It should come as no surprise that Endgame, the sixth album from Chicago punk-rock outfit Rise Against, debuted at a band-best #2 on the Billboard charts. While the group has been touring and recording nonstop since 1999, the making of this 12-song set at the Blasting Room in Ft. Collins, Colorado provided them with a new take on music creation.
“We wrote a lot of this record in the studio, which is rare for us,” says drummer Brandon Barnes. “Usually we have a lot of extra songs, then hash them out and see what will make the cut — it was a different approach, but one of the more fun studio experiences I’ve had.
“Endgame is a very Rise Against record. The band members are all musically versatile, which keeps the music fresh. You can hear that on the record: We have acoustic songs all the way to blazing-fast hardcore songs. Lyrically, it touches on things that are going on in the world environmentally, financially. That’s what we like to do: Talk about serious stuff and make people think. ‘Help Is On The Way’ is about New Orleans, their struggles with Hurricane Katrina and the oil spill, and how they’re working to get through that.”
“Help” starts out with a confident, quick-striding rock strut buoyed by Barnes. “The guitars there are real staccato,” he says. “I wanted one kick drum to make it a sharp, tight beat. The hi-hats there are loose, and then halfway through another guitar comes in, going up another octave. There, I go to a crash to keep it heavy, add some intensity, and build it up.”
At 0:07, a tight double-stop fill is the first of many unified moves between Barnes and his band. “I like to line up with the guitars a lot and beef them up,” he notes. “Sometimes I’ll do it naturally, or we’ll talk about different ways to accent things — fills from the snare or toms, or some big crashes. When the whole band lines up on those accents, they have more impact and become a lot bigger.”
Barnes is free to peel off fun, fast tom-and-crash fills throughout the intro before cruising into a crisp, ride-led pattern from 0:18–0:22, followed by an evolving beat for the verse. “I really wanted to change the texture there in the pre-verse,” Barnes explains. “I’ve used the hi-hats, and then gone to the crash to intensify it, so the bell of the ride there sounds very wide open, and it helps the bass stick out. It’s a complete color change that gets rid of any washiness that was in the part setting up the verse.
“When the verse starts, I’m doing quarter-notes on the hats. Then halfway through the verse, I do really tight eighth-notes on the hats. The guitars start chugging and it creates that urgency.”
At 0:41, the beat from the intro returns, a setup for the powerful drive of the chorus, which kicks in at 0:53, then elevates even more at 1:02. “There’s an ‘A’ part of the chorus, and a ‘B’ part,” explains Barnes. “In the ‘B’ part, after the long fill, I go in with the crash so its washy and powerful, and then it switches gears guitar- and vocal-wise. I just wanted to represent a huge change, so I finally felt it was cool to go to eighth-notes on the ride bell.”
At 1:08 and 1:13, the tiny slices of space Rise Against creates are as important as big chops. “Our producer, Bill Stevenson, calls those ‘handshakes’ – getting in and out of the verse, chorus, and bridges. You can have the best part, but if you can’t get in and out of it smoothly, it doesn’t sound right. I always love when a band just stops: The next part comes in huge when we do that moment of silence.”
After another round of verse/chorus, you can hear Barnes make space in another way, with a quick choke of the crash. “The cymbal choke is so basic but so effective,” he says. “It’s the ultimate stop: A big cymbal crash, then choke it, then silence. A lot of people forget that move is available, though.”
Barnes sits out for a few seconds before the bridge, then re-emerges with what the band calls the “Coldplay beat” — a build much in the vein of Will Champion’s propulsive “Clocks” work. “It goes along with the picking of the guitar. It’s really heavy, really crash-y. I went for a beat that would go with the picking of the guitar, and be a whole new start of the song. Under Tim’s screaming vocals, it’s just a huge part.”
Starting at 2:17, Barnes goes from a four-on-the-floor feel to a restrained take on the “Coldplay beat,” then builds with the band until he explodes outward with the first of many flam volleys at 3:15. “Flams are the best thing ever,” says Barnes. “Flams have so much power. Every drummer uses them, and there’s a reason for that: They’re effective. At that spot, big, heavy flams into the crash have more impact, and provide something different to listen to towards the end there.”
Barnes invites listeners to air drum with all their might to the mighty microburst he unleashes at 3:30. “That fill is just (snare) flam, rack, floor, and then crash with the left hand. Simple and powerful. I read once that Dave Grohl said, ‘I come up with drum parts people can air drum to.’ That’s such good advice. Even people who don’t know how to play the drums can get caught up in it.”
The strutting beat from the intro reappears at 3:44, with Barnes digging in as he and his bandmates close on a definitive halt, punctuated by a precision drum fill at 3:51. “That’s another fill that starts with a flam,” he says. “I’m trying to line up with the guitars, and hit all those last notes that they hit. On certain fills, if you want to set up a section going into a more energetic part, then you don’t do snare-rack-floor, because it sounds like you’re dropping down, but its perfect for the end of a song. When I start high and end low, I call them peel-downs: It’s a fill down the toms for closure.”
Drums Tama Starclassic Maple (Black Metallic With Gold Inlay)
1 22" x 18" Bass Drum
2 14" x 8" Snare Drum
3 13" x 10" Tom
4 16" x 14" Floor Tom
A 15" AA Rock Hi-Hat
B 18" AAX Stage Crash
C 19" Virgil Donati Signature Saturation Crash
D 22" Paragon Ride
E 20" Vault V-Crash
Brandon Barnes also uses Tama hardware and Tama Iron Cobra Power Glide pedal, Evans heads, and Vic Firth sticks.