Nothing quite describes musical aptitude like emotion, emotion bleeds from every artist as they pour their words, sounds, and most importantly, their ideas into the finished product. Rage Against the Machine is a fireball set to inferno that blazes the genres of rock and rap music, mostly due to their eccentric style of front-man and vocalist, Zacharias Manuel de la Rocha, better known simply as the energized, Zack de la Rocha. Then alongside other members who not only boost Rocha up, but themselves are involved in the fires, Tom Morello works the guitar and uses a number of different distortions to get his strings sounding incredibly synthetic at times. There was also the hard-hitting Brad Wilk on percussion who had a style that blended rapid fire machine gun rounds, and the punch of a world championship boxer. Finally, there was Tim “Timmy C.” Commerford on the bass and never in a band has bass been used so maliciously, so incredibly forcefully, and in such great strides at the same time.
Self-immolation of Thích Quáng Dúrc is featured as Rage Against the Machine’s cover and completely summarizes exactly what Rage Against the Machine was striving to do. In an act of protest, self-immolation is the most powerful statement as the protestor gives their life to illustrate a true problem, Rage Against the Machine is similar in the ways they devote their lives to trying to educate and illustrate the issues within American and World governments.
As “Bombtrack,” the explosive first track comes into frame, it is immediately clear that Rage Against the Machine is going to bring destructive guitar riffs, even stronger bass and percussion, and an abrasive leading voice to scream anti-establishment lyrics. As the ringleader to the demolition, Rage Against the Machine is not afraid to stand above the rules and discuss topics as disheartening and off-putting as, “Instead, I warm my hands upon the flames of the flag to recall the downfall, and the businesses that burnt us all.” To most American citizens, this could be considered an act of terrorism, but Rocha simply justifies his First Amendment Rights and is pleased to attack the big business that he suggests, run American publics. As He proceeds to the chorus, Rocha practically spits, “Burn, Burn, yes you’re gonna burn,” repeating a number of times that the “suits, I ignite and then watch ‘em burn.”
Tom Morello has a subtle guitar solo that begins overpowering and full of strength, but slowly fades back into the chorus where Rocha can rephrase that everyone will “burn.” Even as the ashes of “Bombtrack” are still falling, the second track, “Killing In The Name” comes sprinting right behind. While not only one of the greatest protest tracks in music history, “Killing In The Name” is also an incredibly simple idea, but is fleshed out so incredibly well that Rage Against the Machine makes thrashing and burning seem like a brand new idea. From the quick, stuttering like motions of the band while Rocha screams, “And now you do what they told ya,” to the sudden differentiations with Morello’s guitar as he moves up the fret board almost effortlessly. The bass work from Commerford is also taking one of the spotlight positions and creates the backing work where percussive snare hits can lead into the chorus or rephrases.
The standout piece of “Killing In The Name” is obviously going to be the section where Rage Against the Machine loses all sense of direction and becomes this building monster that is headed by sporadic playing from the instrumentalists and Rocha slowly shouting, “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.” If anyone has ever heard this track, this is the section that everyone will remember and the words continue to echo over even as the track comes to a final close.
“Take The Power Back” is another incredibly forceful, obliterating track that begins with an intriguing use of Morello’s guitar that plays almost subtly, while Commerford plays the main riff of the track on his bass. Together, they build into a grasping riff where the guitar becomes a locomotive that slides the power between the bass and percussion. The instrumentalists are going to be the main focus of “Take The Power Back” and while Rocha still delivers an abrasive verse, the guitar solos from Morello and the grinding bass lines from Commerford are the true stars of the show. Even the off beat drum pattern that follows in the break down is fantastic and Rage Against the Machine is incredible in the way that it can switch from a slug-fest to a sullen, almost spoken word track in mere seconds. “Take The Power Back” falls into this grouping as the last minute is spent with Rocha gently singing, “no more lies, no more lies,” to then blasting as Rage Against the Machine flies back into frame without warning.
More of an abstract style of track, “Settle For Nothing” is much slower than the previous tracks and uses different sections of building and breakdowns that have Rocha at certain points screaming until his voice strains. The percussion is interesting as it slides between a steady drum beat, and a stranger style of play where sudden tom hits and random crashes are heard in the background. This also leads to Morello and Commerford playing more of a melodic and relaxed style of play which consistently switches between incredibly laid back and crushing. “Settle For Nothing” almost acts as an intermission to “Bullet In The Head” which was extremely controversial, but ultimately outstanding.
Rocha’s deadly lyrical ability makes for one of Rage Against the Machine’s strongest tracks present on their self-titled debut album. He begins, stating, “Fools follow rules when the set commands ya, said it was blue; when your blood was red.” To then describe, “You’re standing in line, believing the lies. You’re bowing down to the flag, you got a bullet in your head.” Rage Against the Machine then leads into a substantial amount of energy being transferred from the instruments into Rocha and vice-versa. They both come swinging in full-force and do not care what gets destroyed in the process. This amount of reckless abandonment is perfect for the seguing motion into “Know Your Enemy”
Starting with Morello’s well-recognized style of guitar playing, he sets the tone for the other instrumentalists as they play along before Rocha breaks up the building sections with intense screams. “Know Your Enemy” is an easily recognizable track from Rage Against the Machine, not only because of Morello’s beginning riffs, but also because of how much energy that goes into the track itself. Rocha is constantly yelling and Rage Against the Machine launches into the best breakdown on the record where everything hits a steel wall and completely loses all speed, but maintains the same level of burning passion. The strings are rough, the percussion aggressive, and the screams are assaulting. Rage Against the Machine is a sucker punch to the sleeping public that begs for a wake-up call.
The following track, “Wake Up” touches upon subjects like the assassination of major political activists like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, who Rocha believes that both were government conspiracies and covered up in ways to halt progress of the public. He asks, “What was the price on his head? What was the price on his head?” Rocha then finally screams to anyone listening to “Wake up, wake up, wake up, how long? Not long, cause what you reap is what you sow.” The track “Wake Up,” and the following, “Fistful Of Steel” sound similar, but “Fistful Of Steel” is the sharper knife that cuts deep with the punishing riffs and percussion. The bass also has something similar to a solo as it controls a major section of the track which makes the other instruments fall behind and back it up. Rocha comes flying in with usual fashion where he explains, “Silence, something about silence makes me sick. Cause silence can be violent, sort of like a slit wrist.” He continues to portray big business and politicians as the enemy of the American public. Tom Morello features another experimental style of solo where his guitar is so heavily distorted that it almost sounds similar to synthesizer, and this leads back into the overarching theme of experimentation on Rage Against the Machine. Between the strange guitar solos, the powerful political front-man, and the off beats of the percussion and bass, Rage Against the Machine is more of a jack of all trades style of band.
Even as Rage Against the Machine comes to a final chapter and eventually closes, the band never falters in levels of energy and keeps consistently pounding through and through. They crush everything in their path, display their message in the ashes, and recruit anyone smart enough to join along in their fight against corruption. The battle has begun, and Rage Against the Machine asks what side you are going to fight for.