The Battle of Los AngelesRon Hart
"All hell can't stop us now," screams Zack de la Rocha on "Guerilla Radio," the first single from Rage Against the Machine's third album in ten years, his voice emulating the potential rallying cry of a generation with nothing left to lose. With the country in the shitbox (like Rage say it is) and a collective fear of what's to become once the clock strikes twelve this New Year's Day, Rage Against the Machine have accomplished the impossible with the Battle of Los Angeles: they've created an album that dares to rattle the cage of an America gone numb with a new found musical sophistication.
As exclaimed on the kick off track "Testify," "that cunning mantra of killing" has been drilled into the collective head of the band's demographic via the evening news for so long, the shock of the confusion and outrage stirring about in the world around us has just about lost its impact. But it's a challenge that propelled Rage Against the Machine to create an album that defines what they stand for better than anything previous. Musically, the band's sound has progressed to new levels of sonic violence, with guitarist Tom Morello's electric guitar brilliance leading the crusade. Just when you thought that everything had been done with six-strings and an amp, the Harvard prodigy manipulates notes from parts of his guitar that you would never think possible. On tracks like "Mic Check" and "Ashes in the Fall," he rages against the grain of his strings to create a sound born from both Tony Iommi's Black Sabbath-honed riffs and Grandmaster Flash's turntable wizardry.
The Battle of Los Angeles is also Rage's most hip-hop oriented album to date. The beats and grooves thrown down still maintain that fury of "Killing In The Name" and "Vietnow," but on songs like "Guerilla Radio" and "Born of a Broken Man," the crunching guitar hooks have been replaced with angular scale structures and sounds that sound like nothing as much as the alarming aura of the Bomb Squad's production on P.E.'s Fear of a Black Planet -by way of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimmy Page. In fact, this is arguably the first time the music itself is perfectly aligned with the vehemence of de la Rocha's voice.
Lyrically, de la Rocha has never sounded tighter. After some successfully adventurous excursions into hip-hop's underground, appearing on Rawkus' Lyricist Lounge compilation alongside KRS-One and the Last Emperor, as well as his participation on the "Mumia 911" benefit single with names like Aceyalone, Black Thought, and Pharoahe Monch, his confidence on the mic has improved tenfold. On "Mic Check," he spits nonfiction with a shade of dance hall toasting and Method Man-esque syllable stressing. Even on the pro-Mumia Abu Jamal testimonial "Voice of the Voiceless" and the track "Ashes In The Fall," there's a strong sense of comfort in the timbre of his voice as he allows his words to become one with his flow. But it's the essence of unity that makes the Battle of Los Angeles such a mighty album.
The members of Rage have been through a lot together over the past couple of years, enduring biting criticisms and backlashing in the wake of their rabid devotion to Abu-Jamal and his quest for a fair trial, witnessing human rights atrocities on their own soil let alone third world countries, and well-publicized inter-band feuding that certainly had a hand in the delay of this album's release. These guys certainly have a lot to be pissed off about in the late-90's. Rather than dole out more heavy riffs and thunderclapping drum beats for the meat-heads at the fraternity house to destroy their living room to, however, they've articulated their anger and accentuated the groove in their growl, resulting in one of the best damn rock albums you'll probably buy before the world blows up.
Bands who recently cashed in on the rap-metal fusion should get down on their knees and bow down before the ones who served it up first on their groundbreaking 1992 debut, which has now evolved into a style that's now become the aggression outlet du jour. By advancing their own sound while inadvertently bringing a new level of innovation and sophistication to a genre of guitar-based rock desperately in need of a new idea, Rage has sonically risen above the din of the noise they helped create.
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