Formed by guitarist Dan Wleklinski and bassist Joe Principe after the dissolution of underground punk heroes 88 Fingers Louie, Rise Against have been offering a voice for change since 1999, their blazing melodic hardcore anthems delivering brutal criticism of the corporations, politicians, policies, and divisions that stand in the way of justice.
It's hard to think of a group capable of deploying a rallying cry for a better tomorrow more effectively than the Chicago quartet: perhaps there isn’t one. Consistently pushing out socially conscious punk rock calls for unity into a world that feels growingly fragmented, there’s no consensus on what the greatest Rise Against album is, but their fans agree that there’s no one else quite like them.
A band burning with passion, who even in their missteps radiate an endearing integrity that’s seemingly all too rare in the music world, Rise Against have undergone a blossoming evolution since their days as scrappy Chicago punk kids, but that energy permeates through each of their nine studio albums.
Here's our guide to their catalogue, ranked worst to best.
9. The Black Market (2014)
The band’s darkest album to date, The Black Market pushes much of Rise Against’s signature socio-political commentary aside in favour of a deeply introspective tone, a first for frontman Tim McIlrath and co.
Returning after a year-long hiatus following the completion of the touring cycle for 2011's Endgame, the band’s seventh long-player is a nuanced, mid-tempo release offering exercises in catharsis. More measured than any other collection in their catalogue, it presents an interesting development from the band’s established sound, diving headfirst into McIlrath’s own psyche and experiences as an activist in a modern world.
I Don’t Want to Be Here Anymore is an intimately personal exploration into the darkest moments in life, whilst pop-punk cut Tragedy + Time channels the journey of pushing through hardships to brighter futures. The album highlight comes in The Eco-Terrorist in Me, a fast-paced anthem advocating for environmental justice and animal activism.
That The Black Market takes the lowest spot on this list isn't to say it's without merit: a good album by a truly remarkable band, it’s worthy of its fair share of praise. But there’s more essential sets elsewhere in Rise Against’s discography.
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8. Wolves (2017)
Aldous Huxley once described art as “a protest against the horrible inclemency of life”, and that sentiment sums up Rise Against’s eighth studio album almost perfectly.
Recorded in Nashville, Tennessee around the 2016 US presidential election, the band left their liberal Chicago nest and immersed themselves in life on the other side of the fence. Tackling the lies and corruption of the Trump campaign with earnest punk melodies that pack a huge punch, tracks like How Many Walls and Welcome to the Breakdown took direct stabs at the then-President, whilst cuts like Bullshit called for people to reclaim the power.
The first Rise Against record since 2004’s Siren Song of the Counterculture to be produced without long time producers Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore - with Stevenson busy behind the drum kit on Descendents’ 2017 comeback album Hypercaffium Spazzinate - Wolves is a solid modern punk release, showcasing the quartet's ability to write socially conscious anthems in times of extreme adversity.
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7. The Unraveling (2001)
Back when they were known as Transistor Revolt, NOFX’s Fat Mike heard the Chicago band’s self-titled EP, and offered to sign them to his record label, Fat Wreck Chords.
There was one (pretty fair) condition to the agreement: they had to change their name. Once Transistor Revolt was no more, Rise Against hit the ground running with this melodic hardcore gem, dripping in '90s punk influence.
Opening with a snippet from 1996 psychological thriller film The Cable Guy with Jack Black questioning, “Are you ready to rock?”, the band’s debut album instantly set them apart from their Fat Wreck labelmates, many of whom were chasing a fresh wave of bouncy, light-hearted pop-punk.
Tracks such as The Art of Losing and Remains of Summer Memories exhibit a familiar hardcore urgency, whilst the likes of My Life Inside Your Heart and Everchanging offer glimpses of the melodic tendencies that would inform the band’s sound going forward.
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6. Endgame (2011)
Following 2008’s Appeal to Reason, Endgame continued Rise Against’s pursuit of a more polished production and introduced some fresh heavy metal influences courtesy of guitarist Zach Blair. Packing on the aggression across twelve tracks of brilliantly controlled brutality, much of its social and political commentary revolves around the end of the world and what may exist on the other side.
Bottling up the frustration of a generation, shaking it up, and popping the cork in an explosion of anthemic hooks and apocalyptic energy, Endgame remains the band’s most commercially successful record to date, with standouts including the powerful Make It Stop (September’s Children), decrying homophobia and speaking out on behalf of LGBT youth. Other highlights include Survivors Guilt, an extension of the band’s 2008 hit Hero of War, and Wait For Me, a cut that matches the soft acoustic-led melodies of the latter track.
Though Endgame was a divisive record for long-term fans who criticised the band for pushing towards a more commercial rock sound, it holds up incredibly well, proving that whilst the four-piece may venture from their sonic roots, their message will never be compromised.
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5. Nowhere Generation (2021)
Looking back, 2021 provided a perfect backdrop for a new Rise Against album.
With the world in the midst of a global pandemic, while arguments over social and political issues swirled violently across social media and the mainstream news media, the Chicagoans were hitting the textbooks. Informed by hours of research plus conversations with their own children, the next generation to take on the fractured world, Nowhere Generation dives deep into the issues facing America as it stumbled into a decade of fresh uncertainties.
Distinguishing the promise of the American Dream from its stark reality, album nine opens with a snippet of social anthem L’Internationale, before powering into some of the band’s most electrified work to date. From the call to arms of incendiary opener The Numbers to the unifying singalongs of its title track, Nowhere Generation is Rise Against at their most urgent, and having been preaching similar messages for over two decades – it’s understandable why.
