Retrospective: Rise Against – “The Sufferer & The Witness”

The Sufferer And The Witness

Every great while an album comes around that just sticks with you that maybe — or probably — shouldn’t, either because it falls into a genre you don’t typically appreciate, or, well…it just isn’t that good. I’m not talking about an earworm that lasts for a few weeks. I’m referring to a collection of tracks you become addicted to for years. We all have ’em. One that I haven’t discussed before is the quintessential release from melodic hardcore masterminds, Rise Against. And that album, of course, is 2006’s The Sufferer & The Witness. It’s an album I’m very familiar with, for good reason.

The Sufferer & The Witness, amazingly, came out July 4th, 2006. I say that because I cannot comprehend how this album is almost a decade old. I remember picking it up and blasting it over and over back in high school. It practically defined a year of my life. So why bring it up now? Quite simply, the same Rise Against will be playing my hometown in a few short months with Killswitch Engage. And I absolutely can’t wait to see what they bring to a live set. Now, if I were to tell you I was seeing Killswitch Engage play with Rise Against, I’m sure you’d quickly assume my only reason for attendance would be to reminisce. And you wouldn’t be wrong. But you would probably be wrong in assuming who I’m there to see. Yes, I had my time with Killswitch. But nothing they have ever written has had the lasting impression that Rise Against gave me with The Sufferer & The Witness.

So what makes it so great? Rise Against is a brilliant blend of punk rock and melodic hardcore. Melodic hardcore punk, if you will. And this album defines that genre as far as I’m concerned. We are all familiar with this album on some level, even if it’s just the hits. One is “Ready to Fall.” It’s catchy chorus is memorable enough, but what defines it is the music video, which defends animal protection through the depiction of animals being killed by man’s actions. In fact, a version exists that was banned from TV. The second such track is “Prayer of the Refugee” which is probably most recognized from its inclusion in Guitar Hero 3. And finally we have “The Good Left Undone,” which peaked at No. 6 on Billboard‘s Modern Rock chart.

Tim McIlrath kicking ass live in San Diego, 2012

But the real gold lies deeper. This album, start to finish, just exemplifies how incredibly diverse Rise Against’s take on punk actually is. You get some traditionally short rebellious ass-kickers like “Bricks” and “Behind Closed Doors,” which make you want to burn down your local government building in search of “change.” But the album also shows an extremely uplifting personality on the likes of “Drones” and the closer, “Survive.” They supplement familiar crunching guitars and relentless percussion with far more melodic leads and slower interludes. It makes the bigger picture absolutely mesmerizing. The one true break in the action, “Roadside,” even features string elements and gorgeous guest vocals from Emily Schambra. And it comes out of absolutely nowhere. But lyrically, it is just as impressive. Rebellious themes abound, sure. But the content as a whole is emotional, thought-provoking, and directly relatable. Delivered with Tim McIlrath’s lead vocals, which sway from super aggressive to soothingly melodic throughout, the words definitely stick with you.

From the album’s first line — “This… is noise” — The Sufferer & The Witness never loses its core identity as a hardcore punk album. It captures you immediately with its energy, passion, and pace. Yet, it’s the more melodic and hardcore elements that allow it to take off and become far more memorable. It is one of the definitive albums to come out within its genre… and within in its decade. It’s worth a listen and will surely stick around longer than that.


“Ein Bier… bitte.”

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