Review Summary: Zack de la Rocha and Jon Theodore team up for a spontaneous yet good EP.
One Day as a Lion, as this duo will openly state, comes from a quote: “It's better to live one day as a lion, than a thousand years as a lamb.” Well, as many know, Zack de la Rocha has spent more than a day roaring like a lion over the top of Rage Against the Machine, and, following their breakup, further collaborations. This project, however, may be a one-off project, the combination of de la Rocha and former Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore. The project marks the first major output from de la Rocha since the breakup of Rage Against the Machine, despite working on a solo album following that breakup and making a reported 20 tracks with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. Perhaps it is the brevity, the spontaneity of this project that allowed it to flourish as far as a full public release.
The combination of Theodore and de la Rocha raises some questions, however. While Theodore is a ridiculously talented drummer (listen to Amputecture
), would he be able to stay behind de la Rocha, an inherently different vocalist than Cedric Bixler-Zavala. Addressing that issue, Theodore plays remarkably constrained, with creative yet simple grooves that allow de la Rocha to remain in the forefront for nearly the entire EP. Yet in the few moments where he gets a chance to shine, he reminds listeners that he is one of the most dynamic drummers around, able to change to feel of a song on the fly. For example, closer and title track, perhaps the duo's central motto in song, “One Day as a Lion” has multiple, separate grooves that alone distinguish the sections of the song.
The newest, most eyebrow-raising side of this collaboration, however, is the newfound role of Zack de la Rocha, taking a seat behind the keyboards. He plays with one sound on nearly the entire album which, all in all, sounds like a keyboard trying to imitate Tom Morello. Although incorporating an instrument never found in RATM's music, de la Rocha makes the keyboard the most reminiscent quality of the RATM on the album. Yet he demonstrates no real proficiency on the keyboard, he just provides some sense of melodic material, although most times acts as noise more than anything else. So with Theodore playing under de la Rocha, and the keyboards doing little to impress, de la Rocha's verses carry most of the EP.
Luckily, de la Rocha has shown no signs of aging or tiring; he is exactly the same as we left him, an angry and vaguely political lyricist. While most of the album is of little significance to his lyrical catalog, he has strong moments such as “Ocean View” and “If You Fear Dying.” The former is the strongest showing on the EP, painting a picture of an overreacting government causing mayhem (“cops blasting out church windows”) and falsely accusing the cities of crimes (“hid in the pews, just two city terrace kids”), only to inspire more anger (“they shook to the rhythm of heaters that burned like claps of thunder”). In the chorus, he attempts a vocal melody, and although he fails in that attempt, the change in style is a welcome one. His lyrics fall consistent with the messages he has always preached – full of the psuedo-religious references (“Both Muhammad and Christ would lay your body down/To a tune so wild international”) and rebellion (“Time is coming/Rising like the dawn of a red sun/If you fear dying then you're, then you're already dead”). Indeed, the meanings of lyrics, and the angry delivery are something everyone has heard before, but it has been so long that it brings a refreshing sense of nostalgia.
To fully understand One Day as a Lion, a listener must keep in mind the spontaneity and mindset of the project. The sound quality is, by all accounts, mediocre, but the raw nature of the music reflects the “one day” aspect of their motto. Mixed by Mario C, the album's sound certainly draws from his Beastie Boys experience. Hopefully, however, de la Rocha can muster the confidence and strength to finish his dream of a fully produced solo album. In a time where political music needs a leader, perhaps his vision could light a fire again like it did over a decade ago. This is, at least, a start.