Saturday, March 13, 2010

426. The Battle of Los Angeles- Only slightly quieter than an actual battle.

Album: The Battle of Los Angeles
Artist: Rage Against the Machine
Year: 1999
Genre: Rock

  1. Testify
  2. Guerrilla Radio
  3. Calm Like a Bomb
  4. Mic Check
  5. Sleep Now in the Fire
  6. Born of a Broken Man
  7. Born as Ghosts
  8. Maria
  9. Voice of the Voiceless
  10. New Millennium Homes
  11. Ashes in the Fall
  12. War Within a Breath

You would think after all this time that there wouldn't actually be a huge amount of original stuff you could do with a guitar, a bass, some drums and a vocalist. Les Paul decided to amplify a guitar back in the 1940's and since then it's been the basis of every single rock band (with the possible exception of Ben Folds Five) ever since. The guitar/bass/drums combo has been established in literally millions of acts all over the world. Every possible innovation was surely used up by the late sixties. When Jimi Hendrix played with his teeth there must have been someone in the audience who said: "Well that's it, there's nothing more to do, it's all just copying from here on in." In the nineties a band called Rage Against the Machine proved that innovation wasn't dead. Despite possessing the same instruments that had been around for half a century they managed to create a sound that was truly original, unusual and had never been done before.

The main thing that stands out about RATM are the vocals- they're not rap but they're not not-rap either. There's some of the rapid fire rhyming of traditional hip hop but with shouty overtones, as if Zach De La Rocha wanted to rap but was too incensed to adopt the necessary laid-back style. Choruses are usually delivered in a full-bodied shout but occasionally he drops to an effective whisper. It's not singing as you're mother would define it but then this isn't music as she knew it either. Lyrically De La Rocha isn't just singing he's railing. The band isn't called Rage against the Machine for nothing. They're clearly well versed in world events, steeped in history and angry as hell. They're not singing about a revolution they're inciting one.

Backing De La Rocha are a band who have probably grown up listening to Heavy Metal but don't want to be weighed down by it's constraints. Guitarist Tom Morello sounds like nothing else on the planet. While he's capable of crunching out power chords with the best of them his solos and lead-work sound like he gets more inspiration from dot-matrix printers than guitar heroes. Thanks to some original guitar techniques and an array of effects pedals that a centipede would struggle to operate, he squeezes sounds out of a guitar that Les Paul would never have dreamed of in his worst nightmares. It's a sonic barrage of demented, shrieky weirdness that nobody has tried before and few have managed since. While it's unconventional it's just what his lead singer's unique vocal style requires. When combined they make it clear that you're listening to something that hasn't existed before. Credit should also go to the drummer and bass player who manage to bring their fair share of original and unexpected elements to the album without ever causing the whole thing to collapse into a disorganized slop of innovation with no actual structure.

In amongst all the WTFness being flung around this album are some great songs that prove RATM were more than just a bunch of experimental innovators. The four singles (Testify, Guerilla Radio, Calm like a bomb and Sleep now in the fire) are all blisteringly good tracks that will have you banging your head and singing along. While it kicks mightily on the album Guerrilla Radio is fantastic in concert- get your hands on a live version and enjoy one of rock's great moments when De La Rocha sings "
It has to start somewhere It has to start sometime, What better place than here, what better time than now?" while an audience screams it back at him. There's no filler on the album and not a single weak track. If you like what they're doing you'll like the whole thing- then again if angry shouting over other-wordly guitar noises isn't your bag you will hate every track equally.

In their short (but recently revived) career, Rage against the Machine invented a new genre of music. There are lots of bands around who describe themselves as Rap Metal and while most of them are truly awful it's not fair to blame RATM for the atrocities of their prodigies. Probably the most glowing praise I can give this great album is to say that while I don't really like Metal and I'm no fan of rap I really like this stuff. It's original, unique, fantastic and the second best thing the band has ever done.

Influenced by: Metal. Rap. Alternative Left wing media, electrical appliances
Influenced: Everyone since who has called themselves Rap metal.

Guerilla Radio.
Lowlights: None really. But Ballad of a Broken man is my least favourite track.

Favourite Amazon Customer review qoute: "This album sounds like everything else they've ever done, and Zack de la Cockroach still sounds about as menacing as a little boy with messy diapers. If they'd get off their high horse for one second and realize that music will NEVER change the world, they might have something to offer."

-Music will never change the world? I can't help but disagree.

So which side of the Battle of Los Angeles are you on? Are you with Rage or do you side with the machine? Let me know below.

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