The cornerstone of good punk rock and hardcore, much like Festivus at the Costanza household, centers on the airing of grievances. And more often than not, the weightier the target of criticism, the richer the rewards. Rise Against are one band holding firm in the belief that it’s important for punk to stand for something real, and they’ve carried the torch for thoughtful, socially conscious punk rock for more than a decade.
Still, there’s something about taking on world issues that feels dodgy. We all share frustration with Big Government, corporate greed, and other social ills, but railing against such obvious targets is akin to throwing a small rock into a big pond. There are exceptions, but more often than not, the ripple effect is pretty weak. So, what’s a band to do after six records of proud campaigning in the name of progressive, democratic causes? If you’re Rise Against, you shave closer to the bone and take dead aim at something personal.
The Chicago band works that approach to decent results on The Black Market, which, despite a title that suggests it’s still targeting broad populist issues, makes its business scaling molehills rather than mountains. Frontman Tim McIlrath’s narrower lyrical scope shows that the band and the record have room for growth. “On pins and needles, we are waiting for the fall,” he sings on the record’s first single, “I Don’t Want to Be Here Anymore”. It’s not uncommon for the band to speak for the people, except in this case “we” speaks for two people nearing the end of a doomed relationship. Songs about busted romances are a dime a dozen, but there’s a winning quality to watching McIlrath and the band come down a little closer to the listener’s level.
The Black Market is full of these stabs at introspection, and they land with mixed results. Some songs, including the overlong but catchy “Tragedy + Time”, draw the listener in, while the new age ruminations on “Sudden Life” feel labored (“Feels like I’m walking into the light” — really?). But even if they threaten to reach a bit too far beyond their lyrical grasp at times, the band’s ear for forceful but melodic hardcore never strays. “Awake Too Long” races with metronomic precision, while McIlrath turns his attention back to his favorite punching bags (“Never once did leaders apologize for battles they began”). Elsewhere, the razor-sharp guitar blitzkrieg of “The Eco-Terrorist in Me” retains the band’s knack for going for the jugular. Even when they strip things down to strings and acoustics on “People Live Here”, the anger still courses through the band’s veins.
All told, it’s a mixed bag, but it’s a healthy, if occasionally wobbly, step into new territory. The Black Market suggests that lowering their sights to less monolithic targets might suit Rise Against well, even if they’re not yet as cocksure tackling intimacy as they are when trying to sleigh Goliath.
Essential Tracks: “I Don’t Want To Be Here Anymore”, “Awake Too Long”, and “Tragedy + Time”