The Classics Series:
Rage Against the Machine- Rage Against the Machine
OVER the next week or two…
I am looking at a range of different musicians and songs- across various countries and genres- and seeing what new music has to offer. Aside from my reviews and interviews, I will focus on a new series: Looking at classic albums that have changed music. Starting off with one of the ‘90s most scintillating albums: The groundbreaking and unstoppable juggernaut, Rage Against the Machine.
Released in 1992, it saw vocalist Zach de la Rocha join with guitarist Tom Morello; drummer Brad Wilk and bass player Tim Commerford. The L.A. group’s Rapcore blends were a breath of fresh air in a music scene that were seeking a mouthpiece against the inequalities and struggles of modern life. Looking at police corruption, racism and political injustices: The quartet concentrated these angers into a stunning record that inspired a legion of musicians and young listeners. From that stunning cover- featuring the self-immolation of Thích Quảng Đức– to the sheer consistency and quality throughout: Critics were united in their support and love of a masterclass creation.
Whilst the genres of Rap and Heavy Metal were strangers to one another; Rage Against the Machine were one of the first bands to bring them together- throughout the ‘90s bands such as Beastie Boys would perfect the art. Few were expecting a band like Rage Against the Machine to arrive. The U.S. had (up until that point) seen some terrific young rappers come through- and great Heavy Metal bands for that matter- nothing has arrived like the Los Angeles boys. Led by angry white boy de la Rocha; their Molotov cocktail of rebellion and disgust came together in songs that were surprisingly disciplined, focused and nuanced.
Bombtrack is a number that perfectly kicks the album off. Kicking with tripping and sneaky guitar strings; the track builds into a stunning explosion. With each player coming-together with aplomb and purpose: the song sees our lead deliver one of his most swaggering vocal performances. Offering beat-downs and truths: Our hero leads an elite charge against the “power whores and landlords”. Rallying against the social inequities he sees; de la Rocha sounds completely in control and purposeful. Brad Wilk provides some stunning double-kick flourishes- rare for any drummer- and is backed by the electricity of Morello and Commerford. The name of the track uses the word ‘bomb’ to mean ‘greatest’: Rage’s braggadocio and proclamations are evident right from the offset.
Killing in the Name is the obvious standout from Rage Against the Machine: The anthem that remains their most popular song; its chorus tag- “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!”- became the rallying cry for disaffected youth. A track that looked at police violence and institutional racism; it was one of the most politically-charged and angry songs on record. A hit-back against the ills of American society it sees de la Rocha build the tension: Those “Fuck you”s start mumbled and teasing- before building into a firework crescendo. Released six months after the Los Angeles riots; the song perfectly captured the imbalance and problems that pervaded society at the time. Fiery bass lines and militaristic drumming brutality was at the core: It was perhaps Morello’s guitar work that defined the track (for me at least). Few guitarists have arrived on the scene- and have since in fact- that have such a range of moves and innovations in their bag. Ingenious and original riffs sparred with sparkling diversions and firecracker scratches: A player with limitless potential; it was all laid bare in a track that became Rage Against the Machine’s defining anthem.
Away from the obvious anthems; the band created songs which build and mutated: Songs that developed and grew like a blood-baying animal. Bullet in the Head was inspired by the belief (the band had) the media were controlling people’s thoughts. Packing in some meaty and gut-punching riffs; it sees Morello open his magic box and produce some of his most scintillating creations. Take the Power Back is a chant-able beast of a track: An obvious call that rebels against the ineptitude of government; a song that resonated with those listening upon its release.
What strikes me about Rage Against the Machine is how its songs grip the attention from the very off. Those introductions are so considered and perfect; you are captivated from the very first notes. Settle for Nothing builds the tension with a moody and twilight introduction: All danger and uncertainty; it leads to one of the band’s most tense and tight performances. Know Your Enemy starts with that dizzying and head-spinning introduction assault. Surprisingly direct and to-the-point the song looks at the contradictions the U.S. perpetrates: It is the “land of the free” yet invades other countries at will- a furious attack against the hypocrisy of government. Wake Up sees Morello employ Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir (and that biblical riff) for his own measures. Running in at over six minutes long- an epic by the album’s standards- it looks at the racial problems in the U.S. Putting figures such as Malcom X. and Martin Luther King Jr. under the microscope: Here the song suggests government agencies such as the F.B.I. arranged those assassinations.
Fistful of Steel remains a favourite for me. One of the finest introductions on the album; it builds from woozy and warped guitars. From there you get that scuffed and echoed metallic punch; the percussion rifles in- de la Rocha elicits a brief “Hup!” before the band combine in an orgasmic, cool-as-fuck swagger. With Freedom providing a suitably epic conclusion; you have an album that was- and still is among many- considered one of the finest in all of music.
Rage Against the Machine would go onto create three more albums- 2000’s Renegade was their last- and would never burn as bright as they did on their debut. Whilst by no means a case of diminishing returns; Rage Against the Machine perfectly captured the anger felt by many: Perfectly assessed across an album that brimmed-over with explosive anger and hard truths. The partnership and bond between front-man de la Rocha and guitar genius Morello seemed unlikely but worked perfectly. The former was at his strongest when focused on particular issues- less inspired when widening his scope. Few artists at the time had any particular political stance: de la Rocha’s leftist anthems saw him mix street preacher fanaticism with militaristic Rap assaults. Morello brought in a
Few artists at the time had any particular political stance: de la Rocha’s leftist anthems saw him mix street preacher fanaticism with militaristic Rap assaults. Morello brought in a truckload of wizardry, invention and colours. Bringing new life into the genres of Rap and Heavy Metal: Marking him as one of the world’s greatest guitarists; the album would have been far weaker in anyone else’s hands. Joined by some tremendous percussion and bass work- the entire band had no equals in terms of musicianship and quality- Rage Against the Machine remains a peerless and landmark creation.
The sad thing is- showing foresight and prescience by the L.A. band- the album remains crucial and relevant to this day. Police racism and inequality burns bright and unchallenged. Across the U.S., we keep hearing stories of police brutality and racially-motivated shootings. With political lunatics like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump spewing their right-wing insanity and propaganda: Has U.S. politics and society changed since 1992? It seems insane the country- and the world at large- has not matured and evolved in the past 24 years. Whilst the music (of Rage Against the Machine) captivated and spoke to listeners at the time: Here is an album that continues to inspire and amaze listeners. If you have not witnessed one of music’s finest-ever albums; ensure you change this…
AND watch your mind being blown away.
Killing in the Name
Take the Power Back
Settle for Nothing
Bullet in the Head
Know Your Enemy
Fistful of Steel
Bombtrack; Killing in the Name; Know Your Enemy; Fistful of Steel; Freedom
Killing in the Name