Rising from the ashes of 88 Fingers Louie, Chicago’s Rise Against started off as nothing more than a run-of-the-mill hardcore band before releasing Revolutions Per Minute, an overtly political masterwork full of jagged protest songs that established the band as a hardcore juggernaut and caused the major labels to come calling. Following two flaccid albums, Appeal to Reason, though not exactly a return to form, is the closest the band has come to their humble hardcore beginnings since Revolutions.
Opening track “Collapse (Post-Amerika),” with all its buzzsaw guitars and frontman Tim McIlrath’s growl-singing, plays like old Bad Religion and serves as the thrash benchmark against which the rest of the album is set. Despite the evidence of their two previous albums, this track as well as “Re-Education (Through Labor)” and “The Strength to Go On” prove that the band can indeed rock. More impressive, however, is the fact that Rise Against seems to have finally figured out how to make a hardcore song for the masses: “The Dirt Whisperer” is cut straight from the happy-hardcore tree planted by the Gorilla Biscuits, resulting in a song that could play equally well on the radio as it could in the mosh pit.
For all the thunder the band seems to have recaptured, however, some songs fall flat in the search for radio-friendliness and mainstream appeal, especially the crummy “Hero of War.” And the biggest pitfalls on the album come when the band sounds like they’re repeating themselves. McIlrath’s lyrics, for better or worse, have always been hyper-political, but tracks like “From Heads University” border on self-parody. Still, for all its missteps, Appeal to Reason is a step forward, achieved by looking back at the band’s hardcore past and mending it with their mainstream future. Because of the current pop landscape’s shift away from melodic rock it’s impossible to tell if Rise Against will ever break out, but it’s nice to know that, either way, they’re still making aggressive, well structured pop-minded hardcore.