Artist Profile: Rage Against The Machine

Welcome to my second and totally not overdue Artist Profile. First of all, I’d like to thank all of you who commented on the first one. It’s nice to know that people at least somewhat appreciate what I did. This week I’ve decided to do Rage Against The Machine’s studio albums (so no Renegades). Obviously these guys don’t have the spanning discography that Radiohead have so I’ll fill in with a bit what I think of political music in general.

Rage Against The Machine is without a doubt one of the most controversial musical acts of all time. This is mainly due to the wealth of political topics they cover throughout their discography. Now I will get into that stuff later but I’m going to stick to music for now. Of course, RATM wouldn’t have risen to fame without a terrific front man. And Zack de la Rocha was just absolutely perfect. His delivery was passionate and fiery, perfect for the music they make. Tom Morello’s guitar work was simply pioneering. Every single weird noise you hear on a Rage album is made my Tom Morello fiddling with his guitar in some way. It’s simply incredible how talented this band was.

Rage Against The Machine’s self-titled debut in 1992 is arguably one of the most significant albums of all time. No group had quite challenged the mainstream concept of music genres, or what you could write a song about. Quite simply, they just didn’t give a ****. Don’t be fooled by the 10 track length. This album covers so many topics. The world was introduced to Zack de la Rocha’s insane spitting on the lead single Killing In The Name, an all-time anthem as well as the principle to the mission of RATM. The guitar riffs are so innovative and powerful thanks to Tom Morello. Songs like Know Your Enemy and Wake Up are made by these riffs. And the closer Freedom switches pace and rhythm effortlessly. This is where the drum work of Brad Wilk really comes into play. This album is also one of the best produced and mixed albums ever made. Somehow a bunch of young musicians making their first record made something that audiophiles still use as test material for audio equipment. The themes of skepticism, corruption, and injustice spoke to countless numbers of people. It was the perfect first move for the band.

After the smashing hit of their debut, RATM went back to the studio hoping to go even further this go around. And in a way they did. 1996’s Evil Empire was in many ways a continuation of the themes and sounds of their debut. Tom Morello’s guitar was more visceral and unorthodox and Zack de la Rocha’s delivery was even rougher around the edges. With their new found fame and influence, the band sought to expose more injustice and corruption as well as experiment even further will their sound. The result was pretty jarring to say the least. Many people do cite this record as their least favorite in Rage’s discography, but I happen to disagree. For one, this album isn’t nearly as catchy or quotable as their first. But it makes up for it will fabulous guitar playing fundamentals. Do the experiments work as well as their debut? No, moments like the track Revolver have a muddled message combined with some awkward pace changes. But this album is certainly still very good on its own merits. The lead single Bulls On Parade is one the band’s more recognizable and hard hitting tracks and the opener People of the Sun captures the urgency and intensity that their fans’ had known them for. And the track Down Rodeo is one hell of an ego-trip if I have ever heard one. This album further cemented RATM’s place in the public spotlight as trailblazing musicians unrelenting in their message.

In 1999, RATM was in a weird place. It was clearly unwise to try the same thing a third time. So they changed up their sound, to a degree. On Battle of Los Angeles, RATM went for less guitar and more intricate drum rhythms, and I can’t say it worked as well. Even the leadoff track Testify showed the band’s intention to give the guitar less stoplight. Now this was probably the worst thing they could’ve done. In my opinion, Tom Morello’s guitar work was the defining characteristic of the band. Now I still love Testify, but the same can’t be said for the insanely overrated Guerilla Radio. Yes there is a guitar riff but it’s so uninteresting and repetitive. Zack de la Rocha’s flow saves this song but even he can’t save a few tracks down the line. Born of a Broken Man has some of the most disjointed transitions I’ve heard in a Rage song and Voice of the Voiceless is downright embarrassing for a band of this caliber. But despite this flawed concept, RATM’s talent still shines through. The fast paced Sleep Now in the Fire and War Within a Breath are good examples of the intensity that we had come to expect. And Calm Like A Bomb sounds like it was pulled straight off of their last album. But in the end, the tedious one note guitar melodies and unimaginative drum beats hold this album back.

Now it’s time for me to talk about the themes of Rage’s music. Now, I’ve always been hesitant when artists move in a political direction since they risk being preachy. A good example of someone who avoided this is Kendrick Lamar on To Pimp A Butterfly. Kendrick framed his political message as a journey of self-discovery, making the album infinitely more relatable to people who otherwise may have been turned off if they disagreed with his point of view. RATM on the other hand is about as preachy as you can get. But it’s so in your face that I pretty much see it as an ego-trip. If I turn my brain off and just listen to those guitars and the intense flow, I’m completely content. Now that would require me to have a few reservations about their themes, and of course I do. But in terms of the way they express themselves, I have no problem with their style. In fact, if you are going to be preachy with your music, please follow suit. Be unapologetic, unrelenting, and just vague enough to keep the intensity up.
In 2017, Rage’s impact is more felt than ever. In the current contentious political landscape, it’s become popular to be anti-establishment. And if there ever was a catalyst for that, it was Rage Against The Machine. I don’t think a band of their type will ever be replicated. Such a perfect storm of musical talent and political themes is unlikely to be struck again.

1. Rage Against The Machine (Self-Titled) - 9/10
2. Evil Empire - 8/10
3. The Battle of Los Angeles - 6/10


Great post!

Don't really know what to think of these guys, but solid input - ProPanda