Tim McIlrath wants your attention. He makes this clear on the first track of Endgame when he sings “And don’t you remember when we were young / And we wanted to set the world on fire? / Because I still am and I still do”. Upon listening to “Architects”, Endgame’s blistering opener, you might get the impression that Rise Against is headed back in the direction that turned them into frontrunners of the punk scene earlier this past decade. After the commercial success and increased accessibility that the band received with their 2008 release Appeal to Reason, which caused some of their older fans to squirm in their seats, it wouldn’t be out of the question to think that the band might channel some of their past hardcore punk sounds into their latest work. This, however, is not the case.
But before you chalk this up as another “this band sucks for leaving behind their roots and selling out” review, let it be made clear: I quite like Endgame. I’m a firm believer in the doing what works and not forcing the past to stay alive. Too many bands have ridden that horse into an early grave. Endgame is a tad heavier than Appeal to Reason, a touch faster, a bit more aggressive, all while maintaining the same accessibility and catchiness that has brought the band mainstream success. And that’s okay, because it feels like their current sound is right in the wheelhouse of the 2011 version of Rise Against.
The album’s tracks are driven heavily by Brandon Barnes’ drumming, which pushes the album full force through 12 songs at breakneck speed. When the band does stop to catch its breath on songs like the infectious “Wait for Me”, McIlrath’s vocals really shine, as does the guitar work of Zach Blair. Although some older fans might categorize this new album as “over-produced”, perhaps “polished” is a better description. The production is top notch, and while it may take away some of the ruggedness that marked past Rise Against albums, it feels like the band is exactly where they want to be — toeing the line between punk and mainstream alt rock.
Lyrically, Endgame features more of the expected social commentary from McIlrath. Although some of it feels tired at times (see: “Survivor’s Guilt”), there’s new ground covered in the form of “Make it Stop (September’s Children)”, a track that speaks out against homophobia in light of the September 2010 suicides of several teens. Rise Against has always been a band unafraid to take a stand on touchy social issues, but has always seemed to fall short of the lasting impact of a band such as Green Day. This isn’t to say that McIlrath is a poor lyricist, there’s just a lack of expansion upon previous attempts of the same subject matter.
The most important thing to know about Endgame is that it will provide continued success for Rise Against. There’s no denying that this is a Rise Against album at heart; they’re not reinventing the wheel here, only tinkering with the formula that’s gotten them to where they are in the first place. Assuredly, old fans will complain about the accessibility of the new album, new fans will be won over by the infectious hooks and shiny guitar riffs, and the world will keep spinning. Regardless, Rise Against is making the music they want to make and it sounds pretty damn good. For that, they should be commended.