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The Battle of Los Angeles

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  • I’ll keep this short and sweet since, while I think this album was excellent, I don’t view “The Battle of Los Angeles” to be the band’s finest work. I think that’s a toss-up between their debut and the nigh-perfect “Evil Empire.” This band told it like it was, is, and will likely, unfortunately, continue to be each and every time they released an album.

    However, this one digs into the band’s favorite topics a little deeper and what it uncovers is hideous and depressing. From songs ranging about the destitution-to-desperation of the poor in Mexico (“Maria”) to the us-against-them nature of abandoned/forgotten ethic groups/gangs in the inner city (“Born As Ghosts”) to a song about one of their biggest causes, the freedom of (perhaps wrongly) convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal and other so-called criminals that may be in the same boat (“Voice of the Voiceless”), this album doesn’t relent until the CD ends.

    However, the one track that has always stuck out in my mind as the glimpse behind the curtain to which all others should be compared is the masterful “Ashes in the Fall,” perhaps the band’s most gut-wrenching, soul-searing track in its entire career.

    The song takes an unflinching look at poverty and the plight of the lower class, immigrants and homeless: the very people that the government should be taking care of that it instead allows to fend for themselves. Starving, desperate, abused, and neglected, these people see no other way out of their situation than resorting to violence and crime…actions for which they are arrested and imprisoned, if not killed outright. The song’s most gripping moment is when Zach de la Rocha mockingly screams, “Ain’t it funny how the factory doors close ’round the time that the school doors close? ‘Round the time that the doors of the jail cell open up to greet you like the Reaper?”

    In other words, while most children are entering/leaving school, the pvverty-stricken are walking into factories where they can be promised low wages and grueling work until the whistle blows. If not that, then finding trouble and expending what little life is left inside them in the confines of a prison cell. It is a bleak image and all too true in the darker corners of every city in the United States.

    As others have said, the reference to the new sound being just like the old sound is a snide reminder to the listener that the grandiose speeches of the government’s appointed representatives are just echoes of all that was said by those who came before them. And all the while, a voice can be heard in the undercurrent calling for the expulsion of all “non-natives” in favor of the so-called “chosen” people of God, a direct contradiction to everything the founders of the nation believed it should be about, according to the Constitution.

    It is an exceptional song on the strength of its lyrics alone, but the band truly outdid itself with the music, from the high-pitched cry of the guitar to the soft rhthym of the bass during the build to the song’s final crescendo.

    I don’t know if there’s a human being that can listen to this song and not feel his or her soul quail in horror at the images it creates. If such a person exists, I hope we never meet.

    Posted on December 10, 2009