Notably, the band members are all activists of human and animal rights, which is no empty promise. They are all vegans, and live an entirely drug-and-alcohol-free lifestyle (with the exception of drummer Brandon Barnes).
The band has undergone something of a style shift from their first album to their more recent works starting with Appeal to Reason - from straight Punk Rock to a more mainstream sound, although the social commentary in the lyrics has always remained intact. Opinion is divided on which, if any, is the better sound.
- Tim McIlrath: lead vocals, guitar (1999)
- Zach Blair: lead guitar (2007)
- Joe Principe: bass, backing vocals (1999)
- Brandon Barnes: drums, percussion (2000)
- Dan Wlekinski lead guitar, backing vocals (19992001)
- Kevin White lead guitar, backing vocals (200102)
- Todd Mohney lead guitar, backing vocals (200204)
- Chris Chasse lead guitar, backing vocals (200407)
- Toni Tintari drums, percussion (19992000)
- Dan Lumley drums, percussion (2000)
- The Unraveling (2001)
- Revolutions per Minute (2003)
- Siren Song of the Counter Culture (2004)
- The Sufferer & the Witness (2006)
- Appeal to Reason (2008)
- Endgame (2011)
- The Black Market (2014)
- Wolves (2017)
The tropes part when they hit the floor:
- After the End: The song Endgame from the album of the same name features a society collapsing upon itself, but the narrator and his partner are better off for it. Alluded to in the song People Live Here.
- Arc Number: Downplayed on Appeal to Reason, in which the final three songs ("Savior," "Hairline Fracture," and "Whereabouts Unknown") all run the same length - 4 minutes and 2 seconds.
- Beautiful All Along - Tim McIlrath as explained by this comic.◊
- Bookends: "Hero of War" begins and ends with the same two lines:He said "Son, have you seen the world? / Well what would you say if I said that you could?"
- Bland-Name Product: In the music video of "Give It All", a crew defaces a billboard for WcBurger's, which has the upside-down logo of the golden arches of McDonald's. In addition, the billboard advertises hamburgers.
- Break-Up Song: "Everchanging", "The Approaching Curve", "Blood to Bleed".
- Careful with That Axe: Especially notable examples include "Injection", "State of the Union" and "Dead Ringer".
- Chicago: The home of the band and the setting for their videos. Not that they have any particular affinity for it, a bunch of punk rock anarchists bomb the hell out of it in the video for "Re-Education (Through Labor)".
- Cluster F-Bomb: "Survive" has the F word in it four times, which is a unique deviation from the band's usual style.
- Cover Version: The band has recored a couple of covers such as "Ballad of Hollis Brown" by Bob Dylan, Sliver by Nirvana and "The Ghost of Tom Joad" by Bruce Springsteen
- Crossover: With Flobots. Tim McIlrath performs the lead vocals for the group in their song "White Flag Warrior".
- The Dead Have Names: "Make It Stop (September's Children)." The alternate title is significant.
- Downer Ending:
- "Hero of War": the man in the story fails to stop his friends from committing war crimes (which are suspiciously similar to some committed by US troops in a certain Iraq prison), and then falls to peer pressure and joins in. Later, he ends up killing a woman who was unarmed and holding a white flag. The man ends up going home, broken and defeated, with his love of country tainted by what he's seen in war.
- "The Approaching Curve": During an argument with the narrator, the girlfriend/wife presumably drives their vehicle off of a cliff (either due to the anger or a distraction), killing them both.
- Driven to Suicide: "Heaven Knows". Also, "Make It Stop (September's Children)", at least 'til the last chorus.
- Dual-Meaning Chorus - Many of their songs can be interpreted in multiple ways.
- Eco-Terrorist: "The Eco-Terrorist in Me" is an homage to the concept, suggesting that "burning factories" is acceptable because businessmen are the "true criminals".
- Gilligan Cut: "Hero of War": After the first verse and chorus, you're sure the song's about a man who's proud to be in the military. In the second verse, however, he and a few fellow troops break into a civilian's house and kidnap one of her children. After which he either still believes he'll be a war hero, or is simply being sarcastic.
