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
Mixing political-punk attitude with heavy metal riffs and intelligent rap lyrics, Rage Against the Machine broke the mold. Not since the days of anti-establishment hippie bands like Steppenwolf and the MC5 and punk bands like the Sex Pistols, The Clash, and the Dead Kennedys has there been a more politically aware band. And talk about a great debut album.
The lyrics on their 1992 debut album are fiery with righteous anger and conviction and clearly state the band's Left-wing, Socialist/Communist beliefs. But there's much more to their music than advertising their political ideologies. They cheer on the everyman, support feminism, condemn bigotry and willful ignorance, and strongly encourage people to speak their minds (regardless of their personal political stance). Some people have criticized the band, saying that they're hypocritical. And even as a diehard fan, I must admit that there is some credence in these claims. After all, for a band that supposedly despises capitalism, their merchandise costs a fortune (maybe I'm just being cheap, but I'm not paying $25 for a tee-shirt regardless of whose logo is on it). But all of that aside, I completely agree with most of what they're saying and I see the importance of their anti-government attitudes in our country's eternally volatile political climate. We need more bands, and more artists in general, who are willing to put their careers on the line and not only express their personal beliefs and feelings, but also share with us their insight into a society whose people are becoming more and more conservative, apathetic, and conformist.
The band consists of Zack de la Rocha (lyrics and vocals), Tom Morello (guitars), Tim Commerford (bass guitar), and Brad Wilk (drums).
Zack de la Rocha's impassioned vocals on the album stir up a sense of social duty in the listener and almost incite them to riot against the injustices of the modern world. Whether whispering "Your anger is a gift" gently and subversively into the microphone or bellowing "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me," Zack manages to create a contagious sense of indignation that can only remind listeners of every time that they were persecuted for being different.
Tom Morello, who has often been called the greatest guitarist of the 1990s, delivers some of the most energetic and memorable guitar riffs ever recorded. Tom shows off his highly diverse musical influences as he skillfully switches from rough and reckless punk rock and thrash playing to intricate and blazing heavy metal solos.
Tim Commerford's bass-playing is hugely significant to the overall style and sound of the band, as he brings a gritty urban style that is reminiscent of hip-hop and funk and also displays his capability to transition to more traditional rock, punk, and metal.
Brad Wilk's drumming is spot-on and he never seems be off time, which in a band that uses percussion and bass to such a high degree is integral to the band's sound.
Now to get to the actual details of this disc…
The album contains 10 unforgettable tracks that burn into your social consciousness. Among these revolutionary tracks are the classic songs: Killing in the Name, Take the Power Back, Know Your Enemy, Wake Up, and Freedom. Though this album was their first major label release, it's probably their best. It has everything that you could want in a hard rock album and more. No boundaries, no borders, no limitations; just a healthy dose of rage, rock, and revolution.
The first track on the album opens up with Zack's accusatory rap lyrics, which are both a call for social equality and a condemnation of the bourgeoisie, who have existed at the expense of ethnic minorities and perpetuated the imbalance of the class system. Zack defiantly proclaims:
"Landlords and power whores
On my people they took turns
Dispute the suits I ignite
And then watch ‘em burn"
2. Killing in the Name
Perhaps the most incendiary track off of the album is this song, in which de la Rocha notoriously chants "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me," repeatedly, and accuses the U.S. government and the police forces, in particular, of being racists who justify their discriminatory violence with hypocritical laws.
3. Take the Power Back
Take the Power Back is a typical, almost clichéd mantra for social and political revolutionaries. And yet these words, which are so often spoken to the point of being unintentionally comical, are expressed with such integrity and sincere outrage that the song is elevated above any contrivances and becomes a legitimate anthem for the politically disenfranchised youth of America.
4. Settle for Nothing
Touching upon issues of alienation, isolation, and domestic turmoil, this song is perhaps the most revealing look into the personal life of de la Rocha and he even tones down his anger at times and allows listeners to feel his anguish instead.
5. Bullet in the Head
A powerful indictment of the government's use of the media to misinform, mislead, and sway the public to see the world through a politically tainted prism. Taking aim at political propaganda and conformity, Zack accuses listeners of steeping into line and forgetting their individuality and their independent perspectives.
6. Know Your Enemy (featuring additional vocals by Maynard James Keenan of the band Tool)
Easily my favorite song off of the first album, Know Your Enemy is an explosive (lyrically, musically, thematically) attack on all of the inherent hypocrisies that have become part of the American political machine. The song also features haunting guest vocals by Tool front man Maynard James Keenan. For me it really sums up RAtM's worldview and manages to get me pumped up and angry every time I hear it, which is a good thing from where I'm standing. Anger can be motivation for good when used constructively, after all.
7. Wake Up
Best known as the song used in the closing scene of the sci-fi film The Matrix, Wake Up features Tim Connerford's best bass riffs, which are similar to the opening of Led Zeppelin's epic Kashmir. Wake Up takes on the topic of systematic racial violence in America and its perpetuation by the government. The song not only makes references to both Malcom X's and Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassinations, but also suggests a government conspiracy was behind it. Powerful, to say the least.
8. Fistful of Steel
This song, which in my opinion has the weakest lyrical content, is a straight-forward invitation to the youth of the world to abandon their apathy and inactivity and become socially aware.
9. Township Rebellion
Calling for organized political action and all-out rebellion against the establishment, this song emphasizes RAtM's heavy metal influences.
This song has pretty much become RAtM's signature track and is probably the most rap-heavy song off of their first album. When Zack calls out "Freedom! Yeah, right," listeners can't help but nod their heads and feel a vindication of their anger towards the war-like policies that our nation has embraced with indifference.
So turn the bass up and prepare yourself for a fusion of political-punk, funk, rock, rap, and metal!
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