By Gemma Barkhuizen
“Do you still believe in all the things that you stood by before?” …
These lyrics from the chorus of “architects” (the opening track on Endgame) reflect my sentiments as a die-hard Rise Against fan when listening to this album. Endgame (2011), like its predecessor Appeal to Reason (2008), suggests upon first encounter that Rise Against has turned its back on the iconic hardcore punk sound that this band was always so loyal to.
Endgame, despite its platinum status, does not consistently incite the same powerfully emotive effects that characterised Rise Against’s more enduringly beloved albums (such as The Sufferer & the Witness released in 2006). On this latest album, Rise Against’s praised distinctive and consistent sound degenerates into monotony. Guitar riffs even seem to be recycled: “Help is on the way” is insipidly reminiscent of “Re-education (through labour)” from Appeal to Reason.
Endgame also has a cleaner and more accessible sound than this band’s original fusion of harsh vocals and aggressive (yet melodic) guitar progressions. While this may just be testament to Rise Against’s evolution and maturation, there is something inevitably disappointing about mature-sounding punk.
Nonetheless, Endgame’s more commercial sound does not overshadow the fact that this album retains important Rise Against hallmarks, and it is thus redeemed. Rise Against’s members are famous for their socio-political, environmental and animal-rights activism; and these remain overarching themes in Endgame in authentic punk fashion. The album’s title is even the same as that of Derrick Jensen’s influential book about environmental and social destruction as a consequence of our flawed political and economic systems.
A noteworthy politicised track on this album is the tangibly angry “Disparity by design“, which Tim McIIrath (vocalist, guitarist, and lyricist) wrote to reflect the Occupy protest movement. Similarly, “Help is on the way” was inspired by the lingering ramifications of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans; and “Make it stop (September’s children)“ was written in the context of a wave of American teenage suicides spurred on by homophobia (the lyrics: “how much blood has flowed from the wrists/ of the children shamed for those they chose to kiss?” epitomise this).
While “Make it stop (September’s children)” opens with a guitar reverb that is identical to Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams“, the powerful defiance that this track embodies combined with its chilling choral backing vocals and McIIrath’s incomparable voice make it a must-listen. In addition, “Wait for me” refreshingly breaks the monotony that this album tends to fall victim to: it is a successful fusion of the aforementioned commercial accessibility and Rise Against’s authentic punk style.
“Midnight hands“ echoes this beauty of the old Rise Against still fighting fit; perhaps thanks, in part, to the return of their producer Bill Stevenson (from Descendents, a band that influenced Rise Against).
All things considered, Endgame thus remains a thought-provoking and meritorious album. Nonetheless, this album will certainly not be the main reason why South African Rise Against fanatics will be watching this band perform at RAMfest in March 2013.