REVIEW: Wolves by Rise Against

It seems like many bands seem to have a law of diminishing returns on subsequent albums. Oh... perhaps I shouldn't have lead with my direct opinion of what Rise Against has been doing as of late. Oh well, too late to edit now.

Rise Against first appeared on my radar with their third record, Sirens Sound of the Counter Culture, and then created a bonafide masterwork with The Sufferer & the Witness two years later. Since then, every album has been circling the closer to the drain of mediocrity and I am none too happy about it.

Still, even though I thought I reasonably knew what to expect from the new album Wolves, I decided to give it a chance. While this didn't prove to be the worst musical decision I made even this month (I actually listened to half of the new Danzig record after all, which to summarize has gone from comically bad to depressingly bad), it also isn't great.

The whole album has a "safe" quality to it, feeling as though the band has now decided, "Hey, we like writing this one song, so let's just write that over and over again." You would be forgiven if you did a spot listening to tracks if you thought whatever was playing your music was broken as the record feels like the same chords and drum beats repeated on loop. This is even reflected in the length of the songs, most not wanting to wander out of the 3 to 4-minute range.

"But I suppose I should take into account that this is a punk band," I thought. "Maybe I'm being too hard on them." And then I made the mistake of listening to previous records again with tempo changes and differing tones and thought, "Nope, judge away." This look back made me realize that now, they have fully gotten rid of any deviation in song structure. No more "Swing Life Away" or "Hero of War" here. There's barely any break of same pace, even with the slight speed up in the bridge of "Welcome to the Breakdown" or the slight slowdown in "Far From Perfect."

This is, of course, made even worse by the fact that Tim McIlrath is able to write lyrics that are straightforward without being reductive, all with messages of resistance and hope. I suppose this feels oddly and sadly appropriate for the times as being clever and yet doing the least amount of work is considered "transgressive." This album feels like the musical equivalent of someone saying, "Oh, the world is doing something super wrong that I don't agree with. I'm putting up a Facebook post," and then feeling content that they've changed the world.

I guess the conclusion is that Wolves is a good "baby's first punk" record, and maybe it will lead people that like it to revisit better Rise Against records and maybe more interesting punk. But if you've listened to Rise Against before now, just break out one of those old records and just listen to them.