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Salvatore Bono

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They Settled for Nothing -- 20 Years Since Rage Against the Machine's Landmark Debut

Posted: 11/21/2012 11:00 am

Looking back, 20 years later, it should come as no surprise that Rage Against the Machine, from Los Angeles, Calif., released their explosive debut album on the same day of the 1992 presidential election between President George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot. The album created a statement not just in song but from its cover, the iconic image of Malcolm Browne's 1963 Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, burning himself to death in protest of the murder of Buddhists by the U.S.-backed Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem's regime. It was clear that a band named Rage Against the Machine was not just going to do anything quietly.

Forming in 1991 after guitarist Tom Morello saw local L.A. hardcore band Inside Out's front man Zack de la Rocha freestyling in a club, Morello allegedly asked de la Rocha to see some of his other lyrics and asked to form a band together. From there, they recruited de la Rocha's friend, Tim Commerford on bass and local L.A. drummer, Brad Wilk. The band took influences that ranged from the hard delivery of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin to the political punk aspects of The Clash, Sex Pistols to the raw delivery of The Stooges, MC5, and the hip-hop flair of Afrika Bambaataa, Public Enemy, NWA and the Beastie Boys, and combined it all together. While many credit Run DMC and Aerosmith's rock/hip-hop cross over with "Walk This Way," as the first time the two genres mixed, and thank the Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers, who showcased how you can create full albums worth of original material with that idea, it was Rage who gave it crude power. Between the brilliant and unique guitar work from Morello, something a generation had not heard since the heyday of Hendrix and Jimmy Page, the powerful rhythm section of Wilk and Commerford, and de la Rocha's lyrical flow and words, it was lightning in a bottle.

After creating a stir in L.A., a demo tape containing many of the songs that would become Rage's debut began to float around. Many thought that a band like this, with this attitude and political scorn would never be signed to a major label, in fact, many believed Rage would not want to be signed because it was joining the machine of commercialism and corporate America, something they rallied against. Yet, it was proven to be the opposite.

Labels began fighting for the band's attention before they signed to Epic records, who let them be themselves. The band then went into the studio and recorded their diatribe -- 10 songs of some of the most brutally intense, politically charged, violent lessons of world history told in 52 minutes and 52 seconds. Produced by Garth Richardson and the band, with additional help from Tool's Maynard James Keenan and Jane's Addiction's Stephen Perkins on select tracks, Rage Against the Machine shocked the system. Both fans and critics were stunned that something this powerful could come from just four men, even stating in the liner notes of the album, "no samples, keyboards or synthesizers used in the making of this record." With an opening number as perfect as "Bombtrack," to songs like the lyrically short but poignant, "Killing in the Name of," to the eye-opening "Wake Up," and the pulse pounding "Know Your Enemy," "Fistful of Steel," and "Settle for Nothing," to the epic closer, "Freedom," Rage grabbed the listeners by their throats and just kept squeezing as tight as they could.

In the wake of its release, it drew much controversy, as expected, over its lyrical content and violent imagery, yet, it fueled album sales and the band's exposure. Especially with the backing of a major label, they were able to amplify their message on a grander scale. The album has now gone over 3Xs platinum. The band toured for over a year behind the record, including the third annual Lollapalooza festival, which famously saw them on stage protest naked with black tape over their mouths and the letters "PMRC" on their chest at a stop in Philadelphia to display their disapproval of censorship.

After their non-stop tour around the world, the band laid low but returned just as irate, if not much more furious in 1996 with the spellbinding, Evil Empire.

Listening to it now, 20 years later, the band's debut is still as powerful as a full nelson. A special edition of the record, entitled Rage Against the Machine XX is set for release at the end of the month. It will feature live versions, demos and alternate takes of some of the album's classics. As the band has been an on-again, off-again live act, fans have their fingers crossed for a new record. I am sure even though he has been scolded for liking them, former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan may even want new material. Opening any news website or turning on the TV these days, we can see that the four men from Los Angeles, Calif., have plenty of fuel for their fire.

 

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