Rage Against the Machine‘s 1992 debut is a grenade that keeps exploding; among Nineties albums, only Nevermind and The Chronic rival it for cultural impact. Rage made hip-hop-tinged funk metal the new rebel music, taking over the alienation beat from grunge slackers and making Marxist sloganeering seem badass.
Like any good revolutionary sect, Rage weren’t without their contradictions and tensions: Zack de la Rocha’s blocky, academically aspirational rhymes preached leftist revolution (“Enough, I call the bluff – fuck Manifest Destiny!” he shouted on “Bombtrack”); guitarist and sonic architect Tom Morello practiced an almost authoritarian control and extreme technical precision as he mimicked sampling, sent down thunderous power chords and, occasionally, indulged in almost New Age-y solos. (See the liquid note-bending on “Township Rebellion.”)
Remastered to museum-clean standards, the reissued album comes with DVDs of holy-shit live shows and music videos, plus demos that prove just how down and detailed the group had every song (even if Morello still couldn’t resist changing solos). The rap appropriation has lost the force of novelty, of course, but blaming Rage Against the Machine for Fred Durst is like blaming Abraham Lincoln for John Boehner; de la Rocha’s throat-scraping eruptions about suicide (the fate of an outcast in “Settle for Nothing”) and bullets in the head feel as primal as any lefty rock – and maybe more so, heard from inside Morello’s palace of sound. Rage were machinelike, yes, but built to change worlds.
Listen to ‘Rage Against the Machine – XX’