Although their revolutions-per-minute ratio has stunted in numbers in recent years, Chicago’s Rise Against are inextricably linked to a wave of punk circa Bush 43 that held such resonance for a time, one truly believed they – and bands of their ilk – had the power to change the world. Of course, we’re a decade removed from this era now; with some of the band’s biggest missteps having arrived through later output such as 2011’s mostly-dross Endgame. Still, if Rise Against can’t make punk rock great again – as so many armchair philosophers have eye-rollingly predicted the rise of the 45th President would bring – they can at least draw their focus to making Rise Against great again.
To a degree, this is something that the band come as close to on Wolves, their eighth LP overall, than more or less any output since 2006’s The Sufferer and the Witness. Take, for instance, the top and tail of the record – the title track and “Miracle,” respectively. The former sees frontman Tim McIlrath take his unmistakable throat tear out for a spin, screeching over urgent guitar and bass thunder and crashing headfirst into a thrilling chorus that will serve as a timely reminder of what made the band great to begin with. The latter, meanwhile, takes note of the infestation of hooks that have come to shape the band’s music and subsequently goes on to cram as many of them as humanly possible into its 3.5-minute runtime while paying homage to old-school pop-punk in the spirit of Lifetime. It’s not quite “Give It All” or “Ready to Fall” calibre, but it’s at the very least on par with cuts like “Saviour” and “I Don’t Want to Be Here Anymore.”
As for the in-between that awaits listeners, its’s a fairly mixed array of end results. Songs such as “Bullshit” and “Parts Per Million” land, their raison d’être fuelling just enough of the fire to get them over the line. Others – “Far From Perfect,” “House on Fire” – fall significantly short of the mark, let down by Billie Joe-level lyricism from McIlrath and vague, grey-area indifference rock – the kind that oozed into the worst parts of 2008’s Appeal to Reason and most of the aforementioned Endgame. Still, unlike that record, one genuinely gets a sense across the board that McIlrath and co. are – at the very least – putting some conscious effort in. It might not always succeed, but Wolves deserves credit for cutting the crap down to a minimum and recalibrating the dynamics of the band. We may never see another run like the band had from RPM through to Sufferer – but, in all honesty, that’s okay. It may well be better for everyone to simply forge ahead. To persist. To keep on keeping on. To rise against.
– David James Young