Released Nov. 2, 1999, The Battle of Los Angeles remains Rage Against the Machine’s latest album to date. The band fell apart in October 2000, but has since reunited (in 2007) to play live shows.
Now that a new Rage album is believed to be in the works, it seems only fitting to take a look back at The Battle of Los Angeles.
Inarguably the band’s most massive album, Battle features each member of Rage at his best. The beats lain by bassist and “YTimK” Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk are every bit as fiery and impactful as vocalist Zack de la Rocha’s vitriolic rhymes.
No matter how raucous or grooving a song is, each one sounds like a revolutionary march.
Whether it is simply de la Rocha and Wilk grooving through a bridge (Testify, Guerilla Radio) or the full band rip-roaring through a chorus (Sleep Now in the Fire, Born as Ghosts) every moment of every song sounds menacing enough to strike fear in the frozen heart of any proponent of the status quo. Even if you don’t follow de la Rocha’s rather leftist diatribe, you can’t ignore the beat.
The best feature of Battle, however, has to be guitarist Tom Morello’s progressive use of his instrument – it’s what validates the rest of the band. Everyone pretty much knew when Battle was released that it was Morello’s performance that would give it lasting power.
It’s possible to foresee a band making an album this chock full of hardcore rap rock beats, and it’s likely there are vocalists out there who can spit as much fire as de la Rocha; however, you would be hard-pressed to find a band can claim a guitarist with as vast a sonic arsenal as Morello. His work on Battle remains one of the most innovative performances in recent memory.
Thus far, most of what I’ve said is really just a reiteration of what was said when Battle was first released.
The most criticized part of the album was, and remains, its relentlessness. The incessant rage at times seems overpowering. Let’s remember that the band is called Rage Against the Machine, not “I’m Sometimes Perturbed by What Goes On.”
With a name like that and radical personalities like Morello and de la Rocha leading, you pretty much know what you’re going to get, although “Born of a Broken Man” now seems to have gotten the credit it deserves.
Still, claims that Battle could use a bit more emotional range are not unfounded. In hindsight, it is not hard to see that the root of the anger in Battle is de la Rocha’s lyrics.
This is not hard to see when one considers what Morello, Commerford and Wilk were able to do with Chris Cornell in Audioslave. It isn’t hard to imagine the three instrumentalists of Rage in the studio simply trying to keep up with de la Rocha’s vitriol.
Now, however, it is possible to say that de la Rocha’s lyrics give Battle lasting power. Morello’s incredible performance aside, it is remarkable that more than 10 years later, many of de la Rocha’s points in Battle remain relevant.
One look at the video for Sleep Now in the Fire and it isn’t ridiculous to wonder if it was released post-Wall Street crash of 2008.
The bottom line is that The Battle of Los Angeles hasn’t remained relevant because of any one aspect – the effects, the rhythms, or the lyrics. Rather, it has remained relevant because of the coalescence of each part – each member makes the others seem better.
Morello’s innovations validate de la Rocha’s sometimes overbearing lines, and de la Rocha’s lines push Morello’s performance past mere musical innovation into the realm of social consciousness. In the end, this is an angry fuc**** album made by an angry fuc**** band, and no part falls short.
The question now is, after enduring eight years of Bush, and now two of a disappointing progressive President, how enraged will Rage be when they return this summer?