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It would be a little unkind to call Rise Against purely consistent, like many people seem to label them before anything else. Granted, I’ve heard them called worse things by other people; especially after their shift from the raw, hardcore tones of their debut into a more accessible sound from the release of Appeal To Reason in 2008. To have so little to do that you can spend time bagging on a group for not sounding the same, eh? Moaners aside let's focus on what we have in front of us; Nowhere Generation is the ninth studio album from the band, and it begs two questions immediately. Is it just more Rise Against? Technically, yes. Is it worth listening to if that’s the case? A much more emphatic yes.
A good amount of the reason for the consistency I mentioned before is the influence and the state of the world around them. Their themes have remained consistent because the world has been consistently in need of change for the now twenty years they’ve been putting out music. But where those themes have, unfortunately, stood the test of time (I guess in a perfect world, what would the punks sing about?) we are introduced to new ideas here too. The passing of the torch from the older to the younger generation, personal evolution, and how self-reflection is a key ally are all featured heavily here. It’s important to remember that they’re not the young men of The Unravelling anymore, so to hear them sing about “us” and “we” or being in this together might sound a little disingenuous from a quartet of forty-somethings at first. But the overarching main theme behind the album – not being heard, not being understood, being unsure which path to take – is timeless and as relevant as ever. Change is something that we all need to work towards together, after all. So, what’s changed here?
The four singles that were released might be the most reflective of the overall musical tone of the album all put together. Broken Dreams Inc is the oldest of the four, a punchy anti-consumerism number that sums up Rise Against thematically to a T, whereas title track Nowhere Generation flips that script, embodying the new themes I mentioned before in typical Rise Against style. The Numbers kicks things off as it means to go on, a smash and grab to introduce the new themes in the vein of other great album openers like Re-Education (Through Labor). Lead singer Tim McIlrath was starting to sound a little burned out vocally on the last album Wolves and there’s a little touch of it here, but it’s only the one noticeable time it happens. On all the other tracks, he sounds better than he has for a long while. Check out Sudden Urge, a surprisingly metal-leaning heavy-hitter that McIlrath shines on for proof of that (even if the “4th of July” lyric feels a little overused).
Speaking of other tracks, beyond the singles the album keeps coming with hit after hit. Monarch kicks in the door and stomps around the room for the full three and a half minutes at a breakneck pace. Sooner or Later might be the catchiest song they’ve ever put out; it cruises through a pop-influenced chorus and almost dares us to not sing along. Immediately after that, Middle of a Dream takes its slot as my favourite track by a clear margin. It’s strong in pretty much every discipline, and it has that hooky quality that all the best Rise Against songs have in abundance.
Right, time for a nit-pick, because I’ve been very nice up to now; Forfeit is a perfectly serviceable song, but putting it slap-bang middle of the album puts a big Stop sign right in the way of the pace and aggression of the songs before and after it. It’s an acoustic track in the style of Swing Life Away or Hero of War and it would have helped the flow a little being placed closer to the end of the record, for my two cents.
To get back to more positive notes, the breakdown near the end of Sounds Like is going to take some beating and it’s a perfect point to bring up the technical side of the album. The band has had the same line-up for over thirteen years now and it shows. Everything here blends perfectly, with the crisp guitar work of Zac Blair providing a razzing stitch to hold it all together. All the sonic hallmarks are here; the melodic sheen polished to the point of gleaming with a little edge left very deliberately so they can’t be accused of selling out too hard (I kid). The galloping drums race alongside Joe Principe’s hammering basslines (Brandon Barnes kicks the absolute shit out of his kit on almost every track, it’s phenomenal work), while McIlrath’s immediately identifiable vocals pour out over all of it. Their sound is pretty much down to fine art at this point and while some would find room to complain about that, I think it leaves more room for the message. And the message here is clear as day in the opening track The Numbers – “they have the power, we have the numbers now”.
So all in all, this is Rise Against, again; back with an album full of the fire that their last effort sorely missed. While they’ve stuck to their guns in an audio sense, the shift to being a voice for a new generation and for the ones who come next shows an evolution that is both welcome and encouraging. “More Rise Against” is not a problem if this is what we’re getting.
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