Twenty-five years on, Rage Against The Machine’s self titled debut album still packs one hell of a punch, and is probably more relevant than ever. The unique mix of funk, hip hop, metal and hard rock set Rage eons apart from the crowd and elevated the album to number one on the Billboard Heatseekers chart and number 45 on the Billboard 200 chart. I was initially going to write this article about a number of influential 90s albums, but when I put the question to social media, it became convoluted, and I couldn’t quite get past this album. The more I listened and researched, the more I realised just how bad arse it really is.
The choice of using the Malcolm Browne’s 1963 World Press Photo of the Year and Pulitzer Prize winning image of Thích Quảng Đức’s self-immolation was provocative and instantly let’s you know what you’re in for. The album centres itself around socialist anti-authoritarian views and human rights; a middle-finger to the establishment.
You would probably have to have been born under a rock to have not heard the band’s first single and most famous song Killing In The Name. The song references allegations that some members of the US police forces were members of the Ku Klux Klan, and although written before the Rodney King beating of 1991, it reflects the racial tensions of the Los Angeles Riots. The song contains the word ‘fuck’ seventeen times, and caused the band notoriety when the uncensored version was accidentally played BBC Radio 1, leading to 138 complaints. It doesn’t seem that bad when you compare it to Ariana Grande’s new single ‘Side To Side’ (feat. Nicki Minaj), which references hand-jobs and being fucked so hard you can’t walk, yet as a society we allow our children to dance around and sing it loudly because it’s ‘cute’.
The songs are skilfully brought to life with Tim Commerford’s funk-like bass lines, Tom Morello’s innovative guitar work, and Zack de la Rocha’s quick raps and piercing screams, a throw back to his early punk hardcore days. Morello is probably most prominently known for his guitar ‘Arm The Homeless’, featuring a kill-switch and a tremolo bridge which used in conjunction with a Crybaby Wah and a Digitech Whammy are the cornerstones of his playing style. For many songs his guitar is actually quite clean, and most of the gritty power comes from a heavily distorted and sometimes fuzzed bass. It’s notable to mention that the album sleeve notes mention that no samples, keyboards or synthesisers were used in the making of the record, a testament to Morello’s guitar skill to make such sounds with his instrument alone. No wonder he was ranked as number 26 in Rolling Stone’s list of the ‘100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time’.
A pre-curser to nu-metal, Rage Against The Machine has been sighted as influencing System of a Down, The Mars Volta, Avenged Sevenfold, Deftones, Fear Factory, Linkin Park, (hed) P.E, Coal Chamber, Insane Clown Posse, Korn, Sevendust, Slipknot, and Limp Bizkit. Songs from the album have been used in various films, documentaries, TV series and video games. It’s hard not to put Rage Against The Machine high on the list of best and most influential albums of the 1990s.
Overplayed? Perhaps. Overrated? Who ever told you that is your enemy.