A sure sign that you love a band too much is when your blind devotion to playing their music at full volume leads to you actually losing your hearing. Such is the current state of play between Rage Against The Machine and yours truly. Having been out of a rock band for far too long, I recently answered an ad for a drummer in a local magazine, and was promptly told to learn ‘Bombtrack’ for the audition. This was the best piece of news I’d heard all week, and it turns out it would also be the last piece of news I’d hear properly for a while. It’s no secret that I’m a massive Rage fan and have been for about as long as I’ve known how to say ‘Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me.’ So there wasn’t really much for me to learn, and it was very entertaining for me to play at a particularly loud volume with dudes I’d never met. What wasn’t so much fun is the fact that plugs don’t always work like they should, and now I can’t hear out of one of my ears and may never do properly again. Rock and roll, right?
‘Bombtrack’, for those of you still with two functioning sets of eardrums, is the first thing many of us ever heard from Zach, Tom, Tim and Brad, who seem a lot more innocent when you don’t know their last names or the kind of awesomeness they can invoke with little more than a guitar pick. The first track on their self-titled debut album which may or may not have a monk immolating himself on the cover, it was as explosive in ’92 as it is now. That eager little bass and guitar unison run that opens the song gives no indication of the kind of carnage that’s around the corner, which is exactly how most of us like our rollercoasters. We also have the unique pleasure of being introduced to De La Rocha’s infamous Wide World of Grunts early, with his delightfully contemptuous ‘UGH!’ marking his arrival before he drops a single rhyme. Never has a man who is clearly wrapped up in words said so much with onomatopoeia.
Rap-rock is a genre that for the large part will become as memorable as dubstep in ten years time – as a terrible, unfortunate joke. But positioning Rage Against The Machine in this genre is sort of unfair. For a start, they don’t use their instruments like turntables, they use them as sledgehammers with knives sticking out the side of them: precision and power. You only have to get to the verse riff, which doesn’t push down the bass to some ungodly tuning (see: KoRn, Limp Bizkit, Manson) and leave it there for effect but rather bounces around the beat and runs across the fretboard, lean as a cheetah, to see this in action. Rage are as much a musician’s band as they are an angry young man’s band as they are one of the most important and crucially underrated bands of the last two decades. Every time you listen to them, you learn something new, a bit like a Simpsons episode. Aside from wanting to punch everything in a one kilometre radius, you can also gain some valuable insights into human history. Thus Rage are everything in one package and therefore, to my eyes, still the ultimate band. You can feel their rhythms before they hit you and even if you reduced De La Rocha’s lyrical locquasiosness to a primal sound, that sound would still have more value than the lyrics of a thousand bands masquerading as musicians today.
Of course, I welcome contests on this matter. Never trust the guy who’s rapidly losing his hearing.
Rage Against The Machine – ‘Bombtrack’
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