Rage Against The Machine – [Album]

Friday, 23 November 2012

Do you remember where you were the first time you heard any one of the ten songs which comprise Rage Against The Machine's self-titled debut? Some readers may not remember, or they may list off any number of memories which revolve around car stereos, bedrooms, house parties or record store stereo systems, but I remember exactly where I was: I was in a movie theater. I had snuck in to see Natural Born Killers underage in September 1994, and I got my world rocked by “Bombtrack.” By then, I had already been listening to a lot of punk, metal and alternative rock for several years thanks to my cousins and the fact that I came of age in the alt-/grunge saturated Nineties, but that moment in that movie theater was something else completely. For those who don't know the timing/sequencing in the film, my experience went a lot like this.

About eighty-five minutes into Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, TV journalist Wayne Gale [played to beautifully gruesome perfection by Robert Downey Jr. –ed] sits down with incarcerated mass murderer Mickey Knox [Woody Harrelson –ed] to conduct an interview with the convict for live television broadcast after the Super Bowl. The interview begins well but, sensing an opportunity after a riot breaks out in the prison, Knox disarms one of the prison guards stationed in the room for security and resumes his killing spree as he breaks out of prison.

The scene is gruesome and graphic and poetic and compelling and, beneath it all, it it set to the strains of “Bombtrack” by Rage Against The Machine. I loved the movie, but I was astounded by that song; the magnitude of the riff, the brutality of the bass and the beat – Rage Against The Machine blew my brains out with the help of a shotgun held by Mickey Knox and nothing was ever the same again.

That is the sort of moment no one gets to have twice but, years later, the images and sounds of that scene still resonate with the same potency, and the memories come flooding back as I listen to the 20th Anniversary Deluxe reissue of Rage Against The Machine's self-titled debut.

Twenty years after it was first released, Rage's debut album still resonates with the same passion, same fury, same punch and the same flow it did at first; it has not diminished. From the top, Tim Commerford's bass scalds the skin of listeners with incendiary power through tracks including “Bombtrack,” “Killing In The Name,” “Wake Up” and “Know Your Enemy” (in that last case, the bass in the bridge is terrifying in its intensity), while Brad Wilk's drums brutalize senses with their clockwork simplicity and Tom Morello's impressionist and innovative guitar work emulates every sound imaginable from warning sirens to alarm klaxons, turntable scratching real classic rock licks. That combination alone would be enough to leave heads spinning (Anthrax may have thought they were on it when “Bring The Noise” hit just two months before Rage Against The Machine hit originally, but they weren't even close to this) but, on top of it all, then there was emcee Zack de la Rocha, who came along and completely rethought every tenet upheld by rock vocal delivery for decades in one fell swoop.

Even with twenty years to play catch-up, Zack de la Rocha's sound, style and presentation on Rage Against The Machine remain unparallelled. In the ten tracks on this record, the emcee took everything infectious about rock n' roll for the thirty years preceding it – political awareness and social activism in song, anger, aggression, frustration, the desire to convey a message and the will to affect change – and cranked up the volume and intensity of it to eleven before strapping it to an all-new kind of flow as hot as lava. Individual lines like “We don't need the key, we'll break in” (from “Know Your Enemy”), “Some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses” (from “Killing In The Name”) and “I'll give you a dose/ But it can never come close/ To the rage built up inside of me/ Fist in the air, in the land of hypocrisy” (from “Wake Up”) are white hot in their frustration – but listeners will also find catharsis for the sentiments and line up to support the band's stance. In that way at the time of its original release, Rage Against The Machine really did represent the next step in development for Generation X; Nirvana had broken through and made it possible for fans to reflect the self-reflection of a new generation of kids who felt left behind and/or generally abandoned by their parents, but Rage Against The Machine helps those kids look past their own problems and look out at the world to realize that it is really in no better shape – but it was reparable, just as they were inside. That sentiment has proven to be timeless.

In viewing the DVD portions of this deluxe set, it's clear to see that the lessons Rage Against The Machine were preaching were not lost on audiences in their own time either – in fact people got it right away. Included on Disc 3 of the deluxe box is RATM's performance at California State North Ridge on October 23, 1991 [just over one year before the band's debut album was originally released –ed] and, there, it becomes apparent just how ready people were for this kind of music; it's possible to actually watch the band's stable of fans grow right in front of them as they play. At the beginning of the show, the crowd before them is virtually non-existent; a couple of kids (probably the band's friends) mill around in front of the stage as Rage bangs its way through a surprisingly tight (remember, this is supposed to be their first show) instrumental version of “Bombtrack,” but then a couple more kids show up. And then a few more arrive to see what they're hearing as Tom Morello's squirrelly guitar lines pick up a good head of steam in “Auto Logic.” This sort of audience building continues until, by the time the band is into “Hit The Deck,” there are easily twenty-five kids in easy view on the screen, and innumerable more silhouettes on the edges and periphery of the screen; there's no way of knowing for sure how many people were pulled in by what they heard that day but, judging by what's visible on the screen at this first public performance of Rage Against The Machine, the band easily had one hundred new fans if one hundred people showed up that day. In retrospect, the band would build its fan base the exact same way on tour; those who saw the band were hooked.

Likewise, those who pick up this Deluxe Edition set will get hooked by Rage all over again. Between the vinyl reissue of the LP (which lives up to having that warmth that so many audiophiles crave, and it ends up making the music just that much more accessible) and the CD which includes the original demos for the songs (which prove to have clearly required little in the way of production assistance – the demos show listeners that all producer Garth Richardson really did was get the songs under good microphones adjust a few EQ settings and add a bit of extra punch to help the songs break through) and the Cal State DVD, those who get into Rage Against The Machine XX will get the perfect image of where the band was coming from when it started, and why breaking through was the height of simplicity for them; it was easy because Rage Against The Machine was exactly what the world needed at that time. The funny thing is that the sound still translates though; twenty years may have gone by, but these songs still have the same power and they can still enlighten and inspire.



20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition Reissue Rage Against The Machine XX comes out on November 27, 2012. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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