For better or worse, Rise Against have always evolved as a band with every album they’ve released. Revolutions Per Minute focused the feral hardcore punk of the group’s debut, The Unraveling, into one of the 2000’s first punk classics. Siren Song of the Counterculture was an uneven venture into the realm of mainstream punk. The Sufferer & The Witness was the group’s magnum opus, perfectly balancing the hardcore tendencies of their first albums with their knack for throat-shredding choruses that they had developed somewhat on Siren Song. Appeal to Reason was an expansion of that sound, borrowing more of the visceral fear from Revolutions into a rousing clarion call that got surprisingly close to matching the quality of Sufferer. Endgame, Rise Against’s first album in three years, does not feature any evolution of the group’s sound. Instead, it is a retread of the elements of Appeal to Reason put into songs that aren’t nearly as affecting or catchy. Instead of rousing, the group comes off as burnt out and tired, the first time where I can bring up the term, “lazy” for anything the group has ever released.
The band’s lethargy is made apparent from Endgame’s choruses to frontman Tim McIlrath’s vocal performance. Throughout the album, McIlrath attempts to replicate the haphazard wail that made Appeal to Reason so special, but, for the first time, he sounds strained and exhausted, as if he hadn’t bothered to change his vocal style as he had done with his group’s last five albums, which turns out to be a very unfortunate decision. His fatigue comes off in his lyrics as well. “Storm the gates / Raise the flags / It’s just the same old story,” he sings in “A Gentleman’s Coup,” as if he’s lost faith in the rebelliousness that defined the group on songs like “Re-Education (Through Labor)” and “Prayer of the Refuge.” In “This Is Letting Go,” he all but admits defeat, spelling out the formula for the band’s sound by singing, “This is the part where the needle skips and the chorus plays like a sink that drips,” which only brings up images of meaningless repetition that can be extrapolated to just about every song on Endgame. “Once upon a time I could take anything,” he sighs on the same track, succumbing to the disappointments that have become a requisite of the state of things in recent years.
Elsewhere, Endgame’s sonic arrangements sound like their treading the water that Appeal to Reason left for them. The bass-driven verses of “Make It Stop (September’s Children)” sound like ripoffs of “Long Forgotten Sons” and the framework of “Disparity By Design,” right down to the guitar solo that opens the verses is a blatant bite of “Kotov Syndrome.” The band’s boredom in their craft is also apparent in the random experiments they attempt sporadically in Endgame. McIlrath’s voice sounds out of place over the palm-muted hard rock attempt, “Midnight Hands,” a song much more suited for Dark Horse-era Nickelback than anything hard-edged Rise Against has written in the past. You can tell a band is aimless when they write a hollow bluesy waltz (AFI, Muse), and “Broken Mirrors” is just that track. And whoever thought that putting a children’s choir over “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” guitars was a good idea liked Siren Song of the Counter Culture WAY too much.
Overall, Endgame comes off more obligatory than anything else, a collection of Appeal to Reason never-were’s that the band thought they should record after touring under their last album for so long. With a few exceptions, the album isn’t terribly bad, but the lack of originality in all its songs does not bode well for what the group’s going to come out with in the new decade. If Rise Against they can just tack on some “HEY!”’s to some duds and make an anthem, they are sorely mistaken, and Endgame proves pretty well that you just can’t half-ass post-recessional teenage angst.