Can vegans Rock? Of course they can. It's just that no one expects them to. Anyone living on wheat grass juice and lentils usually favors acoustic guitars, hand-made wood flutes and the music of native tribes in the Andes. Maybe, just maybe, they cut loose listing to the Dave Matthews Band. But Rise Against, a Hard Core/Punk band from Chicago whose members are vegans, blast that stereotype. Band members are also straight edge (SxE). What's the world coming to?
Rise Against began life in '99 operating under the name Transistor Revolt. A self-titled demo rolled out a year later and the group was signed to Fat Wreck Chords in '01. That same year Rise Against issued "The Unraveling" with "Revolutions Per Minute" arriving two years later. Things were looking good. So good in fact, that they drew major label attention and signed with Dreamworks where they began work on "Siren Song Of The Counter Culture." But corporate life is never simple. In short order, Dreamworks was absorbed by Universal, who eventually assigned the group to a subsidiary label, Geffen. When all the dust settled or at least stopped whirling, "Siren Song Of The Counter Culture" was released in August of '04.
In countless bands there is one problem piece. They can't find a competent drummer, bass players come and go or the right singer is found on the third try. Rise Against had this common problem but it was at guitar. Mr. Precision was the group's original guitarist but he left in '01. Todd Mohney lasted until shortly after the group signed with Geffen. At that point, he was replaced by Chris Chasse.
In '05, Fat Wreck Chords re-issued "The Unraveling" largely to capitalize on Rise Against's major label debut and Warped Tour success. The group's "The Sufferer & The Witnesses" shot out on July 4th, '06.
The next year, Rise Against went through yet another change of guitarists when Punk vet Zach Blair took over from Chasse.
There was news in early '08 that Rise Against was working on "Appeal To Reason," their fifth studio album. Later, the group's blog stated that they had "spent many weeks in Chicago throughout the end of winter writing new songs" and were "pretty stoked on the direction."
The album was named after a newspaper published in the late 1800's by the Socialist Party of America. That's a bit obscure but fits the group's politics. Rise Against endorsed Punkvoter.com, a coalition of Punk bands, musicians and record labels, which reaches out to liberal Punks.
According to Punkvoter, "Punk Rock has always been on the edge and in the forefront of politics. It is time to energize the majority of today's disenfranchised youth movement - to make change a reality." Their goal is "to educate, register and mobilize progressive voters."
Rise Against released "Endgame" in '11. Though the album's lyrics dealt with such topics as Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico they had a positive perspective. "What if the place on the other side of this transition is a place we'd all rather be living in," asked McIlrath.
"We try to step up our game on each record and create something that's relevant, new and fresh, and is still Rise Against," continued McIlrath. "I want to give my perspective, and from the Punk community, take in what's happening, interpret that and put it into a song, letting the world know how we feel about it. That's the goal behind a lot of the music."
Spin magazine tagged "Endgame" as a concept album suggesting that it had been "largely influenced by the Dixie Chicks" (a Country supergroup with a controversial past). This misrepresentation drew a Twitter response from McIlrath. "The record is not a concept record and, fret not, has absolutely nothing to do with the Dixie Chicks."
"Help Is On The Way" and "Architects" were the featured tracks.
Taking stock of their career to that point, Rise Against then released "Long Forgotten Songs: B-Sides & Covers 2000-2013."
A year later, after considerable marketing and teasers, Rise Against issued "The Black Market" featuring the single "I Don't Want To Be Here Anymore." "The Eco-Terrorist In Me" was leaked on iTunes (funny how that happens) and became available for purchase prior to the album's release.
The marketing paid off, "The Black Market" debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200 behind Jason Mraz ("Yes!") and Weird Al Yankovic ("Mandatory Fun"). Seriously? Well, it was Yankovic's first-ever #1.
2001 The Unraveling
2003 Revolutions per Minute
2004 Siren Song Of The Counter Culture
2006 The Sufferer & The Witness
2008 Appeal to Reason
2013 Long Forgotten Songs: B-Sides & Covers 2000-2013
2014 The Black Market
Credibility. It's important to most musicians. Struggling, playing dank clubs, following a singular vision, is a compelling image. Then success comes. Was it the result of selling out? Maybe but probably not - still, the question looms. It's even worse for a Punk band. They are supposed to be outsiders. Mass appeal runs right against that. Punk bands should implode, like the Sex Pistols, and members leave a swath of destructive ruin. Sid Vicious created, then destroyed the template.
Rise Against had been rolling along slipping under the radar when "The Sufferer & The Witness" came out. With "Ready To Fall," "Prayer Of The Refugee" and "The Good Left Undone" (a brilliant song), the group's profile expanded rapidly. Yet nothing much changed except the public's perception.
"Entertainment," slotted in the middle of "Appeal To Reason," deals directly with the fallacies of show business. "All we are is entertainment, caught up in our own derangement." As often happens, a band feels success is driving them rather than the other way around - it usually is.
If you're looking for full-throttle Rock, Rise Against is the place. They know what a drummer is for and McIlrath's intense vocals ride the line between shredding and oblivion. This approach tends to make all the songs sound the same (in a good way), though a handful are a notch above the rest.
Bands with Emo tendencies, and Rise Against is one of them, either sing about the ins and outs (mostly outs) of girlfriends or dwell on life's challenges and how they deal with them. Rise Against, to their credit, take the latter route in true angst-Punk fashion.