MTH-V: Rage Against the Machine

RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE! Twenty years later, the band is still just as rocking and relevant.

I know I have my Top 5 that I reference quite regularly. But if I were to limit that to rock alone, RATM would definitely make that list. (Note: RATM and TOOL both emerged from the same LA scene and knew each other quite well – in fact, the two bands’ guitarists were high school classmates in Chicago.) RATM’s second album Evil Empire came out in 1996, a year I all but obsess over and praise at length without prompting, and I listened to it non-stop. (Some of my still-favorite albums were released that year, and a number of the releases from late 1995 to early 1997 made a big impact on me.) The band’s inventive and assaulting mix of rap and heavy metal are absolutely infectious, and Tom Morello‘s virtuosity gives the only-guitar-bass-drums-vocals combo near-endless sonic possibilities.

Controversy regularly followed the band – and continues to through today – because of 1) their uncompromising socio-political focus and 2) misunderstanding and overreaction by the mainstream media. For example, their music was banned from the airwaves by Clear Channel during the months following 9/11. Much of their profits have gone to support charitable and political causes over the last two decades, and they are regularly participating in demonstrations and rallies, especially Morello and singer Zack de la Rocha. And when I say socio-political focus, I mean exclusively so. Without getting deep (and lost) in the weeds here, every song – save some of the covers included on 2000’s Renegades deals with social, political, economic and/or environmental commentary of some kind. Considering the group’s singular purpose, their longstanding commercial success and popularity is quite amazing.

I was fortunate enough to see Rage Against the Machine once in late 1999. (They abruptly disbanded a year later and reformed in 2007, performing sporadically since.) It remains one of the most INTENSE shows I’ve ever attended, and it was by far the most aggressive mosh pit I’ve ever been a part of. (Even though I was only feet from the stage, I had to leave the pit before Rage even took the stage and find an open seat from one of the many people who rushed the floor.) The band didn’t need a light show, lasers, or any other special effects. All they had was a backdrop that read “The Battle of Detroit” and their instruments. And it was one of the best, most energetic performances I’ve witnessed. Hopefully the below videos convey that.

“Know Your Enemy”
One of my favorite RATM tracks. (TOOL’s Maynard James Keenan sings the bridge on their debut album. A clip of both bands together on stage at the 1994 Glastonbury Festival is here.) This 2011 performance at Brazil’s SWU festival is ELECTRIC. It was part of RATM’s first string of South American dates ever, and it’s obvious that much of the audience had waited two decades for this.) Watch Morello work his magic throughout!

From Germany’s Rock im Park 2000

*I had tickets to see them again in 2000 as part of the Rhyme & Reason tour featuring Beastie Boys, RATM, Busta Rhymes, and No Doubt, but the tour was cancelled to due an injury sustained by Mike D. That’s one tour I’d love to alter history to have seen…


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