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Rage Against The Machine

+ {One Day As A Lion}

A revelatory hybrid of heavy-metal riffs and knotty hip hop rhythms, RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE were the ultimate in defiant, venom-spewing combos. While detractors argued that the band’s position on the roster of a major corporation (Epic) was untenable, RATM countered that they had to get their message across to as wide an audience as possible. The vital point was that lead rapper/singer, Zack de la Rocha, was one seriously angry young man, ranting and raging against all kinds of injustice, mainly the ruling white American capitalist system.
Bombastic – yes, comprising – no, their Molotov cocktail of thrash, punk and rap was a kick up the backside to post-grunge America and the establishment.
Formed in 1991, in Los Angeles, California, rapper/vocalist Zack de la Rocha, guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim C (Commerford) and drummer Brad Wilk, had all played for local acts before combining resources in this “Epic” group. Partly on the strength of their infamous live reputation and a demo tape, the band exploded on to the scene at the tail of the following year with their self-titled Top 50 album, RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE (1992) {*9}. Creating a stir from the get-go, RATM dive-bombed their way into the Brit charts after performing the incendiary `Killing In The Name’ on cult “yoof” TV show, The Word. One of the most visceral, angry and overtly political records of the 90s, the song formed the centrepiece of their pivotal debut. Most of the tracks (other highlights being `Bombtrack’, `Bullet In The Head’ and `Wake Up’) were positively seething with angst but crucially, they were also funky as hell and this is where RATM scored over their square-jawed copyists. Music aside, how many bands in the 90s have had the balls to be openly political?, or rather, how many bands even know the meaning of protest? In a music world of drug-inspired vacancy, RATM provided a vital injection of reality. Putting their money where their mouth was, or rather putting their modesty thereabouts, the band walked on stage naked at a show in Philadelphia, the initials PMRC (Parent Music Resource Centre) scrawled across their respective chests in defiance of the risible censorship organisation. Political dissent was nothing new to either Tom or Zack, the former’s father being a member of the Mau Mau’s (Kenyan Guerrillas) who fought for an end to British colonialism while his uncle Jomo Kenyatta was imprisoned, later becoming the Kenyan president. Zack’s father Beto, meanwhile, was a noted Chicano muralist, painter and political activist.
While the band continued to stir up controversy with their live work (including a sold out 1993 UK tour and blinding set at the 1994 Glastonbury Festival), a follow-up album wasn’t released until 1996. When it eventually surfaced, EVIL EMPIRE {*7} was something of a disappointment, lacking the focus and some of the funkiness of their debut, although it did scale top the charts. The cover art too, lacked the impact of the first album (a powerful photo of a Buddhist monk setting himself on fire in protest at the Vietnam war). Nevertheless, the group put in a brilliant performance at that year’s Reading Festival, whipping the crowd into a frenzy and almost upstaging headliners, The PRODIGY. The impressively talented and ever inventive Morello subsequently hooked up with the Essex electro-punks on the acclaimed `No Man Army’ track. That difficult second set at least boasted two UK hits, namely `Bulls On Parade’ and `People Of The Sun’, demonstrating that some folks could hear a good tune through their bombastic noise-mongering. A summer tour in 1997 saw them combine forces with hardcore rappers, WU-TANG CLAN.
On the back their support for death-row inmate and spoken-word artist, Mumia Abu-Jamal, RATM’s third album THE BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES (1999) {*8} once again pulled no punches and deservedly topped the US chart (but only Top 30 in Britain!). Tracks such as the single, `Guerrilla Radio’ (a minor US entry), `Mic Check’, `Testify’, `Calm Like A Bomb’ and `New Millennium Homes’, were certainly the highlights as the band undertook an extensive world tour.
RENEGADES (2000) {*7} was in the shops in less than a year, a covers set that drew from the group’s vitriol blasts from the past. The world of rap and hip hop were represented by ERIC B & RAKIM (`Microphone Friend’), VOLUME 10 (`Pistol Grip Pump’), CYPRESS HILL (`How I Could Just Kill A Man’) and EPMD (`I’m Housin’’), while proto-punk had its say in MC5 (`Kick Out The Jams’) and The STOOGES (`Down On The Street’); straight-edge punk came via MINOR THREAT’s `In My Eyes’. On either side of the rock spectrum, the AFRIKA BAMBAATAA nugget `Renegades Of Funk’ drew swords with new wave’s DEVO on `Beautiful World’; familiar top rock artists such as BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN (`The Ghost Of Tom Joad’), The ROLLING STONES (`Street Fighting Man’) and BOB DYLAN (`Maggie’s Farm’), were updated nearly beyond recognition.
De La Rocha had already departed by its release date – rumours were subsequently rife that CYPRESS HILL’s frontman B-Real would take his place. In the event no-one took his place. Or at least someone took his place – that someone being former SOUNDGARDEN frontman CHRIS CORNELL – but by the time this incarnation got off the ground, the remaining RATM had morphed into an altogether different entity – AUDIOSLAVE. The mainman de la Rocha finally found new backing in ?uestlove (of ROOTS), El-P (of COMPANY FLOW) and producers RONI SIZE, DJ SHADOW, DJ Premier and Dan The Automator, although nothing came about by way of releases from their respective and collaborative studio time. One solo song, however, `We Want It All’ (featuring Trent Reznor at the controls), surfaced on the 2004 various artists soundtrack to Fahrenheit 9/11; Morello’s alter-ego The NIGHTWATCHMAN fired in protest-folky `No One Left’.
RATM fans were given a last-gasp blast of the band’s fury on LIVE AT THE GRAND OLYMPIC AUDITORIUM (2003) {*5}, a belated concert double-set documenting their final couple of shows in autumn 2000, and featuring the usual array of suspects.
Back in the saddle once again (this time with backing by MARS VOLTA sticksman, Jon Theodore), Zack finally released the eponymous ONE DAY AS A LION (2008) {*7}, a 20-minute mini-set/EP that breached the Top 30; the moniker was derived from a near mythic photo taken in 1970 (and the phrase, “It’s better to live one day as a lion, than a thousand years as a lamb”) by George Rodriguez. Socio-political as ever, and with the main man tinkling on the keyboards, the five songs (led by `Wild International’), de la Rocha punk poetry and radical readings flashed by in no time. Pity then that the project folded soon afterwards.
Inevitably, Commerford, Morello and Wilk re-united in 2016 as part of rap-metal fusion act, PROPHETS OF RAGE, alongside Chuck D (PUBLIC ENEMY) and B-Real (CYPRESS HILL).
© MC Strong 1994-2006/BG-GRD // rev-up MCS Feb2013-May2019

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