Rise Against have achieved both commercial and critical success. The former is the result of a well-formed career but to be as widely appreciated by the music press, a band needs to have some substance to their style and with the word ‘punk’ so easily used as a stick to beat some in the genre, David Keevill explains why Rise Against are flying the flag the highest at the moment.
Over the last few weeks, pictures and videos of the devastating air attacks in Gaza have filled social media. Accompanying the outpouring of grief and sympathy for those unwitting civilians caught in the crossfire between Hamas and the Israeli military is (rightly) anger on behalf of those unable to defend themselves. As anybody with a first, second or third hand opinion wades in to shout ill-formed slurs at their chosen target, Twitter and Facebook – the 21st Century’s soapbox equivalents – have become a cacophony.
Social media, once again, proves itself to be a fickle medium. Twitter feeds show pictures of Palestinian playgrounds covered with blood, sandwiched between Vines of comedians and promoted tweets for the latest Candy Crush upgrade. People ingest the news of 30 fatalities in one breath, whilst whining about tube strikes in the next. For a society that digests and spits out empathy in the push of a button, it’s unsurprising that other parts of culture have developed an equally kneejerk reaction to their output.
Heavy music too has taken steps to be part of this social revolution, but is also prey to the inconsistencies of the digital world. While it’s now a given that metal’s dinosaurs are roaming the twitterverse (Phil “the trend is dead” Anselmo tweets images of Pantera for #throwbackthursday, and Zakk Wylde flogs his latest Black Label Society merch to his global SDMF Chapters), there’s a generation of bands who have only known life within the medium. Metal, a genre that has spent half a decade slathered in its own conviction and intent of purpose, now feeds at the same social trough as everyone, unsure of whether to fight to end global conflict or battle their online detractors.
— Philip H. Anselmo (@philiphanselmo) June 19, 2014
Even Bring Me the Horizon, one of modern metal’s brightest of hopes, in one moment flail with aggression and purpose, before conceding their ultimate apathy: “Middle fingers up, if you don’t give a fuck.” Severity of tone is no longer synonymous with a message of conviction. There are a handful of heavier bands that fight to maintain the purity of their message, seemingly outside of the churn of instantaneous gratification. With their latest album, The Black Market, Rise Against have once again proved to be this sort of act. Tim McIlrath’s vocals may have lost that growl and the guitars might have dropped in pace, but over the fifteen years of their existence, Rise Against have maintained a course of restless determination, aiming arrows at the world’s self-
Perhaps Rise Against’s biggest advantage is that they represent a genre that’s supposedly dead. If ‘90s bands like Blink 182 and films like American Pie sent punk into decline, then Johnny Rotten appearing in adverts for butter has completely killed the fucking thing. Punk, its nihilistic ethos and charging sound has been co-opted by hardcore and metal bands, and rendered into a much more complicated, bruising entity. Rise Against, instead, have retained the anarchic code of the genre, and have continued to use their message as the fulcrum of their raison d’etre. Their sound, over the course of their career, has undergone minute changes, purely because the world continues to throw up reasons to be upset. Writing about the unjust deployment of soldiers (‘Hero of War’) or the inability of the US government to send help after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina (‘Help Is On Its Way’) or how society persecutes the young for ‘unnatural’ homosexual feelings (‘Make It Stop (September’s Children)’ is the reason that Rise Against exists. They’ve seen no reason to harden their music or cement their brashness of delivery.
This is why we need this band more than ever. As heavy music becomes heavier in a bid to outstrip the glut of competition, focus becomes directed upon the tweaking of the sound and nailing the production. Bands are forced nose-to-nose with their fans on social media, prompting the need to deliver a product that fits their consumers’ needs as well as their own blueprint. It’s difficult to convey that you give a fuck about the world when you’re too busy getting your nose pushed out of joint on twitter.
McIlrath himself has been scathing of contemporary bands’ tendency to follow paths of “fashionable indifference”, as the protest song dwindles in the footnote of our cultural history. Rise Against too have fallen prey to the whiplash judgements of the American media and “McCarthyism witch-hunts” for taking a stand against military recruiters, for example. Despite music being the medium that conveys their ire, it’s their ardour for questioning and a need to stand up for what they believe that underlines their continuing importance as a band of this generation.
Rise Against have continued to fight through our inclination for global apathy, and still deliver music of genuine feeling. The Black Market retains the band’s inherent ear for sing-along choruses and high-end riffs, which all serve to clarify the severity of their intent. On the last track of the album, called ‘Bridges’, McIlrath spits that “We built the bridges that we now sleep under”, there’s no doubt that the band’s sense of injustice is as razor sharp as ever. Their career, seven albums deep shows no sign of letting up, or of their message blunting.
The internet shows us first-hand horror and yet the majority of us live vicariously. As with all meaningful culture, conviction is bred through a sense of time-cultivated opinion and by being informed. Mechanical reaction to things we witness, made as part of a herd-like mentality, ultimately stop us gaining a full understanding of someone’s plight. It’s as Rise Against’s track ‘A Beautiful Indifference’ screams: “Protests are drumming while you turn your nose and roll your eyes / Knee-jerk reactions so ingrained / Judging from an arm chair.”