LOUDER REVIEWS: 'Nowhere Generation' - Rise Against
Emerging out of Chicago at the turn of the century, Rise Against can legitimately stake a claim to being the most important punk act of the last 20 years. Kicking things off in 2001 with 'The Unravelling', the band found mainstream success just three years later with 'Siren Song of the Counter Culture', which was their first record on a major label.
Since then, they have made their name through high quality output, unapologetically political lyrics and blistering live shows. Now, two decades after first gracing us with their presence, Rise Against bring out their ninth studio album, 'Nowhere Generation'. This marks the longest wait so far for a new album from the melodic hardcore four-piece, coming four years after their previous outing 'Wolves'.
Considering this alongside the lack of live music for over a year now and the recent state of US politics in particular, more than ever it felt like we were sorely due a release from Rise Against. Thankfully for their fanbase then, they duly oblige with a record that, according to frontman Tim McIlrath, is intended to “jostle people awake”.
'The Numbers' starts things off with a militaristic call to arms, before the guitars and drums punctuate the old-fashioned sound and burst into the high tempo melody we have come to expect from Rise Against after all this time. For anyone who had never come across Rise Against before, this track would serve as a good introduction to what they are about with the duality of the hardcore sound that categorised more of their early work in the verses paired with a much more anthemic and melodic quality of the chorus. As one of the four pre-released singles of this album, it definitely is one that you could imagine being played on a big festival stage (hopefully) some time in the near future.
'Sudden Urge' then follows in a manner that is more of a slow build than its title would perhaps suggest, and indeed its lyrical content of letting out your anger. Although the shift from punk rock spirit to stadium rock music is not without its charms, it does feel a little like Rise Against might have revisited their older sound of the 'Revolutions Per Minute' style on this particular track.
A song that benefits much more from the melodic approach is the title track 'Nowhere Generation', which posits a phenomenal chorus, which again you have to think of as a future anthem for the band. As odd as it may be for forty-something musicians to be singing about being “the kids that no-one wants” (though it must be clarified that McIlrath describes this track as a “way of defending our fans”), the fact that Rise Against can make it work and keep things relevant after all this time demonstrates their incredible ability to always have their finger on the pulse of the progressive political zeitgeist.
Despite this, however, the band themselves may not feel this way at all times, if the lyrics of the next track 'Talking to Ourselves' is anything to go by. The song serves as an outlet for the band’s frustration about feeling as though they are constantly preaching to the converted and musically features possibly the catchiest chorus on the record, backed up with some real firepower from the band’s rhythm section, and bassist Joe Principe in particular, whose thudding lines contrast well with McIlrath’s softer style of vocals.
'Broken Dreams Inc.' follows this with a much more straightforward punk rock approach, including some wonderfully frantic yet powerful drumming from Brandon Barnes and guitar work that reminds me strongly of the punk stalwarts of years gone by such as Bad Religion. This was the record’s first single, originally coming out last year as part of DC’s 'Dark Nights: Death Metal' soundtrack, and will definitely be the principle highlight of many.
In pure contrast to this, the next track 'Forfeit' is entirely acoustic, and while Rise Against are no strangers to this format - having released an album of acoustic versions of some of their biggest songs on 'The Ghost Note Symphonies Vol. 1' in 2018, as well as songs such as 'Swing Life Away' and 'Hero of War' - this is much more of a ballad than any of the stripped-down tracks of this ilk they have done before. Nevertheless, it works beautifully, with McIlrath again deserving of enormous credit for stepping outside of his usual comfort zone in this respect.
Anyone who knows anything about album structures will tell you to follow your ballads with a nice fast heavy banger, which is exactly what Rise Against do with 'Monarch'. The rhythm section again drives the song forwards at breakneck pace with the dual guitars of McIlrath and Zach Blair, yet with still time for an epic melodic breakdown towards the end.
'Sounds Like' is a more methodical song, but still with the intrinsic punk rock rage backing it up and bearing the frustration of people waiting for change without taking the steps needed to force it. Meanwhile, 'Sooner or Later' again takes the form of more of a stadium rock track, though with a more depressive outlook than one would normally expect from this type of song. 'Middle of a Dream' sounds like it could have been pulled from a middle-era Rise Against album like 'Appeal to Reason', where both melodic and hardcore elements to the band’s sound were equally pronounced.
The album finishes off on 'Rules of Play', which again brings together hard rock style guitar riffs with another memorable chorus, making it a stylistically fitting end to a record which sees Rise Against continue their recent trend of never exactly eschewing their hardcore punk roots, but certainly delving more into the hard rock part of their sound. This is a sound that they continue to use effectively and will undoubtedly be performed to the joy of numerous fans in large arenas and on the main stages of festival line-ups.
Those who long for the hardcore sound of yesteryear may well find themselves disappointed, but to anyone who has enjoyed Rise Against’s output of over a decade now, 'Nowhere Generation' is a brilliant continuation of everything that makes this band one of the most impressively consistent rock acts around. 'Nowhere Generation' brings the punk rock spirit into the 2020s, with the reflective and introspective edge that dominates so much alternative political discourse, and it has the furious verses and catchy choruses to match. Moreover, it cements Rise Against’s deserved reputation at the height of their genre and a band that still retains its importance after all this time.
'Nowhere Generation' is out now - stream the record on Spotify here: