One of the tapes I picked up on my record store forays was the self-titled debut from Rage Against the Machine, and it was an eye-opening experience into the realm of political music. This was a band that took serious hip hop influences on one side, and planted their other foot in a sound that incorporated metal and hardcore instrumentation. It was energetic, angry and just a bit frightening, picking up where politically charged punk pioneers like the Clash and MC5 had left off, and charging into battle with renewed aggression.
Frontman Zack de la Rocha dropped guttural growling vocals along with tight raps, while guitarist Tom Morello rolled out a signature sound that was as undeniably funky as it was heavy. Angry political music was being presented in a way to move the masses, with a sound that was passionate and danceable. And the band backed it up with solid political ideals that attempted to incite people to take a stand to rage against their machines, as it were. Even if the result was only the hanging of the Battle For Los Angeles poster on a dorm room wall in order to appear intellectual and political, people did and still do take notice.
At the time, I was writing about punk and industrial for a print zine called Vox Metallum a xeroxed mag that covered all aspects of the scenes that could be considered heavy - thus, the team of writers produced write ups that could see reviews for the new Winger album next to reviews of Metallica, Gwar, the Skatenigs or the Exploited. It was a fun era, and we were trying to create a sense of unity between very discordant groups of music fans in an attempt to present some common ground. Rage Against the Machine fit well there, with the way they were bridging gaps and promoting unity, and I gushed about the record.
I don't have a copy of this anymore, if my copy exists, it's in storage in the states, but I remember gushing over virtually every track on this release, from the opening "Bombtrack," with starts out fast and relentless, with de la Rocha letting off what I saw as a call to unity among the scenes as well as a profession of the band's prowess with the line "and now dope hooks make punks take another look" along with it's addictive riff along with the catchy chorus of "you're going to burn," to the the standout among standouts, "Killing in the Name." This was they track that typified the band's ideals and cemented them as the band to be followed as well as feared, with it's chanting chorus of "Now you do what they told ya," followed up quickly by the angry response "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me." It was a track I imagined hearing and quickly did hear at clubs everywhere, with its ability to energize a packed house almost instantly.
Over the years, Rage Against the Machine would continue to produce intense aggressive politically charged music, and perform it with incendiary response. They were censored from a Saturday Night Live performance after trying to hang inverted flags during a performance on a show that was being hosted by billionaire Republican Steve Forbes. They did a controversial video shoot for their song "Sleep Now In The Fire," which resulted in the band and their fans storming the New York Stock Exchange. And the band's performances at the 2000 Democratic National Convention as well as the 2008 Republican National Convention both erupted into near riots with massive police response. They have advocated enough causes to fill a book, and caused enough controversy to fill another. They remain at the forefront of American political music.
And now, the band is celebrating 20 years of trying to smash the state with the release of a 20th Anniversary Edition Deluxe Box Set of that first album, with CDs of new and unreleased material, DVDs of live and video footage, and one big slick package.
Disc one is the remastered release of that album, which is cool and all, but it's an album you probably already own, and the bonus material on the disc comes in the form of three tracks that originally appeared as B-sides, but they're really just live versions of other tracks, so it's the sort of sounds for the completist.
Really, much of the box set is for the completist. Disc two, the most exciting contribution to this set, is a collection of the band's demos that were dropped on cassette and sold at early Rage shows, which later would accord legendary status to these tapes as well as help them get their deal with Epic Records. Seeing their first full official release, they offer a glimpse at the earlier days of the band - a glimpse that reveals that they are just as tight pre-label as they as they were after they received studio production - which comes as no surprise to someone who's ever seen them live.
Speaking of live, the DVD's compile a lot of live footage, much of it unreleased and including the band's very first public performance, as well as their videos, some of them seeing commercial release for the first time.
This set isn't really for the casual fan - but then again, most boxed sets aren't, and most Rage fans are anything but casual. The casual fan already owns the first album, but earnest Rage fans often dedicate lots of time to compile a collection of material like this, and the opportunity to have it all in such a nice package makes it ideal for any real fan. Personally, I don't see a ton of appeal in loading up on alternate and live versions of the same tracks over and over, but just like my Ramones box set commands regular rotation, anyone truly into RATM is going to crank this up and rediscover the anger first inflicted on the music world two decades ago.
Release date - November 27, 2012
Rage Against the Machine - XX (20th Anniversary Edition Deluxe Box Set)
2 x CDs + 2 x DVDs + 180gm LP
CD 1 - Rage Against The Machine - Remastered
2. Killing In The Name
3. Take The Power Back
4. Settle For Nothing
5. Bullet In The Head
6. Know Your Enemy
7. Wake Up
8. Fistful Of Steel
9. Township Rebellion
Bonus Tracks (B-sides)
11. Bombtrack (live, taken from Bombtrack single)
12 Bullet in the Head (live, taken from Bullet in the Head single)
13. Take The Power Back (live, taken from Freedom single)
CD 2 - "The Original Demos"
2. Take The Power Back
3. Bullet in the Head
4. Darkness of Greed
5. Clear the Lane
6. Township Rebellion
7. Know Your Enemy
8. Mindset's A Threat
9. Killing In The Name
10. Auto Logic
11. The Narrows
"The Battle of Britain" - previously unreleased
FINSBURY PARK, LONDON ENGLAND (JUNE 6, 2010)
3. People Of The Sun
4. Know Your Enemy
5. Bulls On Parade
6. Township Rebellion
7. Bullet In The Head
8. White Riot
9. Guerrilla Radio
10. Sleep Now In The Fire
12. Killing In The Name
"Killing in the Name" (1992)
"Bullet in the Head" (1993)
"Bulls on Parade" (1996)
"People of the Sun" (1996)
"No Shelter" (1998)
"Guerrilla Radio" (1999)
"Sleep Now in the Fire" (2000)
"Renegades of Funk" (2000)
"How I Could Just Kill a Man" (2000)
LIVE MATERIAL FROM 1997 VIDEO COMPILATION - first time on DVD
"The Ghost Of Tom Joad"
"Vietnow" - Irvine, CA - 1997
"People Of The Sun"
"Bulls On Parade"
"Bullet In The Head"
"Zapata's Blood" - Rock Am Ring Festival, Germany - 1996
"Know Your Enemy"
"Tire Me" - Reading Festival 1996
"Killing In The Name" - Pink Pop Festival - 1994
DVD 2 - all previously unreleased
"First Public Performance"
CAL STATE NORTH RIDGE, CA (OCTOBER 23, 1991)
1. Killing In The Name
2. Take The Power Back
4. Bullet In The Head
5. Hit The Deck
6. Township Rebellion
7. Darkness Of Greed
8. Clear The Lane
10. Know Your Enemy
PINK POP 1994 - "Freedom"
VIC THEATRE 1993 - "Take the Power Back"
JC DOBBS 1993 - "Fistful of Steel"
SOUNDSTAGE PERFORMANCE 1992 - "Bombtrack"
Halfway House 1992 - "Wake Up"
Castaic 1992 - "Settle for Nothing"
San Luis Obispo 1992 - "Clear the Lane"
CWNN 1992 - "Untitled"
Zed's Records 1992 - "Darkness of Greed"
NOMADS 1992 - "Wake Up"