June 1, 2021 Rise Against – Nowhere Generation (Album Review)
They have been referred to as “one of the most important Punk Rock bands on the planet,” and it’d be hard to argue with that bold statement. Throughout the years Rise Against has gone from wanting to be a simple “dirty punk band” to blazing a trail with their outspoken social commentary that has touched on everything from animal rights to economic injustice. So it’s no shock that the band has plenty to say on their latest, Nowhere Generation, which is slated to arrive on Friday, June 4, 2021 thanks to Loma Vista Recordings.
With five of their albums topping the Billboard 200 albums chart throughout the past decade and counting, it has been a long but steady upward trajectory for the band, who formed in Chicago in 1999. While it was their third disc and major label debut, 2004’s Siren Song of the Counter Culture, that served as the impetus for launching their mainstream success, there’s no doubt that Rise Against was going to be heard. So as they continued to invite praise while touring the globe in support of 2006’s The Sufferer & the Witness, the quartet cemented a career that would go on to spawn four additional discs—including 2011’s Endgame and 2017’s Wolves—that would unintentionally contribute to their multi-Gold and Platinum sales.
Now, with their first full-length of new material since the aforementioned Wolves, the band—Vocalist/Guitarist Tim McIlrath, Bassist Joe Principe, Drummer Brandon Barnes, and Lead Guitarist Zach Blair—is set to take on the social and economical pitfalls of The American Dream. Drawing a line in the sand and offering a manifesto for the Nowhere Generation, they present 11 songs that are intended to “jostle people awake,” according to McIlrath, the band’s lyricist.
Recorded “under the tutelage” of Jason Livermore, Andrew Berlin, Chris Beeble, and long-time producer/engineer Bill Stevenson (Black Flag, The Descendents), who has worked with the band on nearly all of their acclaimed releases since their sophomore effort, 2003’s Revolutions Per Minute, their ninth studio album is mired in the chronic social, economic, and political instability of our times and its accompanying mixed bag of emotions.
This lens on 2021 is first encountered with the album’s opening track, “The Numbers.” Introduced by a percussive march, the song weighs heavily on the idea that no one can do to you what you won’t allow. Thus, the Powers That Be (politicians, corporations, etc.) will always try to wrest control and it is up to the masses to rise up and demand change; to refuse to be used as plow horses for a cause that they do not support. It’s an elegantly frustrated call-to-arms for those who feel enslaved by the status quo, a Punk Rock riot for change that is happening now.
Serving as a stellar introduction to what Rise Against hopes to achieve with Nowhere Generation, from here the album springs forward into a myriad of topics—from chasing a nearly impossible dream to feeling lost and unheard (“Talking To Ourselves”), as though every word is a scream into the void. There are notions of progress and what exactly it looks like, discussions of showing support and empathy, the uselessness of words without action, and the need for embracing purpose in our lives right now instead of waiting for a future that might never come (“Sounds Like”). All of this is relayed through the band’s careful blend of straight-up rockers (“Sudden Urge,” “Sooner or Later”) that, at times, present a delicate 1990’s Alt Rock influence, and, of course, Punk Rock fangs (“Monarch,” “Middle of a Dream”).
What lies in the fringes tends to pair the group’s undeniably catchy hooks with their Melodic Hardcore roots to craft a sound that is as sincerely melded as it is radio ready. Such is the case with the titular “Nowhere Generation,” a sing-along anthem for those who feel caged by the modern impossibility of the so-called American Dream. This is also reflected in “Broken Dreams, Inc.,” where the push for progress does a 180-degree turn to bite its creators in the anus.
But it is the random ballad, the showstopper “Forfeit,” that tugs hardest on the heartstrings with its moody cello. Presented in a largely acoustic format, it sits at the center of a collection that is heavy with topics for debate and a clear desire to inspire those difficult discussions. Which, when you think about it, really just means that Nowhere Generation perfectly aligns with Rise Against’s current catalog of food for thought.
So there’s really no great shock that McIlrath expresses a frank frustration with the state of affairs in our nation. However, though this angst permeates each inch of Nowhere Generation, the lyricist is careful to never point fingers at specific figureheads, partake in partisan mud-slinging, or force feed any potential solutions to his listeners. Far from it, he seeks to motivate and educate: urging his audience to find meaning, to speak their minds, and to refuse to allow themselves to be used. In short, his intentions are pure: asking fans to think critically and, if it aligns with their beliefs, to rise against the status quo.
Sonically, Nowhere Generation sees Rise Against delivering a bold set of tracks that speak volumes, all while titillating our eardrums. Skipping the vapid effects and formulaic pretenses, refusing to kowtow to genre, they create an album that is as strong musically as it is lyrically. Much like the times that it reflects it is equal parts hope and sadness, lending its content a realism that transcends any toxic positivity as it dodges crippling despair. And so, appreciating this complicated balance, Cryptic Rock gives Nowhere Generation 5 of 5 stars.