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Rise Against

It's impossible to accurately gauge the effectiveness of a well-placed "whoa-oh-WHOA-oh" in the chorus of a punk-rock song. Punctuating the opening or closing breaths of an anthemic refrain, these wordless, shouted vocals often provide a convincing urgency to a simple ode to the pleasures of beer or a condemnation of genocide in Darfur.

The Chicago hardcore band Rise Against achieves just such a brutal immediacy on its fourth album. So well, in fact, that this CD's 13 songs have been repeatedly stirring the blood of this overweight, 40-something part-time music critic in ways he hasn't felt for two decades, not since the halcyon days of such powerhouse hardcore legends as Black Flag, Bad Brains, Minor Threat and Dead Kennedys.

Unrelenting flights of ride-of-the-valkyries guitar riffs and jackhammering rhythms escort vocalist Tim McIlrath's poetic, humanistic lyrics, which explore social commentary, political awareness and civil liberty while avoiding high school preciousness.

If questioning authority is your modus operandi and your reason to live, you'll find comfort in The Sufferer and the Witness. Although Rise Against supports many activist causes outside of its music, its best tunes are grown from the seeds of personal politics. An emotional singer with distinctive power, McIlrath credibly holds forth on such matters as salvaging one's sense of self from anomie ("Injection"), the search for homelands ("Prayer of the Refugee"), compassion for the disenfranchised ("Ready to Fall") and the quest for meaning ("Good Left Undone").

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