Sophomore albums can be tricky, but the band only goes through a sophomore slump if their debut was a success. This was the case with Rage Against the Machine; their self-entitled, 1992 debut was a great one, so Rage had to be careful when it came time to write the new album. But great bands do great things, so “Evil Empire” was another great album.
RATM were a great band on several different levels. They formed to spread Zach de la Rocha’s political message, but since they (especially guitarist Tom Morello) are such great musicians, the were capable of appealing to everybody, including those who didn’t agree with their lyrics. That’s how I became a fan, actually; I heard their songs on the radio and I thought they sounded awesome, so I picked up their C.D.’s. And only then did I start to pay attention to, contemplate and appreciate the lyrics.
But Zach and Tom were also great because they were so innovative and influential. Zach was about the first vocalist to meld rap and rock…but he sure wasn’t the last. And, if you listen closely enough, you’ll hear a lot of bands (bands from Limp Bizkit to Meshuggah) imitate Tom Morello’s picking.
I believe Rage Against the Machine were a hard rock band because they were always inspired by something, and always pissed off. This may explain why Audioslave is almost an alternative metal band (they don’t have as nearly as much anger to vent). And it’s too bad Audioslave is quite a bit softer, because I think Tom was meant to play hard rock. It’s also too bad that Rage disbanded, because, with recent events, I’m sure Zach de la Rocha would have plenty of things to write and rap about.
“People of the Sun” has a famous opening guitar riff and an unusually loud, beeping bass. Zach eventually launches into the first verse, which is a very political tirade about the Mexican people’s revolution against the government. Tom makes some sound effects, letting Zach run wild-filling this song to the brim with angry rapping. This is more of a rap song than metal.
-Best lyric: “Yea, never forget that the whip snapped ya back/ya spine cracked for tobacco.”
“Bulls on Parade” is one of Rage’s most recognizable songs. It has groovy, “ner nah ner” sounding guitar noise, which periodically change to wah-wah guitar riffs, and more pissed off rapping (about people who run around shooting everybody else). The real highlight to me, here, is the guitar solo. What is that guy doing to his fret board?!
-Best lyric: “They don’t gotta burn the books/they just remove `em”
“Revolver” begins with a low, humming noise, before the guitars and the beat explode around forty seconds in. Zach is, at first, almost whispering, and I enjoy the almost galloping beat which leads into the chorus (which has some downshifting riffs and more of Zach’s famous yells). I also enjoy the ten second, thumping bass drum solo following the second chorus.
-Best lyric: “Hey revolver/don’t mothers make good fathers?”
“Snakecharmer” is very catchy. It has a lunging beat with stop-start riffs, at the end of which Zach yells “Yeah!” Plus, there’s a small hand drum solo thrown in, as well.
“Tire Me” has another great, bending, up and down guitar solo,
and “Down Rodeo” has catchy, beeping guitar riffs and another audible, lowly rumbling bass. Zach does his usual thing in this song, but then a great, abrupt beat change kicks in and Zach starts yelling “Just a quiet, peaceful death!”
-Best lyric: “These people ain’t seen a brown-skinned man since their grandparents bought one.”
So, “Evil Empire” is another classic, standard setting album which finely displays Rage’s talent. Ultimately, it’s not as groundbreaking as their debut, it’s (musically) not a big step forward from their debut, and it is, in my opinion, RATM’s least inspired disc. Even still, “EE” is an excellent C.D. and I recommend it to all hard rock/rapcore/political rock fans. So what’s that say for this band–that “Evil Empire” might be their worst disc, but it’s still great? It means that they were a truly great band which lead a remarkable and nearly flawless career.