An Iconic Debut Celebrates Two Decades
Think back twenty years to when Bill Clinton was first elected, gas prices were barely above a dollar, and the Space Shuttle Endeavor made its maiden voyage; all fond memories of economic prosperity, changing politics, and vast technological and scientific opportunities. The world was our oyster, right? Add in the beating of Rodney King, rioting in Hartcliffe, and America’s refusal to sign the UN’s convention on Climate Change, and you’ve gotten just a taste of the injustices plaguing the early post-Cold War era, making Rage Against The Machine’s self-titled debut all the more powerful. From a strictly musical standpoint, it was unlike anything we’d ever heard before…at least, anything done well in terms of effectively blending rap and rock (the Run DMC incarnate of “Walk This Way” doesn’t count). After two decades, Rage Against The Machine’s eponymous LP is getting the full treatment it deserves with a box set that acts as a gateway to the band’s early years and the album’s creation.
A box set featuring remastered tracks, DVDs, and extras feels a little idiosyncratic for Rage Against The Machine, but it’s a hearty package whose timeless prescience can choose to ignore capitalistic gain. The album’s original demos appear in all their glory for the first time on CD, dropping “Settle for Nothing,” “Wake Up,” and “Fistful of “Steel,” and picking up five B-sides, three of which have yet to see the light of day. “Darkness of Greed” saunters in mellowly and methodically before blasting open after faint guitar feedback. Singer Zack De La Rocha’s potent rhymes collapse into reflective verses similar to their beginning, straddling the border of irate action and contemplative intensity. It’s the quiet ones that always get you. Guitarist Tom Morello is spot-on as always, balancing De La Rocha’s signature ferocity with thoughtful arpeggios like pristine steps through the ruins of society.
“Clear the Lane” presents another hidden demo highlight. Though not necessarily their most lyrically strong composition, Morello works wonders with the bent pitch wails of his guitar. Not enough can be said for Tim Commerford’s spider-walk of a bassline as it weaves through crashing drums and more heavy-hitting guitar. B-sides and unreleased tracks aside, the demos prove that Rage Against the Machine knew when not to mess with perfection. The few changes that were made flesh out each song with wallops of harmony and amped up instrumentals. Opener “Bombtrack” benefits greatly and, when given an additional polish through remastering, is made all the richer. De La Rocha’s vocals alternate between subtle pinpricks and all-out assaults. The classic “Killing In the Name Of” sees a shorter intro from demo to remastering, though there is something to be said for that amount of buildup.
Another treat of the box set is its bonus B-sides, all live tracks taken from previous Rage Against the Machine singles. “Bullet In The Head” gets no real introduction from De La Rocha save for a mention of its name and frankly, it doesn’t need one. The band’s onstage energy is infectious even without visuals, though the DVDs have more than got you covered if you’re aching for concert footage featuring never-before-seen material. Unlike other box sets, you don’t necessarily have to be a superfan to appreciate all that went into Rage Against The Machine’s debut. This is a set that satiates all music fans and shows how far we’ve come in twenty years of an ever-changing musical landscape filled with new technologies and messages that maintain their urgency over time.