Punk rock has always been known for its pithy compositional style, which is why it feels odd to make the comment that a punk record feels long. Clocking in at a hair’s breadth over 40 minutes, divvied up pretty evenly across 11 tracks, Rise Against’s 8th studio album, Wolves, can’t empirically be called long – if anything, it’s at the shorter end of average, but the fact remains that the album – and many of the individual songs themselves – feels longer than it ought to be.
This sensation of unnecessary duration is probably a reflection of the genre’s stylistic strictures and tropes, and while Rise Against utilise varied bridges and breaks in their music to somewhat counter these restrictions and expectations, they end up deploying these in a formulaic manner which adds little value to the listening experience. This tension between adhering to stylistic expectations and pushing the boundaries is evident in the performance of the group’s rhythm section, with Joe Principe’s excellent bass work – which extends beyond reinforcing the low-end to providing melodic drive – juxtaposing with Brandon Barnes’ drumming, which often feels like it could be lifted from any hardcore punk song.
Despite these criticisms, Rise Against more or less succeed as much as they fail, and it is these successes that carry the album. The Violence, with its first-rate groove, was a strong choice for lead single, infusing Tim McIlrath’s politically and socially aware lyrics with the pointed philosophical question “is the violence in our nature?” and while the bridge doesn’t quite land – neither being similar or different enough from the rest of the track – it doesn’t dilute the song’s potency. Bullshit and Miracle showcase lyrical refrains that will no doubt see fans chanting along and pumping their fists in the air, and the former’s reggae inspired guitar riff represents Wolves’ greatest sonic departure from the norm.
Further to its solid intro, the stabbing guitars during How Many Walls’ bridge perfectly complements the song’s charged lyrics, and the pseudo-environmental screed, Parts Per Million, features the album’s most coherent musical break. Throughout, Wolves hints at a broader, more nuanced, musicality that Rise Against are capable of, should they ever choose to extend themselves past their melodic hardcore niche.