Revisiting Rage Against the Machine

Rage Against the Machine stood for power. They were all about the power the common people had, the power authorities abused, the power of music. The defining theme of this album is clear in every snare hit, every menacing bass riff. The politics may not hold much appeal for those looking to get their stomp on, but the music will make a believer out of you.

Some knowledge of the band’s catalogue was a requirement for guitarists and bassists at Greenwood Academy. It was expected that you’d know a couple of riffs at the least, probably Killing in the Name. Their songs are insanely good fun to play, technically demanding but not intricate, primal and brutal in their simplicity. The difficulty isn’t in imitating, but in replicating their sheer aural force. There’s a popular misconception that power is born only from volume and the number of instruments you can throw on a song, and while RATM certainly have volume in spades, their instrumentation is surprisingly sparse. The power comes from the passion with which they play, the tightness of their rhythm (recorded in an age before computers would align your performance into perfect time) and the inimitable sound of the album.

And this is one incredible sounding album. Find yourself a halfway-decent pair of headphones, turn it up and revel in the glory of brutal sound that doesn’t fall apart into mush when you dare to nudge that volume slider. It’s always crystal clear what’s going on, and it translates into grooves that just won’t quit.

Rage Against the Machine knew what they were about, and you don’t need to use your imagination to hear that power twenty years later.

Their 1992 debut is a grenade that keeps exploding; among Nineties albums, only Nevermind and The Chronic rival it for cultural impact. Rage made hip-hop-tinged funk metal the new rebel music, taking over the alienation beat from grunge slackers and making Marxist sloganeering seem badass.

Remastered to museum-clean standards, the reissued album comes with DVDs of live shows and music videos, plus demos that prove just how down and detailed the group had every song (even if Morello still couldn’t resist changing solos). Rage were machinelike, yes, but built to change worlds.

The first DVD includes music videos and live footage from a 1997 VHS compilation as well as all of Rage’s free concert at London’s Finsbury Park in June 2010, which the band threw to thank British fans for their Facebook crusade to make the track “Killing in the Name” the Number One song in the U.K. during Christmas 2009. The second DVD will have more live footage shot between 1991-94, including the group’s first ever live show at Cal State Northridge in October 1991.

Rage Against the Machine – XX
Box Set Marks 20th Anniversary of First LP