The best way to describe Rise Against at this stage would be ‘reliable’. They’re probably past the point of making amazing, visceral-to-a-fault punk music like in their early days, and have instead settled into a routine of a solid enough approximation of that every few years. That mightn’t sound very exciting – in fact, it sounds like the complete opposite considering what albums like Siren Song Of The Counter Culture and The Sufferer & The Witness were to 2000s punk – but it’s also worth considering that Rise Against’s standard is generally higher than most. Even if recent efforts like The Black Market and Wolves haven’t persisted as readily as what came earlier, it’s more a result of changing approaches opposed to any sort of mellowing out or, God forbid, ‘selling out’. Like it or not, Rise Against are an older band in the scene now, and while that isn’t an immediate deflection of criticism (especially when a band like Against Me! that’s actually older sound no less fired up), it makes sense for their focus to be on the bigger picture nowadays, regardless of how compromising to their punk ethos that might seem overall. As a result, the expectations for Nowhere Generation are somewhat restrained; Rise Against have their formula now that they won’t deviate from, and the most recent track record would indicate a solid enough album that hits all the right notes to get past the finish line, with little to nothing else.
That’s effectively what Nowhere Generation is too, albeit in a less dismissive tone than the previous statement might imply. Yes, it can easily fall under the banner of ‘just another Rise Against album’, and it doesn’t have a late-period stunner like People Live Here to affix its appeal to, but Nowhere Generation is more self-evidently strong across the board. It’s the Rise Against formula but with a bit more oomph and muscle than their latter-day material tends to have, and that’s definitely noticeable even if it doesn’t leap off the page. It’s less a case of being charitable, and more of recognising where Rise Against thrive most of all, condensed into an album that isn’t their best or a classic-in-waiting, but leans into its strengths to a very pleasing degree.
It’s worth noting, before all else, that Rise Against’s populism is, and arguably always has been, their most defined feature, and they’ve reached a point this far down the line where it can easily subsume any criticisms of broadness or lack of specificity that might feel trite coming from other bands. It’s a bit odd to hear 42-year-old Tim McIlrath put himself among the titular ‘nowhere generation’ on the title track, when so much of that narrative is skewed towards young people who’ve been disenfranchised for so long finally having a voice for change, but it’s also on a chorus that hits like a truck every time, and putting himself among the other side on Sooner Or Later and recognising the need to face the consequences of their actions does even things out a bit more. Moreover, it hits the notes of stoicism and perseverance that Rise Against so regularly excel in, in the bursts of intensity to rise up on Sudden Urge and stand firmly against lobbied hate and injustice on Monarch. It’s similarly trodden ground as before, but you never get the impression that Rise Against are spinning their wheels or running out of ideas, such is the vigour and – crucially – believability they’re imbued with. A song like Forfeit might be the now-customary stripped-back song that’s always done well for them, but there’s still a lot of heart within it, and even after so many years, McIlrath’s voice is yet to fall victim to any significant wear-and-tear. Maybe he’s not a raw as he once was, but in the booming, immediately comfortable tone that he’s developed, there’s just such an appealing presence to it all that really fuels a lot of why Rise Against albums still work as well as they do.
The sound doesn’t hurt either, mind, even with a lack of retooling that, to be perfectly honest, has never really been needed. At least on Broken Dreams, Inc. and Monarch, there’s a bit more of a regular punk bite that’s appreciated, but by now, Rise Against’s bread-and-butter is well-known, and they’re still great at pulling it off. The arena-rock sensibilities of the title track and Sounds Like is blatant but effective, as the sort of necessarily wide-reaching canvas for lyrics and a performance as massive as these are. It’s that reliability coming through again, even going so far as dialling up some of the previously eased intensity in a way that doesn’t feel too jarring; if anything, it’s the sort of steady build in momentum that, particularly in kicking off with a song like The Numbers, is all too appreciated at this stage in their career. They’ve never eased back into ‘old punk’ territory, nor have they fully embraced Foo Fighters-esque radio-rock, but there’s a standard erected on Nowhere Generation to put those worries to bed before they’ve even got grounds to stand on. There’s still a nice roar to the guitar across the board and Joe Principe’s bass gets some nice, thudding moments to shine, while the gentle buildup into strings and a deeper thrum on Forfeit still feels real when anchored to a choppier acoustic guitar. As – for lack of a better term – predictable as Rise Against are, they never sound boring, either in comparison to themselves or to a wider mainstream rock scene into which they could easily fall into. It’s an ideal balance that they’ve nailed for years now, and in taking a couple of steps towards a more robust punk rollick, Nowhere Generation seems to be their best attempt at it since Endgame.
It’s why no one has really written off Rise Against yet. Their appeal is enormous, and it’s reached that point through doubling down on everything that makes them great time and time again, with Nowhere Generation being no exception. As the standard issue Rise Against album that comes around every few years, it’s hard to complain about, but a bit more drive and ferocity under the hood does wonders overall for just how much will stick. Even in their rather cut-and-dry routine, it’s what make it still worth getting excited about with this band, and despite not really reaching out of its comfort zone, Nowhere Generation is a shining example of exactly what that can achieve. More extremely strong stuff from a band for whom that’s always a great regularity.
For fans of: Billy Talent, Against Me!, The Menzingers
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Nowhere Generation’ by Rise Against is out now on Loma Vista Recordings.