Anyone that knows Rise Against is aware that the Chicago-based band is anything but a single-minded musical outfit. An astounding fusion of unhinged power, ear-grasping melodies, stimulating lyrics and the ability to reach audiences in both underground and mainstream circles, they have redefined punk rock's rules throughout its successful career through a variety of compositions. In fact, the act's prolific songwriting and captivating shows on stages both at home and abroad over the past six years have yielded career sales of over a half-million albums.
Influenced by a blend of '80s hardcore and '90s indie rock, Rise Against released its debut, The Unraveling, via indie label Fat Wreck Chords. Less than two years later, the band completed its sophomore effort, Revolutions Per Minute. In December 2003, Rise Against signed to Geffen Records and started the production of its third album, Siren Song for the Counter Culture.
"We're a band that's done everything from hardcore songs to poppy songs to acoustic ballads that get played on the radio," says vocalist/guitarist Tim McIlrath. "We really managed to hit all over the spectrum, so we'll go into a recording with no fear about trying anything."
Rise Against's fourth album, The Sufferer & The Witness, continues to build upon the solid punk foundation the band started upon it's inception. The Sufferer & The Witness is a striking collection, with Rise Against using elements from spoken word, expanded balladry ,and simply prodding forward with a faster, harder, louder ethic,. In fact, not only does this latest effort find Rise Against infrequently referencing its own extensive back catalog, it's also a homecoming for the band's key production team.
For twelve weeks in early 2006, McIlrath, bassist Joe Principe, guitarist Chris Chasse and drummer Brandon Barnes were holed up in the college town of Fort Collins, Colorado, working once again with producers Bill Stevenson (Black Flag, Descendents) and Jason Livermore at the Blasting Room - the same production team and studio used for Revolutions Per Minute - and again enlisting the backing vocal talents of Chad Price (ALL, Drag The River).
"We just wanted to come home again," says McIlrath of the band's return to the Blasting Room, "to go back to where we felt most comfortable, most creative and amongst friends. We put ourselves into an environment that would allow us to write the record we wanted to write. When you're a band for awhile, you realize the important people and elements in your camp. And looking back, they were definitely some of the most important people in our career."
The Sufferer & The Witness immediately launches into "Chamber The Cartridge," featuring the snare drum rudiment intro of Barnes. McIlrath notes that collaborating with Stevenson and Livermore - both of whom are also extraordinary drummers - helped to enhance and develop Barnes' sound and bring it to a whole new level on this record. "We came in after he had done some drums and we were just blown away," says McIlrath.
Tugging at its hardcore roots, "Survive" shatters the tempo barrier with its tight riffing, while "Bricks" is a minute-and-a-half burst of double-timed, mosh pit inducing fury, primarily penned by Principe. The song, with its key phrase "we'll never die," addresses a mortality motif that can be found within the album.
The strongest surprise of The Sufferer & The Witness is "Roadside," a gorgeous ballad augmented by a string section that finds Rise Against shattering the rudimentary hardcore punk mold once again. Originally written as a part of another song McIlrath had composed, "Roadside" soon became its own entity. "Actually, I sat on it for years," he admits. "I played it for Joe years ago and we were never quite sure what to do with it and how it fits into what we do."
However, while in the studio with Stevenson during pre-production, McIlrath picked up a guitar and played the song. Stevenson immediately took notice and asked McIlrath to record it. With all band members' parts in place, a local string section was added, as were backing vocals courtesy of Emily Schambra from Chicago peers Holy Roman Empire.
Thematically, The Sufferer & The Witness exposes a variety of McIlrath's observations. "Looking back on all the songs we wrote on this record, there seems to be a lot that are about the strength of conviction, but with an awareness of our shortcomings," says McIlrath. "It's important to realize that nobody's invincible. It's important to know just who you are in the world and who you are in yourself, and make sure that you pay attention to that."
"I feel like we still haven't completely tapped all the ideas that we've had with this band since its inception," adds McIlrath. "We're still going for that perfect Rise Against record, we're not bored with what we're doing at all. We're still excited about all our songs, with everything we've done."
And for a band that has built its career through a substantial touring history, having shared stages with an eclectic array of acts including Agnostic Front, Alexisonfire, Alkaline Trio, Bad Religion, Killswitch Engage and Sick Of It All, performing its newest material on the road seems almost full circle.
"I feel like we're back to a place where we were when this band started, when the only thing that mattered was the music and the shows," he says. "It's all just back to really caring about playing guitar, singing and playing shows. It's a really cool place to be."