Review Summary: Unique, angry, and powerful; truly one of the essential albums from the 90s and an absolute classic to this day.Rage Against the Machine
I can still remember it like it was yesterday: I was ten years old and driving down the heavily wooded backroads of Lake Sebago, Maine. It was the summer of ’96, and my music taste was just beginning to branch out in all the right directions. A couple months before this late night drive, if anyone had inquired to me above my favorite bands I would have likely listed Ricky Martin’s The Cup of Life as my all time favorite song, with Smashmouth’s Walking On the Sun as a close second. Alas, these days would soon come to an end, as I had begun to discover the joys of heavier bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. However that night as I drove back from a lobster bake with my dear Uncle Chris, my life would be radically altered. We had been talking about music, and being the ten year old that I was I didn’t really have any basis to argue music tastes on. I put all my faith in my Uncle to expose me to all the music out there. So, as we made our departure home, he slipped a disc out of his CD case and put it into the car stereo. All was silent as I gazed upon the road ahead of me, and slowly the soft and delicate muted intro of Bombtrack
met my ears. It just got louder and louder, more tense and gripping than it had been seconds before. I could feel myself being pulled, my first real taste of music, my first real taste of what would become my passion. And out of nowhere, the song exploded into the first real guitar riff that I had ever noticed
. Music ceased to be one collective noise, and rather began to come together as parts of a machine. I didn’t know what a riff was, I didn’t know what a hook was, and I sure as Hell didn’t know what a Digitech Whammy Pedal was; but I did know one thing: This was hands down, the most intense, passionate, and captivating music I had ever heard. My uncle smiled at me, obviously seeing my wonderment and excitement. And then, all my questions were answered, this was Rage Against the Machine
So how can I possibly describe an album that changed so much of my life?
The collective noise that Brad Wilks, Tim Crommerford, Tom Morello, and Zach de la Rocha created is a testament to everything I have come to love about music, everything that it represents. Instrumental brilliance, warped guitar soundscapes, and lyrics that sound like the bastard child of Allen Ginsberg and Friedrich Nietzsche. Rage Against the Machine’s
self titled debut was one of the most incredible albums to come out of the 90s, unique and original beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. It was controversial, heavy, and abrasive; yet it could almost
be danced to. I will try my best not to come across like a fanboy as I write this, and judge it with an open mind, just as I did seven years ago.
Rage Against the Machine’s
sound can be described in so many different ways. It is the sound of a bomb going off in a crowded market, the sound of machine guns firing on innocent bystanders, and it is the screams of protesters as tear gas explodes onto a rally. It is the sound of the oppressed; a torn and tattered flag being waved for those who cannot speak. Their sound is gritty and urban, it perfectly captures the mood of poverty stricken life. Morello’s roaring guitars and Zach’s spitfire vocals conjure up images of smoking sewers, burning buildings, and grime covered streets. It is not necessarily pretty, but it is honest.
Of course, if a band is to conjure up imagery this shocking they must have one Hell of a rhythm section, and Rage
more than delivers. Brad Wilks is not the most technical drummer, but he has some great beats and syncs in perfectly with Crommerford’s Bass. Tim’s bass playing is incredibly diverse, playing with equal Hardcore Punk influence(Bombtrack)
as well as funk slapping(Take The Power Back)
. Tom Morello’s guitar is truly the icing on the cake. A modern wizard, he reinvented the term “virtuoso” and shook the foundation of just what guitar playing was. Much like the Salvador Dali of guitar, Morello combined a vast array of effects to produce warped DJ rhythms in place of traditional guitar solos. Every example of this revolutionary technique is genius, how he rhythmically kills the sound on his guitar to replicate Hip Hop scratching. The solos range from a Terminator X backdrop, to a blaring siren, to a free-jazz traditional guitar solo. Originality, thy name is Tom Morello. There are tones on this album that are high enough implode a dog and low enough to shake floorboards. Of course, the guitar experimentation is not the only high point of the band’s instrumentation. When he’s not tearing open some new sonic velocity, he is slamming out heavy riffs with the rest of the band. Rage’s
self titled debut was a time before Morello had exhausted nearly every riff in his collection, and almost every single riff on here is extremely original and catchy. Songs like Killing In the Name
and Bullet In The Head
sport some of the best riffs of the decade, they instantly hook the listener.
Finally, to top off the band’s sound, there is the one and only Zach de la Rocha. A Brimstone and Fire rapper who unleashes his political incantations as if they were commandments from some kind of Cyanide God himself. Radical, cutting, and hypnotic are all words that come to mind when trying to describe his delivery, but it really must be heard for oneself. It’s biggest strength is that it compliments the instrumentation perfectly. The rapping does not have the typical “gangsta” rap sound, his verses explode like grenades; mixed with harsh screams and merciless accusations. His very voice just bleeds with revolutionary angst, as if he is sentencing The Oppressors to death for their crimes against society. Lyrically, this CD is also an absolute gem. Wake Up
, which deals with the Kennedy assassination as well as other various conspiracies, is one of the best examples of the shining lyrical content. “Networks at work, keeping people calm, ya know they murdered X, and try to blame it on Islam, they turned the power to the have-nots, and then came the shot”
Rage Against the Machine’s
self titled debut has few flaws, it is near perfect. Every single song is an experience, and none should be missed. The only things that could really turn people off to this album are the political connotations. The views expressed can be somewhat extreme, and I don’t agree with many of them. Although it has become a rather popular trend these days to attack the American Government, Rage
does it rather sincerely and actually comes across as knowing what they are talking about(something that many bands today could take a hint from). For recommended tracks, Killing In the Name
is arguably the essential Rage
track. With creative riffs, a howling solo, and the thundering “*** you I don’t do what you tell me”
outro, it is a perfect representation of everything that the band stands for.
This CD is one that changed my life. Had I never heard it, I don’t know where I would be now. Any fan of music could love this, as long as they approach it with an open mind. It is undeniably unique, and one of the only albums to ever successfully combine hip hop and heavy metal. It is many things: creative, political, and just phenomenally executed. But above all, it is passionate. Every detail of this album just screams with pride, with conviction, and with Rage
”Read my writing on the wall, no-one’s here to catch me when I fall, if ignorance is bliss, then knock the smile off my face. If we don’t take action now, we settle for nothing later, settle for nothing now, and we’ll settle for nothing later.”