Rage's first album, which came out in 1992, and introduced people to their edgy combination of politics, rap, metal, and punk.< read all 5 reviews
If you traveled back into the late 90's and early 00's, and asked me what favorite band was, I'd quickly answer Rage Against the Machine. Especially around 2002 up to around 2004, I drank up the Kool-Aid and bought into their political views and thought their music was the epitome of metal music (little did I know that I was terribly mistaken into thinking that RATM was a metal band). I thought RATM's lyrics were the gospel of truth, and took up a textbook liberal agenda. I'm glad that around 2005 and '06 that I quit drinking the RATM Kool-Aid, started listening to REAL metal music, and have a more moderate political perspective. Anyway, on to the review.
To be fair, this album is one of the more tolerable rap-metal albums out there, certainly above the likes of Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Hollywood Undead, Papa Roach, Crazytown, and even Biohazard. Though even with that taken into account, this album is mediocre at best.
Zach de la Rocha is the weakest link on this album. His attempts at rapping are pretty laughable, as he's pretty nasally and melodramatic in his delivery. He was much better suited in the hardcore band Inside Out. I think Zach performs best when he's not trying to rap and calms down a little. I think some of his most annoying moments on this album are the last few minutes in “Killing in the Name,” most of “Bombtrack,” and most of “Fistful of Steel.” Zach actually does well in the song “Settle for Nothing,” as it shows that he can deliver angry yet competent vocals that actually vary in emotion.
The rhythm section is competent, and I especially like Timmy C.'s bass. I really dig the funky tone he brings to a lot of songs. Tim's best bass is on the songs “Take the Power Back” (which reminded me a bit of the Seinfeld theme) and the first minute or so of “Know Your Enemy.” It's a shame that Tim played in this band, because I think he'd be a good fit in a funk-jazz fusion band or even a well-done funk-rock band.
I have some mixed feelings about Tom Morello. He's fairly competent, but he's way, way overrated as a guitarist. Out of all his guitar performances in Rage Against the Machine's career, I'd have to say that he does his best in this album, since this was before he fully embraced his signature “whammy peddle/goofy sound effects” type of guitar solos and delivered more traditional solos that actually sound quite good. Yes, I know that Morello's brand of guitar solos is supposed to be “unique,” but unique doesn't always equal good. In songs like “Killing in the Name” and “Bullet in the Head” that have the “noise” solos, they just sound goofy. However, in songs like “Take the Power Back” and “Township Rebellion,” Morello shows that he can make some cool solos. There's been debate that the main riff in “Wake Up” is ripped from Led Zeppelin's “Kashmir,” and I'm inclined to believe that Morello was feeling lazy that day and decided to rip off the LZ song (though I can make a separate argument that Led Zeppelin ripped off a lot of old blues musicians, but that's another kettle of fish).
Brad Wilk's drumming is okay. He establishes a competent rhythm, though not many of his performances have struck out at me. Though I guess the end of “Killing in the Name” has a good delivery of aggressive beats.
The quality of the songs on this album is all over the place. “Settle for Nothing” is easily the best song on this album. It's actually reserved and shows good use of dynamics in emotion and tone. Not many RATM fans seem to like this song, but I quite like it. The band shifts from more quiet openings to exploding into some corrosive hard rock, that actually features a tuneful guitar solo in the last quarter of the song. It's also refreshing to hear Zach not rap. “Township Rebellion” is also pretty solid, as it's one of the stronger “aggressive” songs on here, and the solo in it is awesome.
“Take the Power Back” is a middle-ground song since the instrumental work is really solid in this one, but Zach's vocals kinda bring it down (though these are more tolerable than in some other songs).
The rest of the songs just seem mediocre. “Bombtrack,” “Killing in the Name,” “Bullet in the Head,” and “Know Your Enemy” are fan favorites, but these aren't terribly good. It's just too goofy to hear Zach rap “Yo, it's just another bombtrack!” and while I'm not the least bit offended by profanity, the last moments in “Killing in the Name” overuses the f-bomb to the point where it looses its punch pretty fast. “Know Your Enemy” is a pretty annoying song, especially with the guest vocals by Maynard James Keenan of Tool fame, and the fact that the riffs just seem phoned-in. “Bullet in the Head” is another song with bland riffage and annoying guitar screeches. “Fistful of Steel” has competent instrumental work, but this one has some of Zach's more obnoxious vocals in this one, though the solo is pretty cool. “Wake Up” is famous for being featured at the end of The Matrix (yuck), and it's probably my least favorite song on the album as it has clear riff plagiarism from Led Zeppelin's “Kashmir” and the instrumental work is annoying. “Freedom” is the album closer, and while being more varied in tone, it's just kinda so-so. The song is famous for the quiet sections of Zach saying “Anger is a gift.” Someone should have told him to use it wisely.
This album has a good production and sound quality to it. Everything comes in crystal clear, and the accent to Timmy C.'s slap bass helps to make the album tolerable in some points.
Keep in mind that I'm not adding or deducing points with the politics in this album, I'm just elaborating on the phoniness of them. I think it's funny that RATM has spent their career screaming their political agendas at the top of their lungs, claiming to be among those who are standing up to big corporations and the system, yet they were making money hand over fist with the help of big corporations and taking full advantage of the freedoms provided by the system. It also doesn't help that most of the people in the band (particularly Zach de la Rocha) came from pretty wealthy upbringings, making their messages about justice and oppression seem so phony.
Compare that to the fiery music and lyrics penned by Napalm Death circa 1985 and '86, when the band at the time consisted of three lower-middle class angry teenagers from Birmingham, England. To me, their politically-charged music and lyrics from early Napalm Death feel more authentic and genuine, while the politically-charged music from RATM feels fake in comparison.
I know that Tom Morello said in interviews that they signed to a major label to quickly get their message across to a wide audience, but even with that in account, if these guys really cared about their political agenda, they would have only kept enough of their earnings to live a middle class life, using the rest to fund organizations they believe in.
This is NOT the angry, politically-charged hard rock masterpiece Sony, MTV, and Rolling Stone magazine wants you to think it is. If you want politically-charged albums that are either more convincing in their political/social views or just makes much better music, invest your time and money on these instead.
Ice Cube: AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted
Public Enemy: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back
Living Colour: Vivid
Napalm Death: Scum
Fall of Because: Life is Easy
Discharge: Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing
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