'Testify': The Sound and Need for RATM
In the 90s, one band came out of nowhere and tore up the Rock, Metal and Grunge scenes with one of the greatest Metal albums of all time. With a combination of Hip-Hop, Funk and Metal, Rage Against the Machine enjoyed success with their self-titled debut with songs like 'Freedom', 'Bombtrack' and of course 'Killing In The Name'. The sound of this band was something no one had experienced before. They broke up in the early 2000s and the music scene is still in need of a band as bold as them again.
A couple of nights ago, I couldn't sleep. So, I did what any normal person would do when they can't sleep; refuse to lay down and listen to a band's entire discography. Although that was probably unhealthy, I (for the 10th or 11th time) listened to Rage Against the Machine's entire discography. It made me think about how much this band has influenced my taste in music, yet that there are few bands in the mainstream that are as bold as them.
If you have never listened to Rage Against the Machine, here's a rundown of why I think they're so iconic and deserving of more recognition, as well as, potentially a revival (however unlikely that maybe). Tom Morello's mechanical and overbearing guitar, Tim Commerford's energetic and funky bass and Brad Wilk's driving backbone on drums form the instrumental for the band. This instrumental acts as the tension for the cathartic release that is Zack De La Rocha's vocals. His lyrics and performance ooze venomous spite, whose hatred is pinpoint accurate in targeting symbols of greed and colonialism.
I won't discuss the specifics of their politics too much in this piece as I feel that is not particularly necessary for this discussion, however, their ethos may be more important to the discussion as to why a band like Rage is needed today. As I said previously, although De La Rocha's targets are clear as day in the words, the general meaning that you can gather from their sound is to get angry and active; regardless of the specifics of their message. You could argue that the band was just being edgy, but they took action on what they believed.
The band often followed through on their words, for example in the music video for 'Sleep Now in the Fire', the band performed outside New York stock exchange. The video, directed by Michael Moore, features the band gathering a crowd and storming the stock exchange, shutting it down for the day, complementary to the themes of greed and oppression within the lyrics of the song. Moore was apprehended by police during the shoot and threatened with legal action for not having the permission to record.
The band's last performance together was in 2010, after their race with 'The X-Factor' winner Joe McElderry to Christmas number one on the charts. Set up by rock fans, the campaign was an attempt to tear away Simon Cowell's grip on the Christmas No.1 position. The campaign was successful and the song 'Killing in the Name' subsequently reached the No. 1 position for Christmas. The band donated their profits from the song to Shelter, a charity for the homeless, and set up a free gig, to thank those who got the song to number one, at Finsbury Park. The message that this band stood for still influenced people long after they broke up.
The band has been an influence on others who have tried to emulate or improve the Rage Against The Machine sound, but none have yet to hit the heights that Rage reached. Prophets of Rage, a band made up of the majority of Rage (excluding De La Rocha) with members of Cypress Hill and B-Real from Public Enemy. Surely that's a recipe for success? Although successful, the supergroup falls short of the high standard set by Rage in their time. Other bands have shown a bit more of the spirit Rage had, like Fever333 an up-and-coming metal band that combines their sound with electronic music, similar to the way Rage combined hip-hop with metal.
Interestingly, The 1975 of all groups have begun to embody what I think Rage Against The Machine represents. Their new track 'People' is an aggressive punk anthem that sings about avoiding complacency and taking action. Similar to Rage, activism is now part of their band's bloodstream, working with climate activist Greta Thunberg on a piece. The 1975, although unlikely to have been influenced by Rage for this song, it gave me a similar feeling to when I listen to Rage Against the Machine's self-titled. Although 'People' was not well received by many of the band's fans, critics liked it and it has certainly made me even more excited to see what they do. So, despite all my doom and gloom about Prophets of Rage not living up to its precursor's glory and there not being any band that I would consider as bold as Rage, there is still hope for boldness to reenter mainstream music.