Rise Against

Appeal to Reason

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If ever there was a year to release a political punk album it was 2008, when the U.S. was consumed by the wildest presidential campaign in modern history. It seems like the perfect backdrop for Rise Against to release Appeal to Reason, their third major-label record, and in a way it is -- certainly, the group rages against the moral decay rotting the core of the U.S. on the opening "Collapse (Post-Amerika)," just as they strike out against the slow dumbing down of America on "Re-Education (Of Labor)" and tell Iraqi soldier stories on "Hero of War." The latter showcases the acoustic guitars that helped goose 2006's The Sufferer & the Witness into the Billboard Top Ten but the rest boast the manic rapid-fire hardcore delivery that hearkens back to Rise Against's politically minded forefathers Bad Religion. This balance of plaintive modern folk and carefully traditional protest punk is offset by Rise Against's increasingly strong fondness for heavy, slick production, the kind where the rhythms are too tight and the guitars overdriven and clean, the kind where it sounds more like '80s metal than '80s punk. Rise Against is hardly the only modern punk band to be weighed down by this contradiction -- it's entirely too devoted on chops and gear, Guitar Center punk -- but it stings a little more with them as their ambitions, smarts, and skills are higher than their peers. They seem like they shouldn't have such a beefy, big sound, particularly as it obscures their message, giving the group a weird dichotomy: they are clean, accomplished musicians and sincere, socially conscious rockers but those two halves don't complement each other well, at least not on the well-intentioned Appeal to Reason.

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