Band: Rage Against the Machine
Album: The Battle of Los Angeles (1999)
**I think beginning a series of reviews of the most influential bands/albums in my life would be a great thing to do, and the only appropriate place to start would be here. This album is the first album I can remember actually connecting to.**
I was in 6th grade, and although I couldn’t connect to the hip-hop/rap vocals (Zack de la Rocha) about anti-government and propaganda as much as the music, that was all I needed. The completely unique guitar tones and solos that are woven over the driving bass and drums were enough.
This is the album that I can confidently say made me want to play drums. Rage’s drummer (Brade Wilk) has a very simple yet completely unique sound. His style is simple yet complex, down-played yet in your face. He’ll play a simple 4/4 beat and then blast you with a huge fill or some very fine crash work. It was a great place to start learning drums because of the simplicity. I could pick up my sticks and play along not knowing how much I was actually learning. I think the one thing I took away the most is that accenting the vocals with your beat is an incredible tool to use. If there is a specific word, or a line that is heavily accented vocally (which is the case many times in a hip/hop driven genre) – accent it with your beat or with a cymbal crash and it will only enhance that specific part. (Of course this doesn’t apply all the time but is a great lesson learned.)
What can I say about Tom Morello’s guitar work that hasn’t been said? He has a VERY specific tone and sound that is unmistakable. Although some may say his having a solo in almost every song is too much, I think it is simply the way they write/wrote music. Each solo is almost like another song in itself. It has a melody and a character to it and cannot be mistaken for any other guitarist and I always found myself looking foward to the solos.
The Battle of Los Angeles opens with the very open sounding “Testify”. This track is a phenomal display of how the band can ‘separate’, as I like to say, into 4 different parts in the verses, then pull it back together in the chorus for a completely rocking feel. Other tracks such as ‘Mic Check’ and ‘Born of a Broken Man’ are laced with a sonically haunting feel that carries throughout the tracks. Perhaps the two most stand-out tracks, but completely necessary as to keep the album from being 12 tracks of monotony. My two favorite tracks have to be the closing tracks however. ‘Ashes in the Fall’ is an anthemic track that has de la Rocha repeating “This is the new sound, just like the old sound. Just like the noose wound over the new ground.” The track eventually builds on a snare-heavy beat accented by a computer-esque sounding guitar that crescendos into the band all driving together on the same riff after de la Rocha belts out, “Ain’t it funny how the factory doors close? Round the time that the school doors close. Round the time that the doors of the jail cells open up to greet you… like the reaper.” An extremely memorable part on the album.
The last track “War Within a Breath” opens with a low-fi quality that breaks into full quality upon the first verse. Perhaps with the most in-your-face lyrics, de la Rocha yells in the chorus, “War Within a Breath, It’s Land or Death.” A cry to fight for what is yours or have it taken from you.
I still love this album, and the fact that it has stood the test of time says a lot. It taught me an immeasurable amount about drums, music construction and the like. I’m not sure if I’d be playing drums today if it wasn’t for this album. If you’ve never listened to Rage Against the Machine or The Battle of Los Angeles I highly recommend it. I don’t think they’re for everyone, but who knows, maybe you’ll be inspired as I was so long ago.
(11) Ashes In the Fall
(12) War Within a Breath