I've been sitting on this one for awhile. And by "awhile" I mean a few months now. Like, since it came out. (I don't remember if that was March or April, but I'm pretty sure it was one of those two) (a quick Google search reveals that it was March).
Rise Against is one of those bands that got a ton of praise from the punk and hardcore community at first (with some haters, of course), gradually got more praise while losing some fans and then gained even more praise from critics and new fans, while losing the fans who joined the bandwagon during the previous round of praise and recognition. This cycle has occurred at least three or four times at this point.
I'll admit that I began to listen to them when they released Siren Song of the Counter Culture, which still remains to be my favorite (although Revolutions Per Minute is a close second). I was such a big fan of that album that Sufferer and the Witness was a disappointment to me. It was such a big disappointment, actually, that I welcomed the catchy choruses and melodic verses of Appeal to Reason with open arms. Not that it matters, but I mention this to highlight that my approach to Endgame wasn't "oh, it's going to suck because it's not their old stuff" nor was my approach "Oh boy! Hero of War was such a cool song and I hope their second album is just as good!" It was somewhere in between, kind of like "I used to really like these guys, and they've never done anything overtly offensive to my eardrums, so let's see what I think."
With that out of the way, I'll say this: Endgame is exactly what I expected it to be. I see a lot of people on various websites call out Rise Against for sounding exactly like Nickleback and I used to disagree because the bands don't sound like each other. But then I realized that a lot of these comments were just from idiots copying what someone smart had actually said, and that the original complaint was that Rise Against is like a punk rock Nickleback, in that Rise Against writes generic sounding songs that have potential to become a radio hit, albeit it through a "punk" filter.
Without meaning it as an insult, I do think that this is what has become of Rise Against in the past few years.
This isn't really a bad thing, but it doesn't leave a whole lot of room for evolution in sound. Of course, it does open the doors for a bunch of frat boys beginning to listen to the band while the band's messages go completely over their heads, but that's a risk you have to take with almost any style of music (unless maybe all your song titles are about how much frat boys suck). The songs here aren't bad by any means and they all do retain the same sense of melody as their previous albums and with same humanity-ridden guilt that the band is known for. The problem is, however, the songs have also all been heard before. This album is undeniably Rise Against (save for Broken Mirrors, which I think I've heard on a Green Day album before) (and while we're on Green Day, the intro to Make It Stop definitely brings Boulevard of Broken Dreams to mind), and I think fans of The Unraveling and Revolutions Per Minute (and to a lesser extent, Siren Song) will just need to accept that the band has found a comfortable place with their music.
Lyrically, the band is as vigilant as ever. The lead track, Architects, is a musical response to Against Me!'s I Was a Teenage Anarchist, believing that you can still grow up from punk rock and hold on to the same ideals once you're an adult. I think both bands make a point but it needs to be remembered that while both bands have seen a rise in popularity, the negative backlash that Against Me! has received has been a lot more harsh so it's understandable why Tom felt compelled to write a song about no longer being the kid he used to be.
I think the lyrical high point of Endgame is definitely Make It Stop (September's Children). Yes the intro sounds like Green Day and the chorus of children (Bill Stevenson's children- I might add) might come off as borderline cheesy, but the song really hits hard once you realize where the song's title comes from. While the band plays and the children sing their "whoas" Tim McIlrath speaks the names of several children and their ages. If you paid attention to the news at all last year, then you'd know that September is when America saw a sharp rise in suicides of young teenagers after being bullied for their sexual identities. The names that Tim speaks are the names of those teenagers. It's disgusting that there are so many when it shouldn't even have to be a problem in this day and age. The band released a music video for the song depicting several scenes of homophobic bullying, the tortured teens considering suicide, before realizing the impact that they can have on society, gay or not. It was released as a part of the It Gets Better campaign and you can see it right below (they're all scripted acts, but just knowing that they're based in reality makes it hard for me to watch without feeling sick to my stomach):
You can say all the negative things you want about Rise Against's music, but one thing I have always liked about them is that they actually mean what they say. Plenty of bands will talk the talk, but Rise Against will also walk the walk, and that's something I respect them for.
I've been flip-flopping pretty hard on this album for a few months. It's far from my favorite Rise Against release and it does sound pretty similar to their last few albums, but I just can't say that I hate it- even if it's because they'll stand up for causes that they believe in. (Also, I enjoy Bad Religion a lot so it's not like I can say a band sucks for putting out the same album 5 times in a row). It's nothing special, but at the very least you can put it on as background music for a party and no one will be upset by it except for maybe homophobes and "tr00 ponx." But they don't really count as people anyway.