In times of political turmoil, Rise Against have consistently been a band people can turn to as a guiding light. They were there for the George W. Bush years, the 2008 financial crisis and of course, they went after the Donald Trump presidency when they dropped their last album Wolves in June 2017. After nearly four long years since Wolves was released, Rise Against (singer/guitarist Tim Mcllrath, lead guitarist Zach Blair, bass player Joe Principe and drummer Brandon Barnes) have triumphantly returned with their ninth studio album, Nowhere Generation. This time around, they’re here to take on the ongoing inequality plaguing the country and the illusion of the American Dream.
Nowhere Generation kicks off with “The Numbers”, adding yet another epic opener to their catalog. Wolves clearly lit a fire under the Rise Against and “The Numbers” shows that fire is still burning brightly on Nowhere Generation. On the track, McIlrath reminds listeners of how strong a movement can be, especially when they outnumber those in power. In these times of protests and pushing to be better as a nation, the message of the song is to keep at it and remember who has the majority.
“Sudden Urge” kicks off with a signature Blair guitar riff, which fans know means only one thing: the energy of the song is about to be turned up to 11. “Nowhere Generation” was the second single and the track serves as the mission statement of the album. The song is a battle cry, where Mcllrath declares today’s generation is here to shake things up and rattle a system that only works for those at the top.
Each Rise Against album is guaranteed to have a few songs that standout above the rest of the tracks. If a championship belt had to be awarded to just one of the tracks on the new record, “Talking to Ourselves” would be that winner. “Talking to Ourselves” is yet another example of Rise Against at their best. There’s a chorus that easily burrows it’s way into your brain, a powerful bridge that you feel in your bones and it all happens under a rush of guitars, drums and McIlrath’s harmonic vocals. This formula has previously been perfected on tracks like “Life Less Frightening”, “Savior”, and “Tragedy + Time”.
“Broken Dreams, Inc.” was the first taste of new Rise Against after it was released as a single last September as part of the soundtrack for the comic Dark Nights: Death Metal. Fortunately this song that is very much on brand for the band also made it onto the record. “Forfeit” gives the listener a chance to catch their breath and it wouldn’t be a Rise Against record without at least one acoustic track. This one might not be on the level of “Swing Life Away” or “Hero of War”, but it’s impressive how after 21 years as a band Mcllrath’s voice still sounds this good.
The second half of the album is slightly weaker than the first half, but there’s still plenty that fans will enjoy. For those who fancy the occasional breakdown, the band delivers one you can air guitar along to on “Sounds Like.” If you’re looking for that classic Mcllrath scream of earlier albums, the singer rolls back the clock for a moment on “Sooner or later” as he bellows out “Our precious time is running out!”
“Middle of a Dream” features some clever lyrical work as Mcllrath describes escaping to the dream world, singing “We’re all someone else when the sun sets / Every time we close our eyes / But there’s a world less complicated/ Somehow we buried it alive.” The singer also perfectly sums up that feeling you’re left with when you wake up in the middle of a dream you’re not ready to leave yet, especially if someone you lost is there.
Nowhere Generation comes to a close with “Rules of Play”, yet another example of how not only do Rise Against consistently know how to open an album, they pack a punch with ending tracks. The song serves as a conclusion to the main themes of the record, comparing life to a game that none of us know how to play and how this idea is another example of how deep down, all of us really aren’t that different at the end of the day.
My only knock on Nowhere Generation is that Rise Against have once again not stepped outside their comfort zone. This has been my one constant critique of the band since they shifted towards a mainstream rock sound when they dropped Endgame in 2011. Don’t get me wrong, if you’re a fan of Rise Against there’s a good chance you’ll love this album from front to back because it’s one hundred percent vintage Rise Against (vintage 2011, not the early hardcore punk days). However, while there are new tracks, the sounds resemble much of the material that’s come before.
Rise Against is like a master pizza chef. You know they’re going to bake up a pie that’s delicious and full of flavor. It’s a dish they’ve been serving for decades and it always leaves customers full and happy. You just have to keep in mind when you come to them for a meal, you’re only getting pizza, even if you might be craving chicken parm or baked ziti. That’s not to say they can’t make these other dinners, it’s just that they haven’t tried to make them yet. Instead they put all of their efforts into pizza.
Now that I’ve used a full paragraph on that metaphor, all of that is to say that if you take all of Rise Against’s records in their discography and throw them in a blender, there’s a decent chance the end result would be Nowhere Generation. As a longtime fan of the band, that’s good enough for me. While I’d like them to experiment a bit with their sound, there’s also a comfort in knowing exactly what you’re going to get. Here we got another solid addition to what is arguably one of the best discographies in the genre.