Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 21/4
The Black Market
Written by: PP on 22/07/2014 23:40:04
Rise Against had a lot to prove with their seventh studio album "The Black Market". This was going to be their make or break moment with the punk rock scene after years of musical regression towards a far too polished and poppy take on their originally hardcore-rooted interpretation of political punk rock. "Appeal To Reason" was a solid album but not exactly comparable to their landmark release "The Sufferer & The Witness", and "Endgame" three years ago came dangerously close to pushing the band into irrelevancy with songs that felt uninspired and formulaic, a far cry from what this band used to stand for in the past. Sure, the increased focus on pop melodies brought them hundreds of thousands of new fans, but it came at the cost of urgency and immediacy that had previously always been at the heart of their signature sound. Fortunately for us, the band seems to have realized the slippery slope they were on, and have taken serious measures on "The Black Market" to remedy the situation. If I didn't know better, I'd say this is the long-lost bridge album between "The Sufferer & The Witness" and "Appeal To Reason", an album that should restore the critics' faith in the band's ability to write punk rock anthems much like they did during their best albums.
Ironically, this is achieved through an exact copy of the same formula that has produced their last three albums. A couple of aggressive, fast-paced tracks ("The Eco-Terrorist In Me" is basically like the "Bricks" / "Drones" of this album) , a few pop songs that betray their punk rock background ("Zero Visibility"...ugh, is that, like, a Volbeat song?), a Tim McIlrath acoustic solo track ("People Live Here"), and plenty of anthemic punk songs that follow precisely the same approach as typical Rise Against tracks have done since 2006.
But at the same time, the band have cranked the volume up a notch and sharpened their sound a bit to reduce the amount of polish and to return some of their earlier edge to their sound in the process. The songwriting has also improved, as is evident on the front-loaded first five tracks on the record which are all ridiculously catchy. "The Eco-Terrorist In Me" might be the best song they've written since "Ready To Fall", and certainly the heaviest and fastest in recent memory. It is the kind of empowering politically charged anthem that permanently changes a listener's musical preferences and invokes curiosity on what else might be out there, which is great considering how many mainstream fans they have these days (hint: Strike Anywhere, Modern Life Is War...be sure to look 'em up). But even the cleaner and more polished melodies like those on "Tragedy + Time" work because of how well they have been composed. The chorus here is to kill for, and the tempo is thankfully kept appropriate for punk rock to make sure the song has dynamic energy and a driving sense to it overall.
Lead single "I Don't Wanna Be Hear Anymore" is rather predictable (it's basically the same Rise Against single as on previous three albums), but it's one of those crowd pleasers we'll all be singing along to anyway live, so what's there to criticize? The title track upholds the anthemic nature of the tracks, and later on "Awake Too Long" ensures the second half also has a highlight track to look out for. Generally though, the second half is much weaker in comparison, partly because the acoustic track isn't as strong as "Hero Of War", "Swing Life Away" or "Roadside", and partially because "Zero Visibility" takes the crown as the worst song the band has written to date (that rock'n'roll style verse guitar just doesn't do them any favours). That's not to say there aren't good tracks here like " Bridges" and "A Beautiful Indifference", they're just not as immediately powerful as opener "The Great Die-Off" or some of the other tracks mentioned here earlier.
So how does "The Black Market" rank among Rise Against albums? It's roughly on the same level as "Appeal To Reason", so not quite approaching the brilliance of "The Sufferer & The Witness" or "Siren Song Of The Counter Culture", but an enjoyable record nonetheless. It's more pointed and tones down the polish levels somewhat, which should please older fans, but does it carefully enough to avoid alienating the newer fans from the "Endgame" era ("Methadone" takes care of them). It doesn't go quite as far as we'd like, but it's absolutely a step back in the right direction and does much to relieve any worries of the band continuing to repeat themselves without the ability to write great songs anymore.
Download: The Eco-Terrorist In Me, I Don't Want To Be Here Anymore, Tragedy + Time, The Black Market
For the fans of: Bad Religion, Authority Zero, Modern Life Is War, Nations Afire, Strike Anywhere, The Shell Corporation
Release date 15.07.2014
DGC / Interscope