King of the Jungle
In the long absence in between Rage Against the Machine’s final album and their sudden re-emergence at the 2007 Coachella Festival, many rumors surfaced about a possible solo outing from the group’s outspoken frontman Zack de la Rocha. Reports and scattered interviews had him working with everyone from DJ Shadow to Dan The Automator to Trent Reznor, but only “March of Death” from the DJ Shadow sessions ever saw the light of day. Now, with minimal notice, the reclusive singer drops a five-song, self-titled EP from a brand new side project One Day as a Lion with former Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore.
Minus traditional bass and guitars One Day as a Lion is a minimal exercise. De la Rocha raps, sings and plays heavily distorted keyboards while Theodore pulverizes his drum kit like a more rambunctious Gene Hoglan. “Ocean View” starts with a held keyboard note so raw it sounds like a radio struggling to emit a signal, with de la Rocha (in a nice change of pace) half-singing “Ocean of fears rise / rise a flame to tear them down” with a nasal roar. The accusatory line “Your god is dying much younger than Rome / Has killed so many he can’t go home / Your god’s heart is a tumor now rotten / Born of a blood that’s never forgotten” builds momentum on “Last Letter,” as Theodore pops out a drum pattern closer to a carefully crafted drum solo until Zack de la Rocha’s manic, shrill conclusion: “And this is my last letter to you.”
With the same ferocity as The Battle of Los Angeles’ “War Within a Breath,” “If You Fear Dying” is a fervent call to action (“Time is coming / like the dawn of a red sun / if you fear dying than you’re / than you’re already dead”). However, it’s the hip-hop hooks of the title track and “Wild International” that will enrapture instantly, clever mixes of vital energy, commanding presence and confrontational confidence. It may have been a bummer to be absent new Zack de la Rocha material for so long, but One Day as a Lion proves it was worth waiting until the elements clicked just right. This is a must-listen-to album for 2008.