13 years after their debut album, Rise Against needs to try something new. However, they’ve been trying drastically different things since 2008, and it still feels unnatural. Maybe they’ll figure it out for the next album (please don’t take 3 years to put out something new this time!). As I said earlier, this album is a step in the right direction for Rise Against. I’m not looking for RPM Part 2 or The Sufferer And The Witness Part 2, but the band has hit their peak some time ago. The Black Market is not a comeback album, but we may see one in the near future.
Better than Endgame, not as good as Siren Song Of The Counter Culture, miles better than Appeal To Reason. 4/5
“Tragedy + Time”
“The Eco-Terrorist In Me”
“People Live Here”