What’s on ACSOM’s Stereo – Rage Against The Machine

On the 3rd November 1992, Rage Against the Machine released their self-titled debut album. The 4-piece band from Los Angeles, led by vocalist Zack de la Rocha, unleashed a 10-track, 52-minute masterpiece of rap rock / funk metal.

Zack along with the other “Guilty Parties” Brad Wilk, Timmy C and Tom Morello delivered a rhyme-laden, drum-crashing, bass-banging, guitar-slinging soundtrack with a deep political undertone. The instantly recognisable album sleeve, featuring the Buddhist Monk Thích Quảng Đức’s self-immolation in protest at the treatment of Buddhists in Saigon 1963, is laid bare for all to see.

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From the opening bass run on the album’s lead track Bombtrack, Timmy C pulls the strings as you are led into a mind-blowing crescendo of focussed rage. The slowly increasing volume of Brad Wilks drums is met with the snarl of Zack’s voice and Tom Morello’s electric threads. Only 30 seconds into the album and you are shaken to the core.

There is no pause in the pent-up frustration and anguish from the band; the first three tracks all open with different instruments – bass, crashing guitar and rhythmic drums – but all delivering an incredible introduction, supporting the message delivered so forcefully by de la Rocha.

Momentarily taking a breather in the opening moments of Settle for Nothing, which leads into middle section of the album where Tom Morello’s leads each track with a masterclass in guitar playing, sound engineering and musical wizardry.

Bullet in the Head calls out the mass media propaganda used to brainwash citizens where the mantra is: “They say jump, you say how high?” Wake Up discusses racism within the US Government and FBI, highlighting prominent civil rights activists in Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, closing with the line, “How Long? Not Long. Cause what you reap is what you sow”.

Both of these tracks sandwich Know Your Enemy, a pulsating five minutes which shows the full range of the band’s musical talents and ability to get their political anti-war message across.

Rage Against the Machine don’t let their album fade out in the final three songs. Fistful of Steel, Township Rebellion and Freedom all maintain the pace of delivery of the rest of the album and, in my opinion, leave the best track to last. In Freedom the subtle notion from Zach that, “Your anger is a gift” is whispered amongst the musical metaphors delivered line after line, questioning the perceived freedom we have. The song finishes almost as if the band have given their all in getting their views across.

I can’t finish a review of the album without mentioning Killing in the Name. The second track is perhaps the most famous from the album. A UK Christmas Number 1, used as a song of protest against commercialisation of reality / music promotion. The use of “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me” meant it could never really be used to any great extent on the radio. All the other Rage Against the Machine hallmarks were still there. An anti-racism, anti-government political message all to an unmistakable crashing soundtrack.

Even though it was released over a quarter of a century ago, the sound has remained timeless along with the questioning of the actions of the government.

Martin Donaldson

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