Wall of Sound

 
 
Rage Against the Machine
                  Evil Empire 
                  Label: Epic 
                  Genre: Alternative 

                  Rating: 77

                  Three and a half years after unleashing its first
                  in-your-face hybrid of heavy rock and hip-hop, Rage Against the
                  Machine returns with a sophomore effort that's as exciting as its
                  predecessor. Evil Empire is another roiling assembly of songs that
                  stomp across a desperate terrain of cultural repression, greed, and
                  fading hopes. That said, it's easier to lock step with frontman Zack
                  De La Rocha when he garrotes conservative talk shows ("Vietnow")
                  and military maneuvers ("Bulls on Parade") than when he champions
                  however rightly the cause of independence-seeking Zapatista
                  farmers in Mexico. But beyond the words is De La Rocha's delivery,
                  all spit and rabid rage. That, Tom Morello's style-defying guitar
                  attack, and a bottomless bag of sonic tricks ensure that Rage
                  remains an electrifying and subversive force. Gary Graff 

Rage Against the Machine
                  Battle of Los Angeles 
                  Label: Epic 
                  Genre: Alternative 
                  File Under: Fight the power 
                  Rating: 82

                  Since Rage Against the Machine debuted
                  some eight years ago, its mix of hard
                  rock, grunge, and rap has become a
                  cottage industry. Kid Rock, Limp Bizkit,
                  and many others have employed it to
                  great effect, though without Rage's
                  integrity or political activism. On The
                  Battle of Los Angeles, the quartet continues to use its music as a
                  propaganda tool for radical organizing, and creates some
                  thought-provoking music in the process. 

                  As on previous albums, the group proves adept at making thrash
                  breakbeats. On cuts like "Maria," the music hums along while lead
                  vocalist-rapper Zack de la Rocha throttles the beat with his
                  trademark passion then suddenly burns brightly during the chorus,
                  like an awakened giant. Throughout, guitarist Tom Morello
                  amazingly replicates turntable scratches and the eerie sound of the
                  theremin, while drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Y.tim.K back him
                  up. Zack, for his part, rhymes with the intensity of an MC. "My word
                  war returns to burn/ Like Baldwin home from Paris," he shouts on
                  "Calm Like a Bomb," an homage to Public Enemy's "Louder Than a
                  Bomb." 

                  Rather than focusing on guns, ho's, and clothes, however, he
                  addresses the barbarity of America's capitalist system and its
                  victimization of the underclass. Sometimes he speaks of it directly
                  ("Maria," "Testify"), other times he refers to it through tales of his
                  lyrical prowess ("Mic Check (Once Hunting Now Hunted)"). Like
                  Chuck D., the prototypical hard rhymer and Black Power advocate,
                  Zack fashions himself as a guerilla, calm like a bomb. "I be walkin'
                  god like a dog," he raps. 

                  Though Rocha's approach is admirable, it lacks subtlety. On The
                  Battle of Los Angeles, everyone is a "vulture," "rebel," or "survivor."
                  Frequent comparisons are made between slavery and modern times:
                  on "Calm Like a Bomb" Rocha says, "There's a field full of slaves/
                  Some corn and some debit/ There's a ditch full of bodies/ Tha check
                  for the rent." But he never names names or cites specific incidents.
                  Despite the graphic imagery, his rhymes rarely explore the
                  complexities of a capitalist society that builds governments and
                  undermines revolutions. 

                  Rage Against the Machine should be lauded for its courage to
                  address America's social, political, and economic deficiencies. But
                  its reduction of U.S. politics to a war between the haves and the
                  have-nots is simplistic. Comparatively speaking, their songs lack
                  Public Enemy's detailed references to current events, Consolidated's
                  innovative subject matter, or Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy's wry
                  commentary. The Battle of Los Angeles is a furious testament that
                  needs more substance. Mosi Reeves