Channelling the same fire as their debut on behalf of the next generation, Nowhere Generation is proof that the band’s revolutionary flame is still burning bright.
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4. Revolutions per Minute (2003)
Following the release of their debut album, Rise Against established a solid fanbase, but faced an identity crisis. Though they wanted to continue their tenure with Fat Wreck, the label was identified with a pop-punk niche that felt a little too watered down for McIlrath and co.’s liking. In need of something to distinguish themselves, they drafted in producers Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore, a decision that would come to inform much of the band’s future.
Darker than its predecessor, Revolutions per Minute is the first Rise Against album to feature McIlrath on guitar duties. Establishing a sound and aesthetic the band would refine going forward, it’s a relentless call for revolution.
From the clenched fist imagery of visceral opener Black Masks & Gasoline to the deeply self-aware Dead Ringer clapping back at claims they’d ‘sold out’, to the moody 9/11-inspired Blood-Red, White, & Blue, Revolutions per Minute builds upon the band’s established musicianship with impassioned tenacity and boundless emotion. Second albums don’t come much better.
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3. Appeal to Reason (2008)
Rise Against’s fifth album marked a series of shifts. Their first on Interscope Records following a departure from Geffen, Appeal to Reason presented a band venturing further away from the gritty hardcore punk sound they’d spent the better half of a decade honing.
With Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore returning for production duties and guitarist Zach Blair making his first on-record appearance, Appeal to Reason favoured a more accessible rock sound but kept the undiluted essence of Rise Against at its heart. Addressing and dissecting the United States’ socio-political affairs across 13 tracks bursting at the seams with an informed fury, it was proof that Rise Against were ready for so much more than cult underground status.
Tossing aside any accusations of ‘selling out’, it’s a focused all-killer-no-filler demonstration of the band’s incredible evolution. Savior is a poignant frenetic anthem about reconciling differences within relationships, Hero of War is a sombre acoustic track sung from the perspective of a war veteran, and Entertainment offers an off-kilter criticism of Hollywood and compassion for the artists who suffer within it.
One of Rise Against’s biggest commercial successes, Appeal to Reason honed the band’s natural melodic hardcore intuition and set the Chicagoans up for longevity.
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2. Siren Song of the Counter Culture (2004)
For many bands, signing to a major label is the goal. A well-earned reward for years of determination and grind, it can allow artists to reach new, wider audiences. But not everyone has the same perspective.
Raised within a scene that often viewed signing to a major label as an indication that a band was willing to sacrifice musical integrity in exchange for commercial profit, when calls started coming in for Rise Against following 2003’s Revolutions per Minute, they were sceptical. Putting pen to paper on a contract with DreamWorks records in 2003, they were working under the assumption that they’d be dropped any second in favour of the next ‘big thing’, so for album three they took the opportunity to lock in studio time with their dream producer, Garth Richardson (Rage Against the Machine, Sick Of It All).
Though later that year DreamWorks Records was acquired by Universal and folded into Geffen Records, Rise Against held out, and on their debut major label release they stepped their game up to remarkable new heights. Offering a deeper level of personal reflection than the band’s previous two efforts, Siren Song of the Counter Culture is a slab of punk rock brilliance.
From opener State of the Union’s full-frontal sonic assault criticising war, injustice, and those who refuse to condemn it, to the ear worm guitar lick that recurs through the frenetic Paper Wings, to the short-and-sweet Give It All, a hardcore punk anthem about the plight of modern-day existence, each moment on Siren Song of the Counter Culture is burning with a feverish integrity.
Wonderfully showcasing the poetic anger that would come to define Rise Against, the album’s unlikely breakthrough came in its curveball single, Swing Life Away, a touching acoustic ballad documenting working class life. Proof that Rise Against had much more to them than blind fury and finger-pointing punk energy, Siren Song of the Counter Culture became a defining point in the band’s history.
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1. The Sufferer & the Witness (2006)
Following concerns that Siren Song of the Counter Culture producer Garth Richardson hadn’t fully grasped the punk values of their craft, having more of a background in heavy metal and hard rock, for album four Rise Against sought out Bill Stevenson and Jason Livermore once more.
Looking to return to their roots, with their musical soulmates back in play, The Sufferer & the Witness saw Rise Against and their behind-the-scenes dream team perfect every element of their craft. On a defining melodic hardcore record, each song is a furious bundle of punk energy encased in infectious hooks and driving riffs.
Released in the midst of the Bush administration, the cries for change on The Sufferer & the Witness feel timeless and universal. Opener Chamber the Cartridge’s marching drum beat quickly gives way to a barrage of guitars, with McIlrath spitting a call against the mistreatment of planet earth. Bricks tackles war, resistance, and those fighting in the face of injustice, whilst Behind Closed Doors amplifies the defiance of those who trudge on and continue to fight despite such hardships.
The spoken word-driven The Approaching Curve and rapid-paced Drones remain deeply underrated cuts in the band’s catalogue, but Rise Against would find their biggest success in the mid 2000s with single Prayer of the Refugee, a track dealing with ideas of forced displacement and discrimination. Juxtaposing slow-building, wearily sung verses with an explosive chorus that hits like a punch in the gut, it’s a fitting summation of what Rise Against do best, executed flawlessly
Overflowing with sincerity, passion, and purpose, this is a near perfect album, firmly sticking to the band's punk and activist roots whilst tweaking elements of their sound and production to appeal to a wider audience. Rise Against have spent almost a quarter of a century proving that no one does this sort of impassioned, committed punk rock better, and The Sufferer & the Witness is their magnum opus.
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