46:39 min • Epic Records • April 16, 1996 Walter Beck reviews …………………………………………………………………………………………Rage Against The Machine
One of the most incendiary bands to ever crossover into Mainstream America, Rage Against the Machine proved they weren’t just a novelty act, packing more musical chops and plenty of righteous anger with their second album Evil Empire.
The album starts with the triple punch of ‘People of the Sun’, ‘Bulls on Parade’ and ‘Vietnow’ (three of the album’s five singles). It is rare that an album starts with such a sonic blast. ‘People of the Sun’, a two and a half minute burner about the Zapatista movement in Mexico, starts with a warped, warbling sound from guitarist Tom Morello, with drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford providing the tight, hard rhythm. Of course, it’s a fitting background for vocalist Zack de la Rocha, one of the few vocalists to adopt a rapping technique and make it work in a rock ‘n’ roll band.
‘Bulls on Parade’ showcases a lot of Morello’s traditional heavy metal roots, with a bombastic chorus and slow dragging verses that almost bring a taste of sludge to the album. If there is a marching song on this LP, this is it. It’s just as easy to envision an army of young radicals marching down the street as de la Rocha barks out “Rally ‘round the family with a pocketful of shells!” as it is to imagine them slamming against each other in the pit.
The third cut ‘Vietnow’ brings the anger a bit closer to home, a nearly-swinging rhythm ropes in nearly five minutes of venom directed at right wing talk radio, then rising in America (and still popular today). Backed by the band’s swaying rhythm, de la Rocha lashes out at the country’s conservative talking heads, intoning “Fear is your only god on the radio!”
‘Revolver’ is one of the darkest, most experimental tracks the band ever cut, soaked heavily in Morello’s guitar work, with the opener sounding like something to come out of early American noise music scene. The soft/hard dynamic works well here, with de la Rocha nearly whispering the verses and then exploding during the chorus. A tale of an abused woman finally shooting her husband dead in hot blood, this track remains one of the band’s hidden gems.
The sixth track ‘Tire Me’ is a merciless, chaotic burner, showing Zack de la Rocha’s roots in the hardcore punk underground, back when he first started out as a singer. The sonic tricks from Morello are kept to a minimum as the band immolates themselves through three-minutes of pure, no frills anger.
‘Down Rodeo’ was the fourth single from this LP and like ‘Vietnow’ it brings the anger back home to America. A showcase for Morello’s guitar mastery and the Wilk’s wall of sound drumming, the track is a powerful indictment against racism in contemporary America with de la Rocha barking, “I’m rolling down Rodeo with a shotgun/these people ain’t seen a brown-skinned man since their grandparents bought one!”
‘Without a Face’ ups the gonzo factor, packing noise-filtered musically mellow verses, punctured with de la Rocha’s rapping before exploding into a mosh-worthy chorus. Zack rants against the profit raking prison industrial complex, smashing the ideas of inmates for money and the inherit racism of the prison system, while Tom and the boys pack just as much revolutionary fire with their instruments.
The album closes with the eleventh track and final single ‘Year of the Boomerang’, a smooth, thumping rocker with de la Rocha’s rhymes front and center. After all the full front assault in the rest of the album, this track is the perfect ending as de la Rocha spits passionately about the coming victory for the oppressed, the underclass, all of us. The fighting will not have been done in vain, our day is coming, at least Rage Against the Machine thinks so.
This album was a huge hit for the band, selling over three million copies, with ‘Tire Me’ winning the 1996 Grammy for Best Metal Performance. Rage Against the Machine were the spiritual heirs of legendary ’60s revolutionaries the MC5; they had the anger and they had the fireball musical chops to back it up. And with a multi-platinum album, they brought the musical revolution into a lot of homes on Main Street USA.