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Music / Rage Against the Machine

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L to R: Brad Wilk, Zack de la Rocha, Tim Commerford, Tom Morello

"We have to start somewhere
We have to start sometime
What better place than here?
What better time than now?"
— "Guerilla Radio"

Rage Against the Machine (can be shortened to either RATM or Rage) is a Rap Metal/Funk Metal band from Los Angeles, formed in 1991.

The band is (in)famous for their extremely left-wing politics (identifying most closely with anarcho-syndicalism) and politically charged lyrics, which are integral to their identity as they considered their music a means of spreading these ideas. The liner notes of their albums usually include contact information to various organizations the band supports.

They have also played at large protests and had several cases of controversial moments, including playing on Saturday Night Live (in an episode hosted by buttoned-down Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes) with two American flags displayed upside down until stagehands came and removed them, and burning the American flag onstage while playing "Killing in the Name" at the infamous Woodstock '99 festival.

After releasing three albums during The '90s, the band went their separate ways in 2000 over Creative Differences that the members believed were turning them into the exact type of unstable system that they would criticize, with the Cover Album Renegades releasing a few months after the announcement.

A seven-year hiatus followed, during which time the band members sans vocalist Zack de la Rocha formed the band Audioslave with Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell. News that RATM would be reuniting to play Coachella broke at the same time as Audioslave's disbandment; minus a small break in 2009, the band would continue to play live shows until they went back on hiatus in 2011.

In 2016, the band (again sans Zack) joined forces with Public Enemy's Chuck D and B-Real from Cypress Hill to form the supergroup Prophets of Ragenote . Its run would conclude three years later similarly to Audioslave, as it announced its disbandment very shortly after RATM confirmed that it would reunite once more for a brief tour in the spring of 2020. They returned to the stage in 2022, having postponed this tour due to COVID-19.

"Guilty Parties":

  • Zack de la Rocha - vocals
  • Tom Morello - guitar
  • Tim Commerford - bass
  • Brad Wilk - drums


"Troping in the name of...":

