RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE: NOISE THAT THINKS.... In the December Guitar World, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello says, "My influences have been guys like Terminator X and Jam Master Jay and DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill. More than any guitar player." That explains much of the sound on Rage's The Battle of Los Angeles (Epic). It's not just the turntable-derived skreeks and blats Morello pulls out of his guitar, but the way he interrupts, amplifies, pushes, and comments on the songs.
Drawing heavily on his other main muse, Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page, Morello continues to develop as a musician with a very distinct, inventive style. Combine that with Zach de la Rocha's bone-breaking vocals and the powerhouse rhythm section of Tim C. and Brad Wilk, and it's tempting to just let this music slam into you as pure sound, providing an escape from a world that's every bit as fucked up as Rage says it is.
But that's not the plan here. As Karl Marx once wrote, "The most powerful weapon in the world is the human mind," and that's the shotgun in the closet Rage is always reaching for. Unlike many "rap-rock" bands, their lyrics aren't just coathooks to hang the noise on. Rage's violent instrumental sound only makes sense in light of the anger of their beautifully-written words.
Although only forty-five minutes long, The Battle of Los Angeles sprawls like an epic movie, with de la Rocha playing several parts. On "Sleep Now in the Fire," he's the oppressor: "Crawl with me into tomorrow/Or I'll drag you to your grave/I'm deep inside your children/They'll betray you in my name." On "Testify," he's the sleeping American whom Rage is determined to awaken--"The tabloid untie me/I'm empty please fill me/Mister anchor assure me/That Baghdad is burning." At other times, de la Rocha is an immigrant woman or, as on "War Within a Breath," the avenging angel of revolution ("Southern fist/Rise through the jungle mist/Clenched to smash power so cancerous").
Above all, Rage Against the Machine accurately describes a world not defined as First, Second, or Third, but one where if you "Pick a point on tha globe/Yes the picture's tha same." That song, "Calm Like a Bomb," ends with a chilling snapshot we all know too well: "There's a mass without roofs/A prison to fill/A country's soul that reads post no bills/A strike and a line of cops outside tha mill/There's a right to obey/And a right to kill."
The guys in Rage Against the Machine are too smart to
think that a mere band can start a revolution. But, frustrated
by the ignorance of the very people who will have to make a
revolution, they're determined to try to set one off anyway.
That's the contradiction that drives The Battle of Los Angeles,
perhaps the last great album of the 20th century.