When the idea was first conceived to combine hard, grinding rock and relentless, flowing rap, many scoffed. Now a days, this genre-splicing is not only accepted, but revered as some of the most original sounds to resonate from a speaker in years. Many bands utilized this technique in the nineties, the most respected of which include (but aren’t limited to) The Red Hot Chili Pepper’s, The Beastie Boys, and Urban Dance Squad. Pushing the already flaming envelope one-step farther, Rage Against the Machine took the formula and expanded upon it by introducing political themes into the lyrical content, and by allowing noise master Tom Morello to play the guitar in a thoroughly original and unique way. Upon gaining massive success and adoration with their first two albums, Rage Against the Machine
and Evil Empire
respectively, Rage once again positioned themselves to slay capitalist pigs and moral degenerates everywhere in 1999. Success was rather vital, as unbeknownst to Rage, or anyone else for that matter, this would be their last studio album consisting of original material before the members would go their (somewhat) separate ways. However, as for most famous rock and roll acts, trouble was lurking on the horizon, not only for the album, but indeed for the band itself.
One thing that many fans tend to vent over is when a great band changes artistic and/or musical direction in favor of some more experimental flavorings. One of few, Rage is a band that really didn’t change much throughout their career. Heavy riffing, fluid rapping, and angry, far-left political stances dominated every album. So, why is this one different" In time, my friend. In time.
While many are more familiar with the hit single Guerrilla Radio
(as featured on Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2
) than the album it is contained on, it is arguably one of the weakest tracks on the entire album. Reasoning for such a statement can be found in the irony that the song exudes, as it lends itself to the very capitalist union’s the band had always assaulted. Musically, the funky bass-lines and smooth raps are delectable, but taking them seriously can sometimes be quite the daunting task. And perhaps that’s
the biggest problem of all right there. It is rather difficult to take the band seriously on songs like Calm Like A Bomb
, in which Zack De La Rocha sounds simply pathetic with painfully delivered inquiries/proclamations as “Whatcha say, whatcha say, whatcha say what" I’m calm like a bomb!”
, and only more so when set against a very mechanical and eventually grating backdrop provided by Morello and the rhythm section, consisting of Tim Commerford (bass) and Brad Wilk (drums). By contrast, the band has never sounded more righteous and together than on the hit Sleep Now In the Fire
. Indeed, it could be a defining Rage song in its heavy, all-out chorus and adamant verses.
While there are some glaring problems with the album, there are some genuinely fantastic moments on it. Maria
features some of the best rapping (not to mention lyrics) of Zack’s career, and Tom Morello once more demonstrates he’s a wizard with the guitar. Likewise, Testify
is an all-out rock fest, with it’s anthem-like riff and Zack’s adamant wail of “Now testify!
. Yes, the band does give us some great tunes. Another problem, however, lies in the track listing. Of the twelve tracks that make up the album, about five are simply weak. Perhaps the defining song for this scenario is Born Of A Broken Man
, which is utterly dull and boring, and one of the rather abundant times on the album that it’s hard to take Zack De la Rocha seriously. Add unto this that the order of the album tends to go in the classic “hits first, filler last” format, and you’ve got quite the problem.
At times, one can almost detect a funk atmosphere preservering under the atmosphere provided by the blazing guitar of Tom Morello, and the mammoth groove provided by Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk. Such diversity does contribute to the album, and as a matter of a fact is one of it's redeeming features. While a song like Mic Check
isn't exactly standard issue for a rock-rap band, it proves itself to be a highlight with it's groove and feel, and of course, with Zack De La Rocha's rhymes and rhythym. Never fear, though, because it is indeed grinding rock and sweaty riffs that head the album off, and as mentioned, when the band does deliver, they deliver
. War Within a Breath
is a massive tune, almost epic in it's lyrical content and feel. And even though there are plenty of weaker tunes residing on the album, a tune such as this is more than enough to keep you listening, or at least draw your attention evey now and again.
After releasing their final album, which was essentially a Raged-out cover disk, Rage Against the Machine split up, effectively ending their partnership. While their first two albums leave a legacy that is as gargantuan as the climactic ending in Bulls On Parade
, their last two efforts hang just outside the spotlight, and for good reason. Ultimately, the album just doesn't deliver the same relentless stomping offered by their first two albums, and when it does, it feels oddly out of place; different in some unexplainable way. However, it is a record worth listening to, and at the very least one might be inclined to skip the bad tracks and just listen to Maria
and songs of that ilk. Indeed, if any other political rock-rap band had released an album such as this, infinite promise would have been exuded from it. But as it were, it wasn’t enough to define and ultimately close the career of one of the biggest bands of the nineties.
Tom Morello’s playing
Zack De La Rocha
Some guitar noises are utterly obnoxious
Zack De La Rocha