We've all seen album covers designed to shock before, with disgusting acts of sexual natures, or band mascots being mutilated beyond comprehension. But when an album's cover features a real act of protest self-immolation on it, that's not meant to shock. That's a message. That's an invitation to listen.
Everything about Rage Against The Machine, the album (and band), is political. The cover, the lyrics, the performances - Rocha and co. came to do more than entertain. They came to educate, to shout, to do exactly as the title says: rage against the machine of politics. They came to start a movement. It is because of this that few albums of this age still sound this relevant today.
More so than in many bands, the performances of the musicians on this album deserve a lot of praise, as every single one of them brings their a-game. The drums are whacked venomously throughout, with a pure aggression being channelled through Brad Wilks' sticks. It's easy to imagine that he needed to replace them halfway through every song. Tim Commerford brought funk and slap bass to heavy metal, opening up a completely new and unique pathway for metal to explore. If Pantera brought groove to metal, RATM brought the funk. The bass intro to 'Take The Power Back' remains one of my favourite song intros; you start dancing until Zack de la Rocha screams "BRING THAT SHIT IN", and suddenly you're headbanging like it's Metallica.
Zack de la Rocha brought rap to metal, a bold choice but one that only adds to the band's appeal. Sure, not long before, Anthrax and Public Enemy had teamed up to put an Anthrax spin on "Bring the Noise", but RATM were the first to do it, succesfully at least, with original songs. Rocha's unrelenting delivery drives the point of every song home; you can almost hear the spit spewing from his mouth as he screams about police officers in the Ku Klux Klan, his frothing at the mouth as he urges the listeners to take action, lest they "settle for nothing later".
And what of Tom Morello? Perhaps the most unique guitarist in the world to this day, simply playing the guitar is not enough for this man. Like many guitarists, he uses effects pedals, but whereas most guitarists use them to enhance their sounds, he uses them to create new ones. I've still got no idea how some of these sounds are created via a guitar, but in a strange way, I don't want to know. It would take the magic and fun away.
Put these four outstanding musicians together, and you get an album, a band that emanates raw, unadulterated power and anger - only aided by the fact that it was mostly recorded live, with the musicians vibing off of each other in the moment. The production is fairly raw, with not a whole lot of polish on it, but that only works in this album's favour.
The lyrics do not pull their punches. Every song hits you like an 18-ton truck that's filled to the brim with bricks and cement. You don't have to delve deep to get a taste of what you're in for; the song titles tell you to 'Wake Up' and 'Know Your Enemy', to earn your 'Freedom' and 'Take the Power Back' with a 'Fistful of Steel'. It's not on the nose, so much as slammed into your brain like a kick slams into your balls.
But perhaps the biggest reason that this album is still so good, that its lyrics are still so powerful, is also the most worrying: it's still so relevant.
'Killing in the Name' discusses the ties between the police force and the Ku Klux Klan. On his campaign trail, Donald Trump tried to deny knowing about David Duke and refused to condemn him. (He apologised later, but he tried it, which is the important part). 'Bullet in the Head' deals with the Government using the media to control the population - look at the recent controversies surrounding Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, Trump and Brexit.
This album's lyrics are, perhaps, even more relevant today than they were when they were written. In 1992, RATM urged us all to take a stand. We didn't, and now we're suffering the consequences. "If we don't take action now, we'll settle for nothing later", warned Rocha. "Settle for nothing now, and we'll settle for nothing later". Well here we are now, 27 years later, and look at the state of politics. We can't say we weren't warned.
I called last week's retrospective album a contender for the Album of the Decade in the 90's, but here we have a Hell of a competitor. The compositions, the lyrics, the performances, the raw, purified fury that this album exudes all the way through, makes it not only entertainment - it makes it a statement.
If the band were raging then, who knows how they're feeling now? They should reunite and get that message out again. Wait, what's that? Is that the sound of rage coming in hot again? I think it is. And by God, do we need it. Maybe more than ever.