Review: Rise Against – The Black Market

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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.

3.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.

Review: The Used – Imaginary Enemy

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At Warped Tour 2013, The Used took the stage in the colorful neon face masks that signify the Russian punk rock activists Pussy Riot. Part of their set was played in the masks before they were removed, and a cascade of rainbow powder flew over the swarming crowd like smoky rain. It was an energetic, memorable riot that played the perfect centerpiece for the energy that The Used brought to the stage.

Imaginary Enemy is a riveting, constantly evolving and inflammatory punk album. To newer listeners, it is a concise and powerful album, serving equal parts rampaging energy, fun.-inspired pop and American Idiot stylized anarchist lyrics.

Fans of the band’s past works may have a much harder time finding the love in this album that they had hoped for, but this is a much larger, more mature and enraged album than many past efforts.

The Used have altered their sound slightly for each album, introducing different elements and gradually making a light shift towards a poppier sound. Imaginary Enemy is first and foremost a pop album, despite leading with a heavy rock song like “Revolution”.

The Used have more or less abandoned the hard edge that made them famous, as well as the screams of vocalist Bert McCracken. If that alone deters you, you will not like this album, period. If you’re willing to still ride the ship out, Imaginary Enemy is an ambitious album that toys an expectation that hopes to rally the awareness of the evils in persecution and rampaging government.

As stated, this is a pop album. Several songs have a soft open, piano and synth play an integral part to a majority of the album and the screams are few and far between. That’s not to say that the sound is bad, it’s just different.

For being an album with the theme of revolution, it is quiet and stealthy. It feels like a lot of elements may be based off of the sound bands like fun. or the softer parts of Panic! At the Disco. Allegedly, the album was written “backwards” with the music written to accompany the already recorded vocals, which could explain the eccentric change in tone from this album and the rest of the discography.

That said, each song is surprising and unlike anything they’ve released thus far in their discography. The hooks are immaculate, varied and expertly executed. Quinn Allman’s guitar work is flawless and intricate, bringing to mind something akin to AFI’s Jade Puget on Crash Love. Even though he’s the only guitarist, he manages to keep the framework and sound of several musicians at once.

Jeph Howard’s bass guitar work keeps the hooks popping and never sounds dull, even in the slowest songs. Dan Whitesides’ drumming is hypnotic and incredibly powerful, dipping from the sounds of natural and electronic drums.

Opening track “Revolution” is the most punk song on the record, offering chugging chords and a brutal chorus designed to bring the pit to pure ecstasy. “A Song to Stifle Imperial Progression (A Work in Progress)” is one of the more bizarre songs on the record. It’s a fuzzed vocal punk song that suddenly turns into a disco-tinged dance song for an anarchist chorus of, “We’re saying no way, no way USA”.

Most of the middle section of the record is painted with soft rock and ballads, like the soft spoken “Evolution” with sprinkled keys of what sounds like a toy xylophone. “Kenna Song” features the gentle guitar strums of Jimmy Eat World backed by thunderous drumming and backing vocals made for indie pop radio.

My only real complaint with the sound is that it’s too overproduced. The music is a little too over the top, though it allows the piano and keys a beautiful groundwork to play over. However, a little more crunch and fuzz to the guitar and bass would have helped keep an edge to the music that loyal fans would’ve appreciated.

Lyrically, this is the most incendiary the band has ever been. The new political nature of the band is a welcome advancement in theme over the broken heart and overly tread emo lyrics in the genre. It’s much more provocative and enticing where it needs to be.

It’s a nice journey through the evolution in discovering the hatred of politics that runs full circle, from the opening choruses of, “This is the end, this is the end, calling for revolution”, to the confusion of “Imaginary Enemy” as McCracken sings, “Who taught me to hate you, hate you, hate you? Who created the enemy?”

While it’s easy to brush aside the lyrics as anti-government or anti-USA, there’s a deeper underlying ideology to it that focuses on the rage in not knowing who to be angry at, and being a generation falling in line because there isn’t anyone to focus that anger on. In “Force Without Violence”, he sings, “This brave opposition comes naturally, being exactly who we’re supposed to be / Things will never change if they remain the same, being exactly who we’re supposed to be”.

Imaginary Enemy is an album that shows a band leaving the comfort zone entirely, possibly for the better. If you were hoping for the next great hardcore record, keep looking. For anyone else, this is an incredibly surprising, sometimes cheesy, but powerfully mature record of pop songs and anger. To say the album will be divisive is an understatement; it’ll be remembered as their most disappointing record, or their greatest hour.

4/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and yells at the rain on occasion. He also wants to play you in FIFA.