Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Rage Against The Machine - Evil Empire

Year: 1996
Genre: Alternative

Highlight Tracks: "Vietnow", "Revolver", "Down Rodeo"
Weak Tracks: "Roll Right"

Something about this album is off-kilter. Maybe it is Zach de la Rocha's odd rhyme schemes and obscure lyrical references. Or maybe it is the band pushing the envelope in an attempt to make discordant music kick-ass. Most likely it is a combination of both things.

Evil Empire is RATM's weak album. Not to say that it is a bad album, but it definitely suffers in comparison to the rest of their body of work. Mainly because of the off-kilter feeling that prevails over it.

It feels like Tom Morello and Zach de la Rocha were going after different things on this album. The music is phenomenal here but includes a lot of guitar experimentation that undermines the pedal-to-the-metal Rage that we're used to. As interesting as Morello's guitar dissertation is it does not carry the album. The same could be said for de la Rocha's lyric writing. His critiques of society here are equal parts generalization and obscurity so that a populist middle ground is never attained. What this all adds up too is an album that is sonically interesting but never fires on all cylinders as their debut did.

I prefer to look at this album as a step in the band's development that led to the excellent The Battle For Los Angeles on which Morello and de la Rocha finally achieve a synergy between sick guitar innovation and firebrand political lyrics.

Oddly, the songs on Evil Empire work much better individually than they do when listened to as a full album. Each song feels like a mini-epic and is much more enjoyable when seperated out; almost as if Evil Empire is a singles compilation rather than a cohesive album.

My favorite moments on Evil Empire come when RATM tinker with their formula the most. "Vietnow" has a great lumbering tempo, Zach singing his own backing vocals, and a terrific second half where de la Rocha mutters over a rising slow-jam before the song finally explodes into familiar territory with 'Fear is your only god!' repetition. "Revolver" features the one true moment on the album where Morello and de la Rocha have a meeting of the minds. Both begin restrained and then unleash with their respective instruments at the perfect moment. Finally "Down Rodeo" is de la Rocha's vocal showcase where the band take second fiddle to their frontman's pissed off tirade in which he becomes a Pied Piper for the disaffected by trading in his flute for a shotgun.

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