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Album Review: Rise Against – ‘Ghost Note Symphonies, Vol. 1’

The day Rise Against posted a teaser video on Youtube, with a reimagined version of “House on Fire,” from their 2017 Wolves album, I scoured the internet for more details.

I’d been waiting on an acoustic solo Tim McIlrath (Rise Against) album for years, and had missed the boat on the 2013 Revival Tour with him, Chuck Ragan (Hot Water Music), Matt Pryor (The Get Up Kids), Toh Kay (Streetlight Maniefesto), and others. Fail.

If you’ve seen Rise Against live in concert, you might have experienced the lighter side of the punk rock Chicago band. I’m talking about that lighter-in-the-sky, scenic outdoor serenade of the acoustic ballad, “Swing Life Away.” Finally, we’re able to bottle that feeling up and spin it on a record player.

The Ghost Note Symphonies, Vol. 1 will be released July 27 via Virgin Records. It’s a reimagined collection of familiar songs, this time — with strings, piano, and what sounds like a ukulele?

You’ll recognize the opening track, “The Violence,” which topped the charts, on their last record, Wolves. This time around, the heavy drum backbeat is MIA, but the lyrics continually carry us. Combined with the introduction of the strings, and symphonic elements, “The Violence” is still very much a driving force.

Are we not good enough? Are we not brave enough — to become something greater than the violence in our nature?

“Audience of One” is dreams come true, with the swelling of violins, set to the backdrop of McIlrath’s raspy, yet delicate, vocals. A few years ago, I stumbled upon a Youtube video of an acoustic version from a 2011 festival. Those view counts had to be substantially lower than when I finally closed the tab. I am thrilled this version will be forever immortalized on yellow vinyl for me to wear grooves into.

I can still remember / The words and what they meant

So can we, Rise Against — so can we. And we thank you for keeping the story going, year after year. We assure you — we haven’t outgrown ALL the things we once loved.

The third track, “Faint Resemblance” comes from their debut album, The Unraveling, via the Fat Wreck Chords label. The tune brings in a ukulele, an instrument I’ve never pictured to be in the same sentence as the band. Although some people will continue to hear a ukulele and think Hawaiian music, this take still manages to sound like the punk rock, straight-edge Chicago group we’re used to. It’s a fine line, but they’ve somehow managed to find balance between old and new.

“House on Fire” was the initial teaser video of the upcoming album, released on the internet — but impressively enough, not the best piece on the record. It’s beautiful — don’t get me wrong, but other reimagined versions speak louder.

Up next is “Like the Angel” coming from the 2003’s Revolutions per Minute record. It sounds like there’s an easygoing tamborine, or perhaps sleigh bells in the track, and also the addition of what sounds like a bass guitar. This might be the first track on the album to go electric. Don’t quote me on that, though.

The sixth track, “Miracle” evokes a full-circle moment. Every road to recovery starts at the breakdown. Here, we’ve got the politically- driven band, breaking down track after track, pulling the heavy guitars away, and yet — somehow creating an even deeper, meaningful display of poetry. Bold, beautiful, poetry.

We don’t need miracles to tumble from the sky, to part the seas around us, turn water into wine — cause we are the miracles. We happen all the time. We’re not scared of what surrounds us, not waiting for a sign. ‘Cause we are the miracles.

“Savior” is definitely a fan favorite, if crowd reactions during concerts have anything to say about it, and this time, the upbeat tune has a more melancholy sound. The somber tone of the song was more of a hide-and-seek element in the original upbeat rock anthem. This time, it’s front and center.

“Wait For Me” stemming from the 2011 Endgame album is perhaps the weakest track on the record. That’s not saying much, though — as I consider this album one of the best, most relevant rock ‘n’ roll albums of the year.

“Far from Perfect” was a standout track from the 2017 Wolves, and here, shines even brighter.

We are far from perfect / but we are perfect as we are. We are bruised / we are broken / but we are goddamn works of art.

This reimagined work of art might just be perfect, if you ask me. I picture this is how Rise Against songs are originally constructed — from the bare bones up. It’s like an early, rough take of the song, and being a fly on the wall in the studio listening to the vocals recorded. All kinds of art are usually a work in progress — but this alternate take is pretty damn near perfect as it is. I salute you, Rise Against.

The last track, “Voices off Camera” comes from the 2003 Revolutions per Minute, but introduces an element we haven’t heard before: the piano. Tim’s unique gravely voice has always demanded you listen — and this ‘sense of urgency’ is only amplified when you take away the amps. It’s a crystal-clear message, delivered with a beautiful piano accompaniment.

I just need somewhere warm to close my eyes.

Somehow, and probably much to their chagrin, Rise Against’s political outcries on war, refugees, bullying, and veteran care are all still pertinent issues which cannot be denied. In today’s state of world affairs, these songs reimagined and reorchestrated, feel just as timely as ever.

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Sarah Spohn

Sarah's a little bit of a rock 'n' roll rebel, almost always at a concert. She loves to soak up the scene, immersed in the music journalism world, still buys CDs and rents music documentaries from the library. Just don't call her a hipster. She's never been that stylish.

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