The Skinny: This album debuted at #1 on the Billboard charts during a period in which super-heavy records were routinely dropping in the top spot. Rage followed the path of punks like The Clash and Black Flag, pushing heavy grooves and activist political themes. “Empire” tallied triple-platinum sales and is the second of a trio of platinum-selling albums that defined rap/funk/metal. Disturbingly, the cover image has always screamed Rob Lowe at me.
Sounds like: Faith No More, Beastie Boys, Deftones, System of a Down, Disturbed, Black Flag
Deeper Thoughts: Modern rock radio started playing “Bulls on Parade” in the winter of ’96 ahead of the album’s release. Holy shit! I had never heard anything quite like this, combining supernatural heaviness with massive funk grooves. The mad-scientist guitar concoctions of Tom Morello and activist/vocalist Zack de la Rocha’s overdriven, impassioned hollering seemed endlessly provocative. The CD booklet liner notes depict an image of a pile of various political manifestos and proletarian philosophy books that gave me a pretty good idea where these guys were coming from. Guitarist Tom Morello has gone on to become a bulwark of political truth and heavy-rock invention. No CD collection is complete without a copy of each of the first three Rage records.
The Sonics: This is a loud motherfucking disc. Brendan O’Brien produced, so I guess it’s no surprise that it’s a good example of the “loudness wars” that labels waged with each other during the CD era. But so much of this record is intentionally dimed by O’Brien, that it sounds like an appropriate attempt to capture the raw energy of Rage’s live show. Morello creates so many weird, alien sounds with his guitar and the aggression of bassist Tim (Bob) Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk is so relentless, Andy Wallace’s mix is nothing short of a triumphant masterpiece.