Rise Against has spent seven years playing decidedly aggressive, melodic punk replete with sociopolitical commentary, which made "Swing Life Away," its hit from 2004's Siren Song Of The Counter Culture, seem incongruous. The acoustic ballad about living hardly resembled the rest of the album, but it was a big reason Rise Against's major-label debut sold so well. It'd be understandable if the band leaned in that song's direction on Siren's successor.
It doesn't, though The Sufferer & The Witness does have some stylistic departures. "The Approaching Curve" is a story-song similar to At The Drive-In's "Invalid Litter Dept.," with vocalist-guitarist Tim McIlrath talking through verses and singing in the choruses. The biggest stylistic deviation arrives later with "Roadside," where a quiet, undistorted guitar and strings accompany McIlrath's contemplative vocals. The dramatic shift in sound suits Rise Against well; McIlrath has spent his career melodically shouting, not so much singing, but he obviously has some vocal versatility.
The rest of The Sufferer & The Witness plays to Rise Against's strengths and well-established style: catchy, anthemic punk with blistering tempos and the almost palpable outrage of McIlrath's volatile vocals. The conflict-laden imagery in his lyrics gets redundant, though: "Bricks" mentions "bricks in our hands" and "setting fires to light the sky." There are the ashes and broken windows of "Prayer Of The Refugee," burning buildings in "Drones," the "white flames of burning flags" in "Worth Dying For," and "hands armed with broken bottles" in "Behind Closed Doors." McIlrath's thematic heavy-handedness is nothing new, but it'd be nice to see less obvious terms. Regardless, it's possible that no other band plays this style as compellingly. Rise Against has a truly great record in it, but that's still being worked out.