Release Date: Nov 27, 2012
Record label: Epic
Genre(s): Rap, Metal, Rap-Metal, Hard Rock
And lo, Satan decreed that thrash metal would be superseded by grunge, which begat alt.metal, which begat rap-metal, which begat nu-metal. And then baseball cap manufacturers’ share prices soared. In the middle of this long-gone process was Rage Against The Machine’s monstrous debut album, a venomous collection of songs that expressed the LA foursome’s deep dissatisfaction with the military-industrial complex, institutionalised racism, public manipulation through advertising and the general decay of society.
Rage Against the Machine's 1992 debut is a grenade that keeps exploding; among Nineties albums, only Nevermind and The Chronic rival it for cultural impact. Rage made hip-hop-tinged funk metal the new rebel music, taking over the alienation beat from grunge slackers and making Marxist sloganeering seem badass. Like any good revolutionary sect, Rage weren't without their contradictions and tensions: Zack de la Rocha's blocky, academically aspirational rhymes preached leftist revolution ("Enough, I call the bluff – fuck Manifest Destiny!" he shouted on "Bombtrack"); guitarist and sonic architect Tom Morello practiced an almost authoritarian control and extreme technical precision as he mimicked sampling, sent down thunderous power chords and, occasionally, indulged in almost New Age-y solos.
Looking back, it seems like someone was always pissed about something in the ’90s, which is interesting considering the peaceful and prosperous political climate ushered in by the Clinton era. Sure, the budget was balanced and war felt like something of a distant memory, but that didn’t keep scores of Seattle bands from wallowing loudly in their misery or Limp Bizkit from breaking people’s faces. But while the ’90s musical landscape was inundated with all sorts of prefabricated anger that never really carried weight against an otherwise pleasant cultural backdrop, Rage Against The Machine succeeded where so many others failed, translating their barely contained aggression into something legitimate and tangible.
There’s an irony to the 20th anniversary edition of Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled debut, dubbed XX, right from the get-go. It seems odd for a band whose entire sonic repertoire and public image is based around system-upending acts of social protest—a fact driven home by the self-immolation shot on the cover of Rage Against the Machine—to give in to one of the music industry’s most well-known money grabs: the deluxe edition repackaging. The irony becomes even stronger when one considers that one of the likely forces contributing to this reissue, aside from the number of years it has been since the debut’s original release, was RATM’s free concert in London after a successful public attempt to prevent The X Factor‘s latest product from dominating the charts on Christmas week.
As urgent and unique as ever, RATM’s debut has aged extremely well. Greg Moffitt 2012 Originally released in November 1992, Rage Against the Machine’s debut LP is one of the definitive rock albums of the 90s, and one of the most influential of all time. Available in three different versions, this 20th anniversary set pairs the remastered album with a range of interesting, though ultimately inessential, video clips.
Probably the first album to successfully merge the seemingly disparate sounds of rap and heavy metal, Rage Against the Machine's self-titled debut was groundbreaking enough when released in 1992, but many would argue that it has yet to be surpassed in terms of influence and sheer brilliance -- though countless bands have certainly tried. This is probably because the uniquely combustible creative relationship between guitar wizard Tom Morello and literate rebel vocalist Zack de la Rocha could only burn this bright, this once. While the former's roots in '80s heavy metal shredding gave rise to an inimitable array of six-string acrobatics and rhythmic special effects (few of which anyone else has managed to replicate), the latter delivered meaningful rhymes with an emotionally charged conviction that suburban white boys of the ensuing nu-metal generation could never hope to touch.
Self-righteous political fury loses its impact once the contemporaneous details fade into history. The trick remains to keep those riffs churning, so that the songs themselves outlast the polemic, a lesson learned by the MC5 and the Clash. Spiritual descendants Rage Against the Machine salute their place in that legacy with XX, an expanded take on its self-titled 1992 debut.