“Another funky radical bombtrack/ started as a sketch in my notebook/ and now dope hooks make punks take another look.”
Those words are golden. Never have a few lyrics on an opening track of a debut album gone so far in defining the essence of a band. Those telling lines address all the fury that Rage Against the Machine would unleash on the wings of frontman Zack de la Rocha’s radical, politically-motivated lyrics and the funk and relentlessness of Tom Morello’s guitar. RATM’s arrival as one of the most influential bands of all time was born on the strength and anger of activist de la Rocha’s pen to paper scrawling, bringing new awareness to global injustice through their music. Rage burst into the limelight like they were shot out of a cannon, during a time when civil unrest and racial tension led to a volatile landscape in Los Angeles. With the face of rock music impressionable and ready for rapid change, there was Rage Against the Machine (de la Rocha, Morello, bassist Tim Commerford, and drummer Brad Wilk) with clenched fists, ready to stick up the industry. Everything seemed to fall into place for RATM’s eponymous album. They had the violent name that caught people’s attention and the shocking album cover to accompany it, an overwhelming swagger, an impressively diverse lineup, but most importantly their sound, which was unprecedented. Fusing metal and rap made Rage Against the Machine the album that would come to define an entire genre of music and the band’s first taste of telling the establishment to go fuck itself. Adding politics to an already volatile combination of musical styles established RATM as a once in a lifetime band, pioneers for using music as a weapon, bringing to light all the injustices that, in their eyes, have run rampant.
Lead single “Killing in the Name,” still arguably the band’s most recognizable song to this day, comes with enough ferocity to incite blunt force trauma. Zach de la Rocha’s aggressive rapping and Morello’s unprecedented solos bring the song to a near manic state. “Killing in the Name” moves to politically enlighten—”Some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses“—but it is the shifts in de la Rocha’s demeanor, mixing in the spoken instructions, “Now you do what they told ya,” only to counter the subdued directives with the defiant screams of “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me,” that send the song into unmatched stratospheres.
Rage Against the Machine pulls no punches. Each song is memorable and the texture of the record constantly undergoes changes. The record ventures to inventive landscapes, traveling to places that, musically, had yet to be discovered. The frenetic rises and falls of de la Rocha’s shifty vocals and the straight wizardry of Morello on the guitar have something to say about the album’s relentlessness. And though it has become gauche to bring forth such angst musically, songs like “Bombtrack,” “Bullet in the Head” and “Fistful of Steel” are undeniably great, both in their aggression and conviction.
Rage Against the Machine is timeless, influential, and mind-blowing. The immaculate production, including the painstakingly specific sound quality, are made more amazing by the fact that RATM used no samplers, computers or keyboards in making the record. Morello’s experimentation on guitar establishes him amongst the greatest of all time whilst the camaraderie of the band on this record overwhelms and culminates in an album that conveys the vision of RATM tenfold. Beyond imitation and without an equal, Rage Against the Machine is as influential as it is defining, seemingly forging the band’s name to be forever synonymous with words such as legendary.