It was the end of the 20th century when Rage Against the Machine released Renegades, their last album before disbanding and venturing on to new musical terrain. 17 years on, the concerns they raised and the compositions they wrote back even more relevant they before as we teeter on the precipice of a world ruled by corporations and The White House controlled by a reality TV host.
Not only was RATM a band with a striking and inspiring message that stood up against the injustices of economic inequality, racism, xenophobia, fascism or real fake news from various administrations but they were one of the greatest rock bands to witness live, with frontman Zack De La Rocha passionately screaming out his convictions. It was subversive and revolutionary but it was the music that was so ground-breaking, blending metal, punk and hip hop and not compromising in any genre.
In 2016 a new chapter was started with the announcement of Prophets of Rage, a supergroup or, as Tom Morello put it, “An elite task force of revolutionary musicians” consisting of the instrumentalists of RATM but fronted by both Chuck D and B Real with the blessing of De La Rocha. Dangerous times call for dangerous songs and Prophets of Rage are the soundtrack to the resistance.
Opening song ‘Radical Eyes’ is a heavy introduction with a lot of dirty groove but ultimately doesn’t have the same climactic impact that front line tracks such as ‘Bombtrack’, ‘Bulls on Parade’ or ‘Testify’ had in the RATM catalogue. ‘Unfuck the World’ is menacing from the get go and has the rabble-rousing spirit that the members of this band know how to produce. You might assume ‘Legalize Me’ is a protest song about legalizing marijuana influenced by Cypress Hill but it actually has a much deeper meaning about the anti-immigration stance of the Trump administration and the fight for all people to become legal citizens; the song itself has a catchy Tom Morello riff and takes a more Audioslave style of song writing approach. ‘Living on the 110’ addresses the issues of the makeshift city of homeless people under the famous 110th highway in Los Angeles, an effective riff and probably the most direct lyrics on the album. In ‘Hail to the Chief’ Morello and DJ Lord have a battle with Lord emulating a guitar solo and Morello mimicking the sound of turntable scratching.
Unfortunately the rest of the album is a little clichéd with rehashed ideas from all the members’ previous catalogues. You either have Cypress Hill and Public Enemy funky bass grooves like on ‘Take Me Higher’ or more heavy guitar riffs that are very reminiscent of the first three Rage albums but without the same freshness.
The best thing going for this album is how potent the lyrics are. Both B and Chuck are veteran MCs who write with an honest perspective and as D once said in ‘Don’t Believe the Hype’, “I don’t rhyme for the sake of riddlin’”. The weakest point is it sounds like more of the same musically and doesn’t really evolve even though Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk are still world-class musicians capable of excellence.
Prophets of Rage are most definitely practising what they preach as musicians and activists; the album cover was even done by Shepard Fairey who created the famous Obama posters. This album won’t make the same impact that classic discs like Evil Empire, The Battle of Los Angeles and particularly the first Rage Against the Machine album did, but it will wake people up to mounting political and social struggle, the urgent need to take action and to be the change you want to see in the world.
1. Radical Eyes
2. Unfuck the World
3. Legalize Me
4. Living on the 110
5. The Counteroffensive
6. Hail to the Chief
7. Take Me Higher
8. Strength in Numbers
9. Fired a Shot
10. Who Owns Who
11. Hands Up