With a band like Rise Against, the message is the core of the band. Musically, they’re not too impressive—they’re a band coasting on a generic sound accompanied by a dash of that patented punk-rock passion. What’s interesting about them, however, is their delightful ability to sync their music with their enthusiasm (whether it’s angry or defiant or sorrowful). This was especially effective on their earlier albums, which are largely fast, fed up, and charged with aggression and empathy.

That’s what makes their latest effort so unsettling: comparatively, there’s very little enthusiasm. Audiences will find far fewer of guitar breakdowns generously provided by guitarist Zach Blair, who could always be counted on to get the blood pumping with fun, rocking riffs. In keeping with most things in life, they’re a component that doesn’t strike a seasoned listener as totally crucial until they’ve become flat and generic like in Endgame. Similarly, lead singer Tim McIlrath has gone from having no possible outlet for his frustration other than screaming it at the top of his lungs to barely having enough frustration to scream… and something tells me it’s not because the world’s gotten any better.

That might not be the most relevant factor by itself, but this album isn’t an exception to their coupling of musical delivery and passion. Altering musical styles is one thing, but a shift in lyrical direction is another. Rise Against has spent much of their considerable tenure as a band preaching the concept of the collective “we,” always implicitly asking, “What can we all do about this?” Not so in Endgame: the whole album has an undercurrent of stagnant bitterness. It’s no longer, “what can we do about this?” but more, “what do you 2plan on doing about this?” It’s not about changing current conditions through justified revolution. This is not only troubling, but also a little baffling. Times are tough. Just about everyone is fed up with the lukewarm economy (to name one issue among the veritable catalog of current unrest). This band has always had an empowering edge to them, an attitude of invincibility. Where is that attitude now, when a vast majority of listeners could really use some encouragement? When everyone is in the same boat, Rise Against, and other politically minded bands, should be the ones to rock it.

That said, this is a band that’s impossible to speak of without discussing their politics. Consistently, across all albums (including this one), their music has espoused equality and empathy and worked hard to humanize the disenfranchised (a laudable quality among more popular music these days). They’re active advocates for PETA, garnering the 2009 title of “Most Animal-Friendly Band.” They were part of Punk Voter, the musician-led effort to unseat George Bush in 2004. In 2007, they publicly backed the launch of a line of vegan shoes manufactured by Vans. Some jaded fans might refer to Endgame as being too polished and chalk up the album’s considerable commercial success to the band “selling out,” but this is all superficial talk from people who clearly don’t get any joy from being able to say, “I liked them before they were popular!” (Okay, maybe that’s not really a viable alternative). On the contrary, Rise Against must be credited with staying true to their ethos and striving to make their views clear and at the forefront of their work. That’s what makes Endgame, in spite of its more negative, brooding vibes, a pivotal addition to the band’s discography not to be written off: its success maximizes the potential impact it’ll have among listeners who never considered themselves to be socially conscious. Perhaps it’s naïve of me to think that if someone hears political music, they’ll give the message some thought before skipping to the next track. However, if even a handful of people listen to this album and then educates themselves on some of the issues therein (Hurricane Katrina, generational apathy, and gay rights, among others), then, for a band like Rise Against, mission accomplished.

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