Sunday, July 4, 2010

July 4: Rage Against The Machine, "Sleep Now In The Fire"

Artist: Rage Against The Machine
Song: "Sleep Now In The Fire"
Album: The Battle Of Los Angeles
Year: 1999

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Nearly every performer or band in the entire history of music has attempted to make a "political statement" or some sort of social critique at some point in their career.  However, the problem usually is, the band or performer in question usually takes such a different musical approach on this type of song that the argument always comes up, "...yeah, it's a good lyric, but the music is lacking..."  This often leads to the song being "written off" and lost among the rest of the artists' catalog, and largely loses any impact it may have had.  Yet there are a handful of musicians throughout history that have been able to make political and social awareness work perfectly within their music, or in some cases, this type of writing WAS their music.  From the early rallying cries of Woody Guthrie to the calls for unity of Bob Marley to the anti-everything stance of punk rock, such statements can be found across the musical spectrum and decades, as there is always "something" to fight against.  Then of course, there is the one band that made social criticism their trademark, and few bands in history have been as polarizing or as captivating as the one and only Rage Against The Machine.  Dominating the 1990's with their aggressive, unrelenting political statements and raising awareness on a large range of issues, the band created some of the most uniquely stunning music to back the brilliantly poetic yet unrelenting verses of Zack De la Rocha.  The bands' final studio effort, 1999's The Battle Of Los Angeles, found the group at the top of their game, and everything that make the group so fantastic can be found in their 2000 single, "Sleep Now In The Fire."

Perhaps the only thing that Rage Against The Machine is more well known for than their firey lyrics is the mind-boggling musical performances led by Tom Morello.  Unquestionably one of the most innovative and talented guitarists in history, there are few performers of any instrument that have pushed the boundaries on what is capable with that instrument than Morello has with the guitar.  Taking the idea of "feedback" to an entirely new level, his work on "Sleep Now In The Fire" is some of his most aggressive, yet there is a powerful groove underneath it as well.  Furthermore, any fan of punk rock who has done their homework will instantly recognize the opening guitar riff as a slight variation on the main riff from The Stooges' legendary song, "TV Eye."  Pushing the sense of urgency on the song, drummer Brad Wilk brings an opening cadence that is quite similar to a military march before he drops into a full scale assault, sounding as if he is trying to destroy his drum kit.  Rounding out the musical portion of the band is bassist Tim Cummerford, and it is his playing that whips the sound into a frenzy with his winding, agitating bassline that runs through the verses.  The trio jerks around the track as a single, wild unit, and this is where one can truly hear the amount of progress they had made as a band, as the song is far more "together" than the excellent efforts on their previous two records.  The song pummels the listener from start to finish, and even during the songs' breakdown, the almost overwhelming mood is never lost, making "Sleep Now In The Fire" one of the greatest moments in the bands' history.

Yet as stunning and influential as the music of the band is, there is no question that without the vocal work of Zack De La Rocha, it is simply "not" Rage Against The Machine.  Though he rarely deviated from his single note, beat-style speaking and screaming, the vocal work of De La Rocha was rarely anything short of completely mesmerizing.  Clearly taking massive influence from the likes of Ian MacKaye and Mike Muir, on "Sleep Now In The Fire," the level of pure fury and frustration at his targets has rarely been as high, and it is why his performance here ranks as one of his best.  Never anything short of a "call to action," it is these words that brought countless issues around the world into the minds of millions, and inspired a generation to "question authority" and get involved.  On "Sleep Now In The Fire," Zack De La Rocha takes dead aim at a handful of atrocities carried out by the U.S. government, and he raises topics on everything from slavery to mistreatment of Native Americans to war crimes.  In what stands as one of his most powerful, yet slightly chilling lyrics, he raises the idea of people simply keeping quiet to what they know is wrong with the lines, "...there is no other pill to take, so swallow the one that made you ill..."  Painting the U.S. government out to be little more than a blood-thirsty monster, he leaves nothing to subtlety when he rattles off the list of accusations in the form of the lines, "...the noose man, the rapist, the fields overseer...the agent of orange, the priests of Hiroshima..."  It is lines like these that polarized people across the U.S. as radio stations were often fined for playing the song, while many questioning youth used songs like these as their inspiration for change.

Unquestionably one of, if not the most controversial band in history, there are few groups that delivered as mighty a musical punch as one finds in the music of Rage Against The Machine.  Powered by sheer frustration and atrocities across the globe and throughout history, the band was never at a loss for targets or subject matter, and yet they are also one of the few groups in history that understood when it was the proper time to "bow out" and called it a career after a bit less than a decade.  Thankfully, the band left a trio of stunning albums, and their final effort, The Battle Of Los Angeles, is perhaps their most musically complete of their career.  Powered by a rhythm section that had an uncanny knack for creating hypnotic patterns that exploded off the records, it is Rage Against The Machine that was worthy of taking Black Flag's nickname as "the perfect band for a full scale riot."  The always unique and masterful guitar work of Tom Morello lent a massive amount of credibility to the bands' sound, as it was impossible to deny that the sounds he was creating were anything short of groundbreaking.  Truth be told, countless bands attempted to mimic the musical style of Rage Against The Machine, but no band since has come even close to their combination of crushing music and infuriating lyrics.  Standing as a perfect finishing touch, the scathing poetry of Zack De La Rocha and the manner with which he delivered these words brought the true aggression and anger of the music to a stunning climax.  Though it would be one of their final recordings, one can get everything there is to love about Rage Against The Machine from their mind-blowing 2000 single, "Sleep Now In The Fire."


Anonymous said...

Hello, I am very interested in what you have said about Rage and I would like to use a sentence or two from it in an essay I am writing for my Music course, I was wondering firstly if this would be okay with you and also if you could tell me your name as I have to include it in the referencing process.It would mean a lot.Many thanks, Gareth Watson.

The Music Guru said...

Please email me directly at thedailyguru AT gmail DOT com and I will get you the appropriate information for your paper.