- Hidden Track: There's a rather faithful cover of Journey's "Any Way You Want It", of all things on Revolutions per Minute, which plays about a minute after the last song ends.
- "Join the Army," They Said" "Hero of War" and "Survivor Guilt"
- Long-Runner Line-up: The current lineup qualified as a Type 2 on March 1, 2017.
- Loudness War: Averted with their first two albums (on an Indie label), played straight with the rest of their discography.
- Lyric Swap:
First chorus: A hero of war / Yeah, that's what I'll be / And when I come home / They'll be damn proud of me
- In "Hero of War", the first chorus is proud and gung-ho, as the man in the song is pumped when he joins the army. As the song progresses, however, he witnesses the horrors of war as his unit commits unspeakable acts against other people, and the final chorus is much more bitter in response.
Final chorus: A hero of war / Is that what they see? / Just medals and scars / So damn proud of me
First chorus: And nothing matters but the pain when you're alone / The never-ending nights when you're awake / When you're praying that tomorrow, it's okay
- "Tragedy + Time" is about the experience of trauma in your life, and the initial chorus lets you know that it can feel hopeless. Towards the end, it encourages you to let that experience shape you, and the final chorus gives you a glimpse of what the light at the end of the tunnel might feel like.
Final chorus: Nothing matters when the pain is all but gone / When you are finally awake / Despite the overwhelming odds, tomorrow came
- Lyrical Dissonance: The catchy and upbeat-sounding chorus of Savior stands in sharp contrast to the desperate and rather depressing lyrics.
- Meaningful Name: Former guitarist Mr. Precision.
- Metal Scream: Tim sometimes makes use of a rather harsh roar, despite the band's lack of other metallic elements.
- Music Video Overshadowing
- New Sound Album: Starting with Siren Song of the Counter Culture, they began to ramp up the political tone of their lyrics, while acquiring a more polished, mainstream sound. Opinions on this direction vary, but are generally positive.
- Non-Appearing Title: "Make It Stop (September's Children)" is half an example, as "Make it stop" is a line in the chorus, but "September's children" is not in the song.
- Obligatory War Crime Scene: "Hero of War" is essentially a string of these after the first chorus.
- Pep-Talk Song: "Survive" and "Tragedy + Time" let you know that there may be times that are really bad, but they are what let you know you're alive and build you up..
- Power Ballad: "Swing Life Away", "Roadside"
- Protest Song: Well, duh. Endgame, in particular, is almost a Protest album.
- Precision F-Strike: "Rumors of My Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated", "Survivor Guilt", "Architects", "State of the Union", "The Great Die-Off", and "House on Fire". For a band whose music tackles such heavy, powerful themes, they rarely curse. As such, any instance where they use foul language certainly counts as a Precision F-Strike. For example, in "The Great Die-Off", the chorus says "We want it all and we want it now.". The third time it's said, however, it's replaced by a more powerful "We want the motherfucking world and we want it now".
- Scatting: Savior was in The Sims 3
- Single Tear: In "Savior", the first verse uses this to allude to loneliness.As the telling signs of age rain down, a single tear is dropping
Through the valleys of an aging face that this world has forgotten
- Spoken Word in Music:
- The verses of "The Approaching Curve". They also use clips of dialogue from American Beauty in "Last Chance Blueprint" and dialogue from the film Henry Fool in "Reception Fades".
- There is also some dialogue in "Survivor Guilt".
- Stepford Smiler: "Paper Wings" and "Audience of One"
- Stepford Snarker: "Hero of War", during the second chorus, possibly.
- Surprisingly Gentle Song: "Swing Life Away"
- Take That!:
Against Me!: Do you remember when you were young? And you wanted to set the world on fire?
- Compare the Against Me! song "I Was a Teenage Anarchist" with "Architects"
Rise Against: Do you remember when you were young? And you wanted to set the world on fire? Well, I still am, and I still do!
would God bless a murder of the innocent?
- "Blood Red, White, and Blue" is a pretty big Take That! against the Bush administration.
would God bless a war based on pride?
would God bless a money-hungry government? No!
- The Runaway: "Paper Wings"
- Wanderlust Song: "Anywhere But Here"
- War Is Hell
- A World Half Full: "Worth Dying For" and the ending to Endgame.