rage against the machine
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The Nu-metal generation of rock produced several very good bands, the likes of Limp Bizkit, Korn, and Slipknot. But in retrospect, and at the time, there was a very different air around Rage Against the Machine. RATM was revolutionary, not just in their music, but also with their incendiary lyrics, and their anti-establishment values and ideals, the sense that this was no act: They were as real as the ideals they touted.

Their second album, Evil Empire, holds a slight change from their first eponymous album with the horror-inducing cover image of a Buddhist monk set aflame by himself. They still hold that same energy, and their political message remains the same, and still earnest. But this album is much more oriented to letting the audience listen to good music, which also has a fiery message. They speak a lot about the United States and the military-industrial super-structure they have built and contain every American citizen within, as they always have.

A Fiery Clutch of Songs

The most popular track from the album “Bulls on Parade” is a song anyone can tell is a Rage song. It contains some of Tom Morello’s excellent and distinct guitar sounds, with the lyrics very much out of a revolutionary poet’s book of verses. Lyrically the song focuses on the United States military-industrial complex, and it has a focus on the destruction American Imperialism brings to its many, many victims. Another thing I noticed in the track was the clever use of bass, most prominent when they have a 15-20 stretch of additional sound effects, without the use of the main guitar at all.

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“Vietnow” follows “Bulls on Parade”, and it is a very unique offering from the band. The song is rhythmically different, and it contains the same energy and fervour Rage usually reserves for their louder tracks. The drums have more of a centre-stage role than they usually do, and it sounds unique. Lyrically it speaks about right-wing radio talk shows of the late 20th century, which controlled peoples’ perspectives through the media.

One important note to make. One cannot talk about Rage Against the Machine without talking about their lyrics, and the meaning they hold. They are two sides of the coin, the quality of their music itself, and the lyrics they write for those songs. Anyone who has a problem with Rage Against the Machine for their politics need not listen to the band in the first place. Their politics are as much a part of them as their music, as Tom Morello has stated many times on social media.

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“Revolver” is a song that feels different from what anyone usually expects of Rage. The lyrics are whispered, and when lead vocalist Zach De La Rocha raises his voice, it isn’t the screaming and bluster we usually expect of him. This song is a good change in their music, especially in just their second album. “Without a Face” is a song about an illegal immigrant, who is imprisoned and exploited by the capitalist American system, using his labour for profit while he languishes. The message highlighted is that the person is not treated as even human due to their lack of a green card. The instrumentals fit perfectly with the lyrics, and the emotions resonate with every aspect of the song.

“Wind Below” is a song about the perpetual state of negativity found in western imperialist countries. It references indigenous revolutionaries of Mexico and calls out the propaganda machine of the private mass media: “And GE is gonna flex and try and annex the truth/ And NBC is gonna flex and cast their image in you/ And Disney bought the fantasies and piles of eyes/ And ABC’s new thrill rides of trials and lies.” The song is very emblematic of the album itself, where the vocals, the lyrics, the music, and the story behind the song itself mesh together very well and manage to create music that strikes on many different levels.

Through a very good album to the closer. “Year of the Boomerang” brings the album’s theme of western imperialism and capitalism to a full circle. Zach, at one point, says: “I got no property, but yo, I’m a piece of it,” referring to the proletariat and how they are considered as property, and as just a means of production by those in power. The song is less evocative than “Freedom” in their first album, but it sends the message across very well.

An Urgent Classic

Evil Empire begins a bit slow and doesn’t feel all too much like a Rage album, but then it finds its ground, and the quality just gets better and better, and they manage to create absolute Rage classics. Evil Empire is an album that is worth listening to from start to end, with every song managing to hook you in, whether it’s banging your head to “Bulls on Parade”, or just paying attention to “Vietnow.”

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