In a new Harvard Magazine interview, former Rage Against The Machine and current Prophets of Rage guitarist Tom Morello revealed how Prophets of Rage avoid being a nostalgia act, despite playing many old RATM hits and featuring 3/4 of the band’s original lineup.
His adopted hometown of Los Angeles has played a huge role in his work. Both Rage and Prophets are, by his account, “bands that could only happen in Los Angeles.…The music sounds like the city: there’s hip-hop, punk rock, hard rock—all of which are huge cultural components of Los Angeles’s music history. But you can also hear a class tension in the music, where you see Lamborghinis rolling by homeless encampments on Sunset Strip.”
Morello’s ability to channel that tension into his guitar work is a large part of what keeps Prophets of Rage from becoming, in his words, “a nostalgia act.” Prophets of Rage, the album of original material the band released last fall, sounds less like a truly new work than a synthesis of the members’ previous groups: Rage Against the Machine’s raw heavy-metal power; the contemplative melancholia of its successor, Audioslave (which Morello, Wilk, and Commerford formed in 2001 with Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell); Public Enemy’s machine-gun lyricism; Cypress Hill’s dark, slinky funk. The songs mix hip-hop’s grooving tempos and syncopated backbeats with the simple harmonies and overdriven crunch of heavy metal, with Chuck D and B-Real delivering plenty of timely political observations (reflecting on LA’s homelessness epidemic, B-Real raps, “Living on the 110, four sharing one tent / Can’t afford no rent, forgotten by the government”). But although the album features somewhat less of Morello’s signature FX-driven experimentalism, his guitar is its strongest aesthetic anchor. The rhythmic swagger of “Strength in Numbers”—a paean to working-class solidarity—and the slithering, metallic anti-nationalist anthem “Who Owns Who” keep easy pace with his fiery performances on older tracks like Rage’s “Vietnow” and Audioslave’s “Set it Off.”
The smile is almost audible in Morello’s voice as he happily reports that a large percentage of their audience is too young to have been original Rage fans; he is excited to be attracting and, he hopes, converting a new generation of listeners. But more broadly, he continues, he thinks of the album as addressed to…well, everyone. “I hope the album is a clarion call to those who know in their hearts that the world is not owned and run by people who deserve to be owning and running it—and that there is a better way, a different way, to achieve a more decent and humane planet. And if you take that to heart, you can be the David to any Goliath.”