The Black Market can be a difficult album to digest. On first listen, I thoroughly enjoyed it; it sounded like a classic Rise Against album with a heavier punk influence than their last couple of efforts. On the other hand, after my first listen through, I felt like the songs had blended together into a single noise. For anyone not paying attention, The Black Market can be just an average punk album. For anyone looking closer, they’ll find the album that harkens to Rise Against’s highest highs as songwriters.
The Black Market sounds like the album that should have come immediately after The Sufferer & The Witness. The more commercially influenced sound of Appeal to Reason and Endgame don’t play has heavily on this record. The guitars are heavy, loud, and fast. The waves and walls of power chords crush song after song without taking a breather until late in the album. It’s clear that Rise Against are at their best when playing quick and frantically. The production appears to be toned down to make the whole endeavor a bit harsher and dirtier than anything they’ve put out in almost a decade.
This is also the biggest detraction from the album. With such a concise sound to the record, it can be easy for the songs to blend together over time. The writing is superb, but the formula seems to be chronic: heavy punk rock, slower tempo for the chorus and repeat. While the return to a classic styled sound is welcome, it heavily lacks the experimentation and range that a band seven albums into their career should be exploring. Depending on your preference, this will either make it a great Rise Against album, or a mediocre one.
That’s not to take anything away from the powerhouse songs that line the album. “The Eco-Terrorist In Me” is a classic RA song that demands a spot amongst the best songs in the band’s discography. The pummeling rhythm allows for McIlrath to explore his full vocal range from full on screaming to the grunge-crooning he made famous over haunting gang vocals. It’s also a great excuse for the lead guitar to let loose when given the chance.
“The Black Market” lays down some harsh rhythm guitars that slow and turn the song into a jam that ultimately slows slightly to an intimate chorus. While “Tragedy + Time” is a fantastic song that shows the band touching their pop punk side, it feels out of place against the heavy theme of the album and risks pulling you away from the record. “Zero Visibility” is a jam of a song, combining the heavy melody with McIlrath’s shouting chorus, which eventually gives way for a killer guitar solo.
A lot has been said about the lyrical direction of The Black Market and that it focuses on the personal struggles much more than the political atmosphere, as with the rest of the band’s discography. While I may be misreading the lyrics, the only real difference between the lyrical angle of this album and the others is that TBM seems much more generalized instead of focusing on specific political issues.
Opener “The Great Die-Off” sets the dark tone for the album, with a raging chorus of “We want it all and we want it now, tonight I watched your fires burn out.” “Bridges” rages with loud verses of “The very same roads that we now wander, Who once you pass us by on, We paved with our bare hands.” The generalized lyrics don’t carry the same weight as a classic song like “Injection”, but the anger and rage remain all the same.
McIlrath manages to touch upon topics closer to the vest, but they’re equally vague. It’s refreshing, since Rise Against have never really had an album offering personal insight and tragedies, which makes hearing it all the more refreshing. The verses of “Time + Tragedy” sound like a proper pop punk band, hailing against the poppiest song on the album as McIlrath sings, “All that matters if the time we had, Doesn’t matter how it all went bad, Never wonder what it might be like, Shut the door, Say goodbye”.
The Black Market is a raging throwback to classic Rise Against. Though it doesn’t hit all the marks that it should, it’s a refreshing style of music that many fans thought was long gone. That said, it is ultimately up to the fan to make the distinction of where this album falls in the discography.
Anyone thirsting for a sound in a similar vein to a decade ago will find solace in The Black Market and the intricacy of the more maturely written songs. Casual fans may see this as a generic sounding punk album due to the production. No matter your view, Rise Against have shown that they’re still an integral part of the scene and unwilling to completely separate themselves from the path that led them to prominence.
by Kyle Schultz