Against the Machine - The Battle of Los Angeles
Has To Start Somehow
a militant musical strike force, Rage Against the Machine
has spent the last seven years dropping napalm bombs of revolutionary
thought into the seedy consciousness of rock and roll.
a rapid fire lyrical message every bit as heavy as the music
that shoved it through the speakers, Rage put politically
conscious rock back on the map. Just like NWA's Straight
Outta Compton opened up the eyes of white American to
the warfare of the inner city in the late 1980s, Rage's self-titled
1992 debut (review) unlatched
the lock on such taboo subjects as war in Central America,
communism, anti-government thought and the struggle of Latin
Americans here and back home.
to boot, Rage's furious blend of hard rock and rap - something
previously unheard of in the industry - was something you
could bob your head to even if the message flew high over
it's been nearly seven years since the band's first aural
distress call and in that time rock/rap frat heroes like Limp
Bizkit and Kid Rock have brought Rage's sound to the mainstream.
what do the kings of the genre do to shake the system back
up? They release The Battle of Los Angeles and watch
the fires of musical revolution burn more violently than ever.
lead singer/rapper Zack De La Rocha back in the pulpit, and
guitartist Tom Morello, bassist Y.Tim.K, and drummer Brad
Wilk churning like a steam engine behind him, Rage has put
together the album of its career - lyrically sharper and sonically
superior to anything else in their catalog and just maybe
the best album of the late 1990s.
perfectly fucked up postcard from the edge of the millenium,
The Battle of Los Angeles picks up where 1996's Evil
Empire left off, painting fiery pictures of the disinfranchised
and the white hand that keeps them down. With his voice rasping
sharp as ever, De La Rocha launches into capitalism, the media,
eurocentricity and politicians that are too worried about
oil and money to lift a finger.
La Rocha reserves most of his venom, however, for the imprisonment
of Mumia Abu-Jamal. At least two songs deal with the jailed
journalist and former Black Panther sentenced to death in
the 1981 shooting of a Philadelphia policeman, but none more
poignantly than "Voice of the Voiceless." In almost child-like
adulation, De La Rocha praises Abu-Jamal and promises, "My
Panther, my brother, we are at war until you're free."
however much Rage's sound is connected to De La Rocha's voice
and free-flowing delivery, the groundbreaking sound of Battle
of Los Angeles comes courtesy of Morello. No guitarist in
recent memory has single-handedly pushed his band into another
musical atmosphere the way Morello does here.
has used the three years in between albums to build his arsenal
to include the spacey ambience of The Edge, the experimental
scratching of Jimi Hendrix and the classic power riffing of
Jimmy Page. With Morello leading the charge, Rage breaks from
its usual verse-chorus-chant pattern and journeys into new,
more exciting territory. Check out the drilling six-string
sound of "Testify", the soaring screams on "Calm Like A Bomb"
or the chugga-chugga march of "Guerilla Radio" that kicks
things into gear.
it's on the album's later tracks that Morello really hits
his stride. Under his guidance, "Mic Check" sounds for all
the world like The Root's stutter-step hip-hop of Things
Fall Apart's "Without a Doubt". And the opening of "Voice
of the Voiceless", with Morello turning his guitar into an
acid jazz flute one minute and a slippery turntable the next,
transforms the song into a patriotic march towards oblivion.
on Battle's next to last track though, where everything
really comes together. Between Morello's tapping out a lonely
rhythm, Y.TIm.K's massive bass bottom and Wilk's stop and
go drum rips, "Ashes in the Fall" sounds like something The
Dust Brothers would conjure up on their mixing board. By the
time De La Rocha joins the fray ranting against modern day
fascism, Rage has worked itself into a steel fist of furious
sound that other bands can only dream about.
be sure, Rage's hardcore sound is sometimes exhausting, and
De La Rocha's high brow idealism is sometimes tough to keep
up with. But just knowing these guys are out there on the
fringes fire bombing the establishment makes it easier to
have a little faith in the future.
De La Rocha whispers on "War Within a Breath", "Everything
can change on a New Year's Day." For some of us, it already