by James Conway
It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that the music genre known as ‘Rap Metal’ is one of the foulest violations of nature in the civilized world. Merging the power and pomposity of Heavy Metal with the swaggering urban beats of Rap was never going to be a match made in heaven, yet thanks to Aerosmith and Run DMC, it was for a short time bizarrely seen as an acceptable form of entertainment. Rap Metal is also directly responsible for Nu-Metal, and the less said about Fred Durst and his ilk the better. Who’d have thought it then, that one our Classic Albums is the self-titled debut by Rap Metal powerhouses Rage Against The Machine, an utter belter of a record that should take pride of place in any self-respecting music fan’s collection. Psst, just don’t call them Rap Metal.
Recorded in just 2 months in the hazy summer of 1992, ‘RATM’ is a lesson in hip-shaking, horn-throwing, heavy-thinking intensity from start to finish. Taking the funkiest riffs that Jimmy Page and George Clinton never got round to recording and topping them off with some of the most cutting edge, self-aware and downright pissed off lyrics this side of Chuck D, the album hits home harder than a brick through the window of the New York Stock Exchange, incidentally a place Rage would temporarily shut down years later whilst recording a video on its gold-plated steps. Kicking things off with the incendiary ‘Bombtrack’, a rapid bassline lulls the listener into a false sense of security before a sledgehammer riff from Harvard-educated guitarist Tom Morello announces his presence with all the subtlety of a boot to the face.
From then on, the quartet groove, thrash and flow through a further nine tracks of ground breaking material. The frantic ‘Take The Power Back’ employs another of the funkiest basslines that Tim Commerford does so well with the guitar playing second fiddle until Morello unleashes a classic solo. Everything briefly slows down for vocalist Zach de la Rocha to whisper ‘No more lies!’ before the heat gets turned up to 11 again for a finale that if you don’t find yourself moving to, it may be advisable to check you still have a pulse.
Things slow down for the melancholic Settle For Nothing with de la Rocha’s depressive social commentary lamenting the kind of hopeless future John Lydon used to snarl about. A surprisingly light and breezy solo provides a brief respite between the de-tuned sludge of the main riff with de la Rocha screaming ‘If we don’t take action now, we’ll settle for nothing later!’ Fan favourite ‘Bullet In The Head showcases the first real use of Morello’s trademark turntable-esque guitar playing over a plodding stop-start bassline from Commerford. As is usual with Rage songs, the best is saved for last with an irresistible Led Zep flavoured riff ebbing and flowing in intensity before building to a frenzied climax.
Seen The Matrix? Wondering what that absolutely bad-ass tune making your surround-sound shake is as Neo soars into the sky before the end credits? Yep Rage again with ‘Wake Up’, arguably the best song on the album, and not just because it sounds a teensy bit like ‘Kashmir’ by, you’ve guessed it, Led Zeppelin. Closing track ‘Freedom’ features some funky additional percussion that nicely compliments Brad Wilk’s understated, yet solid drumming and lets Morello have fun one last time with riffs that could have been recorded by The Red Hot Chilli Peppers if they were more into classic rock than putting socks on their cocks.
It’s impossible to talk about ‘RATM’ without mentioning the proverbial elephant in the room; 2009 UK Christmas chart-topper ‘Killing In The Name’. As powerful as unleashed anti X-Factor sentiment may be, only a song with its passion, bounce and downright awesomeness could have had a hope in hell of motivating the apathetic UK listener to pay for a song most of them already owned, and it was worth it to see the smile briefly wiped off Cowell’s face and to imagine the sheer volume of tea spat across living rooms nationwide when Grandma heard de la Rocha’s immortal ‘Fuck You I won’t do what ya tell me!’ statement of intent. But novelty Number One’s aside, if for some reason you don’t possess this joyously angry, and still frighteningly relevant record, do yourself a favour and download it this instant. Twice.