Rage Against the Machine stood for power. They were all about the power the common people had, the power authorities abused, the power of music. The defining theme of this album is clear in every snare hit, every menacing bass riff. The politics may not hold much appeal for those looking to get their stomp on, but the music will make a believer out of you.
Some knowledge of the band’s catalogue was a requirement for guitarists and bassists at Greenwood Academy. It was expected that you’d know a couple of riffs at the least, probably Killing in the Name. Their songs are insanely good fun to play, technically demanding but not intricate, primal and brutal in their simplicity. The difficulty isn’t in imitating, but in replicating their sheer aural force. There’s a popular misconception that power is born only from volume and the number of instruments you can throw on a song, and while RATM certainly have volume in spades, their instrumentation is surprisingly sparse. The power comes from the passion with which they play, the tightness of their rhythm (recorded in an age before computers would align your performance into perfect time) and the inimitable sound of the album.
And this is one incredible sounding album. Find yourself a halfway-decent pair of headphones, turn it up and revel in the glory of brutal sound that doesn’t fall apart into mush when you dare to nudge that volume slider. It’s always crystal clear what’s going on, and it translates into grooves that just won’t quit.
Sadly, as a result of their talent for inspiring misguided teenagers to buy Che Guevara t-shirts and pretend to understand socialism, you won’t find many espousing their virtues these days. While I’ve yet to hear anyone say Rage Against the Machine were a bad band, it seems that the time in which you could list them as one of your favourites is gone for now. They’re passé, but unlike any band who was subject to fads or a commercial image, they won’t stay that way. Like I said, the politics might not appeal to anyone over the age of 20, but genuine passion can’t be ignored forever.
I’d never stick Rage Against the Machine on at a party, nor would I listen to them alone unless I was feeling particularly nostalgic for days of yore, but their eponymous debut stands as a symbol of what can be achieved when a small group of passionate, focused and hard-working people get together with a couple of instruments to make a point. Rage Against the Machine knew what they were about, and you don’t need to use your imagination to hear that power twenty years later.