Few punk rock bands have stood the test of time and aged gracefully, but the struggle to maintain relevant and creative almost comes with the gig itself. Initially, they identify with their disenfranchised peers, but as their generation ages, members of their audience get jobs, many become members of the capitalist elite they were preaching against, and the band is either left to indulge themselves in nostalgia or pander to the new youth. It’s this relationship that forces bands like Blink-182 to use Fortnite dances in their videos, or Green Day to put barfing unicorns on their covers.
Luckily, more socially conscious punk bands like Rise Against have other avenues to expand to. In their newest release, Nowhere Generation, the group touches on the macro-social and economic trends that didn’t just doom their generation, but are dooming mine, and others’ as well. Through the analysis of the progress of “the American Dream,” Rise Against pull together decades of American history in a way that’s relatable to everyone—or at least the underprivileged. Calling out to all the manipulated masses, “How long will we drag their plow? / What will continue to be is what we allow,” Rise Against want action, and they want it now.
Continuing to forgo the pitfalls of their peers, Rise Against return with a confident, piercing sound and masterful mixing that neglects to adhere to “modern rock’s” rules. Of course, commercialization hasn’t been completely discarded by the group. It’s a melodic and anthemic rendition of their hardcore punk sound, but nothing the band hasn’t been doing for the past fifteen-or-so years. McIlrath’s vocals soar over a platoon of thunderous guitars and percussion that will have anyone questioning if they’re not still in their prime.
Though there isn’t a “Savior”-worthy hit amongst the tracklist, the group proves their formula isn’t close to broken, and their production is arguably improving. Clear and crisp instrumentals create breathtaking moments with subtleties not often seen in the genre. The half-second of silence between the pre-chorus and chorus of “Sudden Urge,” elevates the already ear-grinding vibrations of pure noise to a finale more intense than anything on the record. “Forfeit” redeems its underwhelming beginning with grandiose, passionate acoustic guitars and a hidden twinkle of piano that is both unexpected, and beautiful. And “Nowhere Generation” is a worthy title track, empowered through glorious guitar licks and momentous somber moments that bring an emotional investment to their infectious aggression.
Unfortunate missteps and one-dimensional tracks like “Broken Dreams, Inc.” do present themselves, but they’re few and far between. The aforementioned track is one of a few that don’t balance the necessary juxtaposition between soft and loud. Outside of some insane bass playing, “Sooner Or Later,” is a chorus-reliant anthem whose quietest moments can’t match the grandeur of its instrumental breakdown, and as a result, the peaks don’t hit that hard. And while I can appreciate an understated outro, the final seconds of “Rules Of Play” feel more like an unnecessary interlude than an effective exit.
Other, lyrical moments shine through as a bit generic as well, despite their attempt at being universal. Their songs all shout a collective “we” to the rooftops, but aside from the “us vs. them” attitude, there’s not much to clarify or expand upon. It’s great for getting the blood pumping, and the band clearly recognizes the specific issues multiple generations are facing, but the audience is often faced with a “do something about it” answer, that provides little meaningful guidance.
Though it may not be their definitive best album, Nowhere Generation challenges the rest of their discography through its well-executed production and consistent, socially-relevant themes. They may not be writing the next Communist Manifesto, but that’s a bit of a steep expectation for a punk rock band. And a willingness to discuss and identify these topics is more than enough to be sufficient. If anything, Nowhere Generation is a masterclass of information on how to continue punk rock success.