Cut it any way you like, 1992 feels like a lifetime ago. Twenty-five years; Good Lord! Bill Clinton became the forty-second president, Michael Jordan and the Bulls stood far and above the rest of the NBA and MTV was still awesome. Just as everyone wanted their MTV, I now want my Rage Against the Machine. No period of music ran so deep and rich with the wealth of creative and burgeoning musicians leading a revolution since the early 90’s. Grunge, Alternative, Pop-Punk and even Nu-Metal saw their seeds planted and grow to unexpected heights through the rest of the decade. With so many amazing bands emerging and demanding the attention of the musical world, one band truly started a revolution in November 1992.
Rage Against the Machine. The musical mentality and ferocity of a power-trio with a brilliant, socially conscious rapper out in front. Never before had a band captivated and commanded with the sheer domination they possessed; and never since. No offense Audioslave and Prophets of Rage, but just like Saturday Night Live, sometimes you have no choice but to submit, throw your hands in the air and admit that the original is truly the best.
On their classic, genre-defining eponymous debut, Rage Against the Machine hold absolutely nothing back. And why should they? The ten-track outing lets up not once. The album is so rich in anthems, so straight-forward in its mission statement it’s hard to believe it’s their debut album. First albums shouldn’t be this shockingly outrageous. The album beats you into submission to the point it almost forces you to shout “Uncle” in hopes it’d let up. But even then, you get rocked to the absolute core of your existence. Right out of the gate, “Bombtrack” lays out the band’s thesis statement. The subdued, syncopated riffing of guitar maestro Tom Morello and bass player extraordinaire Tim Commerford sets the mood oh so quietly as the pounding from Brad Wilk’s snare drum raises the stakes. When the three come together to kick off, it’s like a sonic judo-chop to the throat. It hits you so hard, yet your only reaction is to lock in with the groove and bang your head.
Each individual member of Rage Against the Machine is so important to the overall sound that you cannot underestimate just how much you need all four. Zack de la Rocha is a poet handing out lyrical beat downs. He’s angry. He’s informed. And he has a platform to voice his concerns and speak his mind to the masses. To pick just one song on that reigns lyrical supremacy is unfair. “Killing In the Name” certainly would be a fine selection; if for no other reason than the “Fuck You I Won’t Do What You Tell Me” section that is as ingrained in the minds of rock music fans as is the line, “One, two, three and to the four. Snoop Doggy Dogg and Dr. Dre is at the door” is in the mind of raps fans. It’s almost synonymous with the genre itself.
But for Rage Against the Machine and de la Rocha more specifically, it is a collection of work more than the individual moments that define this landmark album. In fact, the album plays much like the band itself. Tom Morello is a guitar-hero wizard, content to rock your face off with a take no prisoners bravado. It’s fascinating looking back on this album because his playing is so simple yet so unbelievably effective. He busts out the toggle switch infused shredding at times like “Killing In the Name” but takes an almost classical approach at other times like in the wildly overlooked, “Settle For Nothing.” His swinging guitar riffs and squeals, screeches and shrieks from another world elevate him to a level all his own. Not since Eddie Van Halen had someone made such an immediate impact on the guitar.
The band laid the groundwork for bands to come without sacrificing any of their own identity to make a splash. “Take the Power Back” and Bullet in the Head” provide Commerford the perfect launch pad for his Red Hot Chili Peppers-influenced, Music Man Stingray slap-off. His punchy, flashy bass lines are the perfect foil for Wilk’s subtle, laidback, less-is-more approach on the skins. It’s an interesting aspect of the early Rage Against the Machine sound because on subsequent albums and the Audioslave discography, Commerford retired his white Stingray in favor of a Fender customized bass with less emphasis on high-end slapping and popping and more on low end grumble and effects-laden virtuosity. Each style is great but I give this version the slight edge only because of the individual appearance in his discography.
Rage Against the Machine are like a sonic religious experience. You’re simultaneously moved and motivated. They inspire you avoid the route of a passive passenger in the game of life and to be engaged and educated in the issues that matter most. The first-time hearing Rage Against the Machine is a life-changing event. The funk-rock aggression builds and feeds on itself, never surrendering to the rules of self-imposed norms of other rock acts. The music is so slick, so uppity that even at its most basic, it punishes. Grooves appear where you wouldn’t expect them. The eclectic collection of sounds and rhythms never give you a chance to catch your breath.
Everyone you ask will give you a different choice for their favorite song; or what they think is the best song on the album. For me, it’s always been a simple answer because the my favorite and the best song are the same. “Know Your Enemy.” The chaotic fuzz bass, the scratchy, turn-table sounding guitar intro wet your appetite. But the man, the myth, the legend, Manyard James Keenan cameo in the bridge and the D, the E, the F, the I, the A, the N, the C, the E, Mind of a Revolutionary. It doesn’t get much better than that, folks. “Bullet in the Head” comes close with its hip-hop vibe, Morello shredding and crushing back beat.
The album is a juggernaut in every aspect of the word. For a band that only released four studio albums, they sure had a lot to say. Without doubt, they made the most of their opportunities. They never released a bad album; or even a weak album. Even the covers album, Renegades kicks ass. But they never released an album like this before. The right time. Right place. The right band. Twenty-five years later, the message of the album rings truer than ever. In the fight for social justice and equality, Rage Against the Machine are the true Justice League, not whatever is going on in the movies right now.
Maybe you’ve been sheltered or aren’t a rock fan and somehow never had the insanely awesome experiencing of hearing this album. If that’s the case, do yourself a favor immediately. The energy is tangible. It will transfer from the speakers right into you and you will no doubt be the same afterwards that you were before. That’s what you hope for in good music. Rage Against the Machine didn’t produce good music though. They produced timeless, fantastic anthems that will outlive all of us. But their true magic is they will always be relevant. IF you ever find yourself in desperate need of motivation, turn on” Township Rebellion” and do your best not to go nuts. It’s like sonic spinach for Popeye.
Life in America is so messed up in 2017. You wish the original Rage Against the Machine would come and save us. Prophets of Rage have done a good job keeping that candle lit. They’ve kept the good fight going strong. But their emergence has only made legions of fans yearn for the one day when Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, and Zack de la Rocha return once again, to take the power back!