With a quartet consisting of vocalist/emcee Zach de la Roch, guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford, and drummer Brad Wilk, the golden essence of Rage Against the Machine’s sound is constantly in full force with each composition. Every one of those guys exudes all of the right chemistry in syncopation with one another, and it’s their overall message they convey through their craft that’s the real heart of it all. They not only have fought for the traditional causes of the world, such as police brutality, corruption, systematic racism, and wage slavery, but they’ve also leant their voices to other causes such as the imprisonment of Indian-American activist Leonard Peltier, death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the Zapatista freedom fighters of Chiapas, Mexico, among others.
Their loud and angry injection of rock music also helps the resonance of their substance. The innovative sound they helped usher in was both a gift and a curse (the curse being Nu Metal), and most of the inventiveness came courtesy of Tom Morello and his vividly idiosyncratic re-working of the guitar; he incorporated every sound effect imaginable that gave Rage Against the Machine their razor-sharp asperity. One cool signature effect of his was making the guitar sound like records being scratched on a turntable.
Even though the band have long called it quits, their music still continues to stand as a relevant element in todays conglomerate; Rage Against the Machine bestows a hand to those who are also fed up with the endless atrocities in the world, and they make it very accessible through awesome music. (WARNING: Incoming songs with language that may not be suitable for those who are easily offended)
# 10 – War Within a Breath
Rage Against the Machine’s third and final record, Battle of Los Angeles, saw an end to their legacy on such short notice; nonetheless, it was the right album to end it on. Keeping in the tradition with the rest of their albums, this one is just as boisterous and pissed off in every way, but it’s more sonically enhanced and technically proficient. And of course it’s naturally difficult picking a particular song on an album like this, but if there’s one remarkable song on here that could end Battle of Los Angeles on the right note, it’s War Within a Breath. It’s lyrics preach acerbically about the working class being used and abused by an authoritarian government, with references to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation; Rage Against the Machine often used the black flag with the red star as their banner.
# 9 – Vietnow
This third single cut off of their sophomore record, Evil Empire, is one of the bands most ambitious, musically. Morello drops bombs with his semi truck riff inspired by Zeppelin’s The Wanton Song, with Commerford outlining the melody with his bass and Bilk putting on his best John Bonham impression with those notable fills. Of course Rocha’s powerful lyrics about right-wing radio propaganda can’t go unnoticed; he also manages to takes shots at one of the policemen, Stacey Koon, who was videotaped beating Rodney King as well. The line, is all the world jails and churches, is also a nice reference to novelist James Baldwin.
# 8 – Settle For Nothing
Settle For Nothing is one of the few songs from Rage Against the Machine’s catalog that takes an incongruent shift in direction. It starts out low-key and reserved, with a darkly dissonant riff stripped of distortion, before slamming down on the gas for the chorus. Morello absolutely shines here with his cataclysmic adroitness, painting Rocha’s painful wordplay with terrifying observance. Naturally, everybody as a whole brings this performance to an exciting halt; singling out just one individual here would simply be sacrilegious.
# 7 – Calm Like a Bomb
This fan favorite from Battle of Los Angeles never received a music video, but it had enough critical favorability surrounding it to be released as a successful radio single. What’s not to like about it? It absolutely oozes with sidestepping swagger and punches through the draconian walls with the proletarian fist of revolt. This track is the perfect example of potent Hip Hop flows over a hardcore rhythm section; Morello and his self-described “pterodactyl” sounds are like auditory equivalent to the Aurora Borealis.
# 6 – Revolver
There’s a lot to love about this song. First and foremost: The beginning effects. It’s like Morello was inspired by Hendrix’s UFO feedback from his Axis: Bold As Love days. Then there’s the synthesis of guitar and bass which dangles from fabric threaded by Black Sabbath; who didn’t use the riff-writing handbook of Black Sabbath to pass on the torch to a whole new generation of metal enthusiasts? Everything connects here; even the storytelling, which could either be interpreted as being bout a boxer or domestic abuse.
# 5 – Guerilla Radio
This right here is one of their biggest songs, and chances are you’ve probably heard it in Guitar Hero Live, but most who know the song will say they got turned on to it through Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. When that main riff hits the wax, one can practically feel the rough-around-the-edges skater vibe of the tune, and that militant-style snare fill only elevates things. It’s a real fist-pumping anthem about the corruption of the two-party system and goes after everybody from George Bush, Al Gore, and even Bush’s father.
# 4 – Bulls On Parade
Time for another massive hit. This signature example of how to conjure up a heavy rock song with depth and technical detail doesn’t need much of a synopsis. It’s got the whole package here; the greatest part of the song is all of the unconventional modules. The integration of wah-wah, the bass solo lingering in the shadows, the guitar solo that’s literally like a needle being scratched against a vinyl record, and those venomous rhymes……bone-chilling dance music here, folks!
# 3 – Freedom
What a perfect song to close a perfect album; this bad boy is, of course, from their self-titled opus. It was released as the fourth single off of the album, and pretty much focuses on what one would come to expect from a song with this title. Its music video focused on the trial of Native American activists and one of the leaders of the American Indian Movement. The song does a great job of making the listener question the freedom they actually have in their society, and it does so over a delicious plate of overpowered instruments.
# 2 – Know Your Enemy
This song has a significant amount of emotional value to it, besides just being a punk-inflamed detonator. Its main purpose is to rip into the false notion that our democracy is one that is honest and fair, and that this land of the free isn’t so free. The most stomach-churning excerpt would have to be the closing stanzas: Compromise, conformity, assimilation, submission, Ignorance, hypocrisy, brutality, the elite ,All of which are American dreams
It’s such an exciting and hard-hitting tune, with an incredible guitar solo thrown in the mix; one of Morello’s best. Plus, Maynard James Keenan from Tool makes a grand entrance in the bridge section; this song simply has it all.
# 1 – Killing in the Name
I’m sure it’s quite obvious that this song would end up in the number one spot; why wouldn’t it? It’s their signature song, and it’s one of the greatest rock songs of all time; that isn’t an opinion….it’s a cold, hard fact! The superlative nature of its existence still continues to marvel twenty plus years later. Beyond its instantly recognizable drop D riff, killer bass, and mammoth percussion is its penetrable message. The lyrics deal with police brutality and racism, with many references in the song about the police force being aligned with the Ku Klux Klan; this song came off the cusp of the Rodney King Riots, which made it even more of a powerful anthem. The song is also notorious for having a recorded seventeen “F bombs” in it, but that doesn’t take away any of the feeling and meaning of the song. Killing in the Name is one for the ages, and it’s still relevant today as it was back then.
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Top 10 Rage Against the Machine Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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