WORDS : SEAN HUBBARD
Rage Against The Machine are the most important band of the last 30 years. Just about every single punk band talks about inspiring a revolution or overthrowing some vaguely defined ‘other,’ but Rage combined activism with blistering riffs and Zach De La Rocha’s scathing poetry to create a band who were activists first, and musicians second. How many other bands have you heard truly back up the revolutionary words they spout on stage by shutting down the heart of capitalism? By taking over Wall Street itself?
In 1992 their self-titled debut record was released on Epic Records, featuring the iconic image of Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thích Quảng Đức’s self-immolation on the cover and setting the tone for the most iconic protest album of all time. The quartet of De La Rocha, drummer Brad Wilk, bassist Tim Commerford and guitarist Tom Morello took on all topics, ranging from US colonial foreign policy in ‘Freedom,’ racism faced by de la Rocha and Morello on ‘Wake Up,’ a complete takedown of capitalism itself in ‘Bullet In The Head,‘ and civil disobedience – made famous by those iconic repeated lines in ‘Killing In The Name;’ “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me.”
This debut album was released in 1992 after the Rodney King riots erupted in Los Angeles as a response to police brutality leading to an African-American man’s death. The parallels with contemporary events are hard to overstate
Musically this still stands tall as one of the greatest records ever, however it is monstrous that the lyrics resonate stronger than ever in 2020 – 28 years after its initial release! It is incredibly telling that clips of de la Rocha from Rage’s shows in the 90s are being sent around social media just today, discussing police brutality and systematic oppression that has remained as intolerant as it was three decades past, with the recent murder of George Floyd only demonstrating why the Black Lives Matter movement is essential reaction to societal injustice.
This debut album was released in 1992, several months after the Rodney King riots erupted in Los Angeles as a response to yet another example of police brutality leading to an African-American man’s death. The parallels with contemporary events are hard to overstate, especially considering that Rage were preparing to make their return to the live stage at Coachella before COVID-19 postponed all events until 2021. This is a band who even now, 28 years older, still rage against inherent societal injustice. And until “Those who work forces” are no longer the same as “those who burn crosses” the members of Rage will continue to fight for equality.
the fact that it still resonates today is both a tragedy and a triumph at once, for Rage crafted a masterpiece that will always call out to the oppressed.
Even ignoring de la Rocha’s fiery lyrics and the political impact that Rage had over their short career, this album inspired acts like The Prodigy, Run The Jewels, Death Grips, Kendrick Lamar and even had a hand in creating the much maligned genre of rap-metal, bringing us the nu-metal heroes Limp Bizkit. And while that might be a controversial statement, even the most fervent purist could not deny Rage’s influence on ‘Break Stuff’ or that Fred Durst’s delivery wasn’t inspired by de la Rocha – even if there might be a slight difference in content between ‘Know Your Enemy’ and ‘Nookie.’
Very few other records still sound as energetic three decades after they were recorded, yet Rage Against The Machine is still one of the hardest punk records ever to be recorded. Not only reflecting the cultural mood at the time, the fact that it still resonates today is both a tragedy and a triumph at once, for Rage crafted a masterpiece that will always call out to the oppressed. Almost single-handedly spawning a new musical genre and creating a protest cry that has appeared in the streets since 1992, it is clear that Rage are the true revolutionaries that other bands claim to be. 28 years on and Rage Against The Machine still have it right that “something must be done/About vengeance, a badge and a gun”