Rage Against the Machine don't have an album review on this site? Okay, well, a quick search will show you that they do have one, the 2003 record-label cash-in on the back of their split: a live album. And yes, they do pretty much pre-date this site entirely and they hardly happily slot into the genre of 'punk' however you personally wish to define the term in your head. But over the years this site has had reviews of literally some of the worst musical dross ever created, and pretty much every genre you can think of represented and now, after reading a Wu-Tang Clan album review which isn't even for their classic Enter the Wu-Tang Clan (36 Chambers), I think this has to change, especially given the band are now touring throughout the biggest global venues they can get their hands on.
My copy of this self-titled release, not being a reissue or reprint, is actually one of the oldest physical CDs I own, having racked up a massive 15+ year lifespan now since its release in late 1992. Musical geeks amongst you may have know that's actually 10 years after the CD format was introduced to the musical world, and therefore infer that my record collection must suck. I urge you to remain quiet. I was only five in 1992, after all. And no, I was not a five-year-old die-hard RATM fan headbanging and air-guitaring my way through this album's 10 tracks of savage musical dissent. Instead, years later I was given this album by an older friend, who decided he didn't like them anymore. He was one of the many casulties of nü-metal, cashing in such trully brilliant and classic music for pale, bland, completely derivative and forgettable impersonations (Limp Bizkit, anyone?).
But enough about CDs, the Wu-Tang Clan and the woefulness of Fred Durst; this review is about Rage Against the Machine. From the first track "Bombtrack," the winning formula this album represents slaps you in the face: Tom Morello's crunching riffs, the politically-charged rants of Zach de la Rocha, slow and fast-building crescendos and a nice sprinkling of solos, gang vocals and chants. Anyone who has heard "Killing in the Name" (which should be everyone, regardless of whether you are on punknews.org or ilovehiphop.net -- even if you discovered it only through the medium of "Guitar Hero 2"), will know exactly how the whole sound comes together.
It comes at you at 400 miles per hour. And accelerates. It takes you left, then right and then along a brand new axis of movement you had previously not discovered. It sounds angry, sad and non-plussed all within a minute of each other, yet stays consistent and tight. However, despite the roaring and huge sound you encounter, the album as a complete unit does tail off slightly towards the end. Tracks like "Fistful of Steel" and "Freedom" continue the raw, heavy 'rage' heard from the start and are not a drop in tempo, but do seem to lose a bit of the shine and real head-banging induced nausea that you get from the true power of tracks like "Take the Power Back" and "Bullet in the Head."
The sound quality is famously brilliant on this album: no over-compression, audio manipulation, clipping or other waveform distortions here. Indeed, the notes even have the disclaimer: "No samples, keyboards or synthesizers used in the making of this record." This album really is pure and unadulterated in every way.
So, you may be asking if I am one of those Rage Against the Machine fanboys. The band seem to have an army of followers, but I am honestly not one of them. I will see them live for the first time in the summer and am excited, but even so, I do think this band really did have its time in a different decade. This, I think, far eclipses the rest of their work, which generally spiralled downwards with every release. However, they remain powerful and relevant today, but not in the same way; they are arguably, alongside Refused, the biggest 1990s influence on a lot of the new music that passes through sites like this every week.
So, okay, it can be a bit repetitive. The last four tracks tail off. Sometimes you wish instead of stretching most of the tracks to five minutes they had kept it at three. Sometimes, Zach's groans, grunts and 'come-on!'s can cut a bit raw and seem slightly out of place. But then moments such as the end of "Know Your Enemy" with the haunting repeated chant "All of which are American dreams" are nothing short of breathaking. This album is all about inspiring music that is straightforward, in your face, uncompromising and hugely powerful. Based on those criteria, this is an absolute masterpiece.