If you thought one of rock’s most idealistic and politically earnest bands might just take a pop at their country’s new peroxide blonde idiot-in-chief on their new record then you’d be 100% correct. In fact, the election of Donald Trump could not have come at a better time for these four Chicagoan stadium punks who were in real danger of losing their capacity to rage.
The Obama years were not kind to Rise Against. It's been a long, long time since they dropped 2003's radical (for the time) 'Revolutions Per Minute', 2004's landmark 'Siren Song Of The Counter-Culture' or even 2006's fiery — if uneven — 'The Sufferer And The Witness'. Since then the band have been doing what all successful punk bands have eventually done: had kids, bought houses, grown up and nearly burst a blood vessel trying (and failing) to stay as angry as they once were. This unasked-for maturity has resulted in a series of lyrically impassioned but increasingly uninspired records desperately trying to recapture the revolutionary vigour of their youth, much like your dad continuing to create ever-more questionable anti-May memes in a bid to convince you he used to be an anarchist.
Though the lame, ageing Rise Against who are all too happy to settle for a rousing “woah-ohhh” rather than dabbling in dynamics are still present on new record 'Wolves', for the most part they are successful in reigniting their waning flame. The high-speed pelt of 'Welcome To The Breakdown' and the furious 'Bullshit' are just as suited to the moshpit as the picket line, while even the two love songs 'House On Fire' and 'Politics Of Love' seem to re-imagine Les Miserables' Marius and Cosette as modern-day starcrossed lovers ripping off their Sanders 2016 t-shirts to a backdrop of burning police vans. "You can't fight us all,” cries Tim McIlrath on the title track (a phrase we can imagine has provided many a would-be revolutionary with their final words), throwing down the gauntlet to the selfish, warmongering vision of America personified by its new premier.
The language of social revolution has regained currency in post-2016 America, the ugly divisions and social tensions laid bare by last year's election creating an atmosphere where self-flagellating yet positive anthems like 'Mourning In Amerika' and 'How Many Walls?' really chime. The straight-edged, vegetarian (from before it was cool) members of Rise Against have always been outspoken defenders of a wide variety of social justice causes from animal rights to welfare protection to world peace. This unfaltering commitment to a better future shores up the often blunt earnestness of 'Wolves', which in turn excuses the odd clunker from McIlrath (lines like: "I'll just hold you like a hand grenade / You touch me like a razor blade" do not make us miss the old Bush-era bands in the slightest).
It could also be argued that odes to pacifism like 'The Violence' (which actually boasts rather good lyrics, provided that lines like: "Is the violence in our nature, Just the image of our maker?" appeal to your reason) sit at odds with the more aggressive lyrics of the likes of 'Wolves'. But when your raising your fist at a protest, what do you really care if the guy to your left is a masked anarchist and the woman to your right is a vegan hippie? This is a record that is simply about making a stand (as the band's name suggests) against injustice and tyranny, the 'for' can come later. At times 'Wolves'' polished, pop-tinged punk sounds more like a proffered Pepsi can than a clenched Molotov cocktail, but it is still punk to its bones in a time when the label tends to be skin-deep.
Words: Josh Gray
- - -
- - -