As a predominantly self-taught guitarist, performer, songwriter, and producer who shows no signs of slowing in the prolificity of his recorded works, Tom Morello recently released the fourth solo album credited to his name.
Dubbed The Atlas Underground Flood, the twelve track, 44-minute album maintains the elemental theme conveyed in the title of The Atlas Underground Fire, which was only released two months ago, on October 15. The other two solo albums released under Morello’s name are 2020’s Comandante, and The Atlas Underground, released in 2018.
In the star-studded style of the past two Atlas Underground albums, featuring the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, RZA, GZA, Bring Me The Horizon, and Chris Stapleton, Flood features a surprising plethora of notable musicians, along with fellow guitarists. All tracks feature at least one guest artist. This new cast of performers includes Kirk Hammett, Alex Lifeson of Rush, Ben Harper, Rodrigo y Gabriela, with a full band appearance from UK alt-punks IDLES.
Hammett and Lifeson appear on I Have Seen the Way, a predominantly electronic, house-styled solo-shredding showcase. The two guitarists add an aggressive metal edge and a dash of spiky, avant-garde showmanship respectively, along with Morello’s trademark DJ-styled guitar glitching and swelling volume tricks. Under these culture-spawning stringed effects, a pulsing EDM beat keeps the momentum focused and direct, but things start to lose vibrancy past the three minute mark, due to this rhythmic repetition.
This contemporary tendency for electronic production is the main weakness of this album, which makes half of the tracks very skippable. Certain songs seem to blend into a nondescript melange of pulsing bass and glossy electronic drums, underpinned by synth, which almost seems like a deliberate rebellion against Morello’s past of Rage Against The Machine’s proudly analogue performance style. Guest vocalists provide moments of musical elevation at various points along the way, but a far stronger rock EP could have resulted from a culling of five tracks.
Away from the name value of Hammett and Lifeson, the equally notable Ben Harper lends his well-travelled vocal style to a catchy folk rock ballad, Raising Hell. “Summer’s past, winter’s gone, Sabbath blasting in headphones, I played ‘em all, and woke up with a song”, Harper sings. Morello’s sparsely strummed acoustic chords form the foundation of the tale, offering glimpses into his past four albums as The Nightwatchman, his political-folk based alter-ego.
While Morello’s playing isn’t heavily showcased on this album, and only appears across short-lived bursts of technique, he still makes every note count. His interests as a producer make the album sound extremely varied and unpredictable, leading it to sound more like a compilation and less like a cohesive body of work. Genuinely heavy moments can be found on the tracks Hard Times’ and The Bachelor, while Parallels best preserves Morello’s stringed sorcery, joined by My Morning Jacket’s Jim James.
A Radical in the Family (feat. San Holo)
Human (feat. Barns Courtney)
Hard Times (feat. Nathaniel Rateliff, Jim Jones and Chipotle Joe)
You’ll Get Yours (feat. X Ambassadors)
I Have Seen the Way (feat. Alex Lifeson, Kirk Hammett and Dr. Fresch)
The Lost Cause (feat. Manchester Orchestra)
The Maze (feat. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness)
Ride at Dawn (feat. BreakCode)
Raising Hell (feat. Ben Harper)
The Bachelor (feat. IDLES)
Parallels (feat. Jim James)
Warrior Spirit (feat. Rodrigo y Gabriela)