  • Abusive Parents: Zack de la Rocha dealt with this, after his father's mental breakdown. The latter is referenced in "Born of a Broken Man" off of The Battle of Los Angeles.
  • Atomic F-Bomb: De la Rocha's iconic "MOTHERFUCKER!!!" at the end of "Killing in the Name".
  • Author Tract: Just about everything they write shows their political messages.
  • The Band Minus the Face: Audioslave. Kind of. Prophets of Rage also counts, with Chuck D and B-Real handling vocals in Zack's stead.
  • Big "YES!":
    • Zack lets out a raspy one twice in "Sleep Now in the Fire" — once around the start, and again before the guitar solo.
    • The outro of "Freedom" also has this alternating with Zack screaming the title, though the second time, he yells, "YEEAAHH, RIIIIGHT!"
  • Biting-the-Hand Humor: The band was included in the Godzilla (1998) soundtrack. The resulting track, "No Shelter", is a song about slick American advertising disguising real suffering, and even included a dig on the movie itself. ("Godzilla, pure motherfucking filler/To keep your eyes off the real killer.")
  • Bowdlerise: Played straight, then defied; see Tempting Fate below.
  • Broken Record: "Know Your Enemy", which ends with eight repetitions of "All of which are American dreams!"
  • Capitalism Is Bad: The "machine" you should be raging against is capitalism.
  • Careful with That Axe: Even Zack takes it down a notch once in a while, but rest assured he'll be barking at you again very shortly.
  • Carpet of Virility: Tom.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: "Killing in the Name": Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me x 16 (first 4 murmuring, next 4 in a crescendo, and the last 8 shouting out loud).
  • Cover Album: Renegades is a collection of covers.
  • Cover Version: In addition to Renegades, they have also covered "Fuck tha Police" and "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos". At live shows they sometimes play "White Riot".
  • Cursed with Awesome: One of the reasons that their music is so good is because of how seriously they take it, and how seriously they took their music was one of the things that caused their breakup.
  • Darker and Edgier: The band's cover of Devo's "Beautiful World" takes a song that, although light-hearted musically, is quite dark lyrically, and makes its tone even darker, with a vastly-simplified and toned-down musical arrangement.
  • Disappeared Dad: Morello's father left the family when Tom was only 16 months old and refused to have anything to do with them. Morello joked in a Guitar World interview that he was looking forward to the band's first African tour so he could visit Kenya "and be like 'What's up, dad? Here's a tape'."
  • Free Handed Performer: Zack was previously a guitarist for the Hardcore bands Farside and Hard Stance. Following those bands' split, he would form RATM and leave guitar duties to Tom Morello while he focuses on writing lyrics and rapping (as demonstrated by his exuberant stage presence).
  • Funk Metal: Trope Codifier.
  • Hot-Blooded: They are a very, very passionate band.
  • Isn't It Ironic?:
    • Also, in the 2009 UK Christmas #1 race, when "Killing In The Name" went up against The X Factor's Joe's, "The Climb", there was quite a bit of irony as there was a successful Internet campaign instructing anti-X Factor fans to buy the song. In addition to the above anti-consumerism lyric from "No Shelter", "Killing in the Name" clearly has the lyric, "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me!"
    • In addition, Rush Limbaugh played "Sleep Now in the Fire" on his radio show once. Tom Morello was not pleased.
    • Paul Ryan, the 2012 Republican candidate for Vice President, claimed that Rage was one of his favorite bands. This also displeased Tom Morello.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: Tom Morello is a Harvard graduate with a political science degree.
  • I Was Young and Needed the Money: Tom Morello once supported himself by dancing exotically.
  • The Klan: In addition to the famous reference in "Killing in the Name", there's a reference to a "white-hooded judge" in "Calm Like a Bomb".
  • La Résistance: Many songs were dedicated to various leftist guerrilla groups in Latin America, most notably EZLN, aka. the Zapatistas, whose red-star-on-black-background logo can be found on the arm of Zack in the article image.
  • Loudness War: Renegades is turned up so loud it audibly distorts through most of the record.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: (In)famously at Lollapalooza to protest the PMRC.
  • Metal Scream: When Zack de la Rocha isn't rapping. Generally happens towards the end of songs, when a single line is repeated over and over again. Examples, aside from "Killing in the Name", include "Wake Up", "Freedom", "Down Rodeo" and "Bullet in the Head".
  • Not the Intended Use: Tom Morello's claim to fame as a guitar player is in how he occasionally elicits very unexpected sounds from his electric guitars, the most famous example of which are the turntable-like sounds on "Bulls on Parade" which he does by rubbing the strings with one hand and alternating turned-up and muted pickups with the other. The instrumental on "Testify" has him using the amplifier jack and hitting the guitar bridge with it. He once spoke in an interview of arriving at the Fender factory to take possession of a custom guitar he'd ordered and seeing another similar one being brought back; when informed that it had defective electronics that caused unwanted noises, he bought it as well.
  • Political Rap: The MO of Zack.
  • Performance Video: Several include snippets, but "Sleep Now in the Fire" deserves an honorary mention, with the band playing on the steps of Federal Hall. Without a permit. It was also directed by Michael Moore.
  • Protest Song: The whole discography, to varying degrees of specificity.
  • Rap Metal/Rap Rock/Punk Rap: Trope Codifier alongside Anthrax.
  • Sanity Slippage Song:
    • Possibly "Settle for Nothing", judging by the lyrics.
    • "Born of a Broken Man" is also based on Zack's father's Sanity Slippage.
  • Shout-Out: Several, perhaps most obviously to George Orwell. "Testify", for example, lifts the famous quote "Who controls the past now controls the future; who controls the present now controls the past" from Nineteen Eighty-Four.
  • Singing Voice Dissonance: Zack speaks rather quietly when there isn't a microphone in front of him, which can be rather jarring for those used to his high-decibel screams.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: So fond of cursing is Zack that when the program for the band's 1993 European tour gave light-hearted titles to every member of the band, his was "A Gentleman Who Sayeth 'Fucke' A Lotte".
  • Special Guest: Maynard James Keenan of tool and A Perfect Circle makes an appearance on the bridge of "Know Your Enemy".
  • Spelling Song: "Know Your Enemy", "Mic Check".
    • Also arguably "Microphone Fiend"; however, this is a cover song.
  • Spoken Word in Music: "Settle for Nothing", "Born of a Broken Man".
    • "Wake Up" also has a spoken-word bridge, where Zack reads an FBI memo from J Edgar Hoover describing the COINTELPRO program. The words dissolve into nigh-incomprehensibility before the guitars suddenly turn up again and Zack starts screaming "WAKE UP!!!" 8 times.
    • In live performances, Zack often replaces this section with a political speech.
  • Tempting Fate: When "Killing in the Name" experienced a surge in popularity due to the 2009 Christmas race, the band performed it on BBC Radio 5Live with instruction from the hosts to censor the song's ending Cluster F-Bomb. During the start of the section, Zack seemingly complied, simply saying "I won't do what you tell me" with no "Fuck you" at the start, but as the section reached its climax, he repeatedly screamed the full line, "fuck" included. The hosts issued public apologies afterwards.
  • Title-Only Chorus: "Know Your Enemy". Although most of the chorus is taken up by Morello's admittedly awesome riff, the actual vocal bits just consist of the one line from de la Rocha, which is of course...
  • Titled After the Song: "Rage Against the Machine" was the name of a song (and EP) by Zack de la Rocha's previous band, the punk outfit Inside Out.
  • Trope Namer: Rage Against The X is a popular trope name on this wiki.
  • Uncommon Time: One of the riffs from "Year of tha Boomerang" is in 5/4.

Alternative Title(s): Zack De La Rocha