Together and apart, the four musicians who make up Rage Against The Machine have one of the most diverse collective back catalogues in music. From Rage’s barricade-storming rap-metal to the protest-folk of guitarist Tom Morello’s Nightwatchman project, via the hard rock of Audioslave and the jazzy hip-hop of vocalist Zack de la Rocha’s One Day As A Lion project, they’ve tried their hand at numerous styles and genres. But of all the albums they’ve made together and apart, which is the most successful? We ranked them all, from worst to best.
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11. Prophets Of Rage – Prophets Of Rage (2017)
Proof that ideas that look good on paper don’t always work out. When the news that hip-hop legends Chuck D of Public Enemy and Cypress Hill’s B-Real were going to be working with Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk fans of rock and rap rejoiced. What we got was some pretty good live shows, as the two MC’s did a passable karaoke of Rage songs, but some listless, plodding, bored-sounding music of their own. Much like the The Party’s Over EP that prefaced it, Prophets Of Rage is a massively disappointing effort from some individuals that should have known much better. One listen to the cringeworthy Take Me Higher, which mainly consists of Chuck D grumbling about drones and sounding like a miffed grandad shooing some kids off his lawn, should be enough to convince you that this is a career low point for everyone involved.
10. The Nightwatchman – One Man Revolution (2007)/The Fabled City (2008)/World Wide Rebel Songs (2011)
Conceived by the guitarist in the aftermath of the messy end of Audioslave, and inspired by his love of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, The Nightwatchman project has spawned three full length albums and an EP since 2007. We’re bundling the LPs together here, because some of it is decent enough if you’re a fan of bare-bones singer-songwriters, but nothing that has been released under this banner is exactly essential. The main problem is that Morello doesn’t really have the voice to carry such minimalistic music on his own, although, conversely, The Nightwatchman is usually the most successful when it is at its quietest, such as on the excellent Battle Hymns from debut album One Man Revolution. A curio for hardened Morello fans only.
9. Audioslave – Revelations (2006)
By 2006, the fire that had driven Audioslave appeared to be all but extinguished. Almost immediately after Revelations was completed, vocalist Chris Cornell went solo and recorded the song You Know My Name for the James Bond film Casino Royale, and Morello was quickly working on The Nightwatchmen rather than tour the record, and inevitable split was confirmed soon after.
Listening to Revelations today you can hear why. The band had clearly run out of steam by this point, rehashing ideas from previous records but with far less satisfying results. It isn’t a terrible album – Sound Of A Gun retains some of the fire of old – but it is a pretty dull one. Which, when you consider the people involved, feels like an even bigger crime.
8. Tom Morello – The Atlas Underground (2018)
For his first solo album, Morello took the magpie-like approach of trying to incorporate as many artists and genres into one album as he possibly could. Roping in members of bands as diverse as Mumford And Sons and Wu Tang Clan, it was always going to be difficult to make The Atlas Underground feel like a coherent piece, and the record is certainly patchy. When it is good, it is well worth your time: the collaborations with rapper K.Flay on Lucky One and the surprisingly great Find Another Way with Marcus Mumford are both high points. But when square pegs are jammed into round holes - such as bringing together Rise Against frontman Tim McIlrath with EDM superstar DJ Steve Aoki – it’s pretty painful.
7. Audioslave – Out Of Exile (2005)
On a high after the critical and commercial success of their self-titled debut, Audioslave must have felt confident that they were going to be able to kick on and become one of the early 00s’ definitive bands. It didn’t quite work out like that. Out Of Exile is a decent enough record, but there really aren’t enough moments here to get really, truly excited about. Highlights are the singles – the woozy croon Chris Cornell uses to drive Doesn’t Remind Me is simplistic but seductive. But with a running time of nearly an hour this is a record that really starts to become an endurance test towards its unremarkable end.
6. One Day As A Lion – One Day As A Lion (2008)
Zack de la Rocha has kept a much lower solo profile than his Rage bandmates. His CV amounts to a couple of low-key solo singles, a few guest spots with the likes of DJ Shadow and Run The Jewels and this one-off collaboration with The Mars Volta/Queens Of The Stone Age drummer John Theodore and ex-The Locust keyboard player Joey Karam. Their union may have yielded this lone five-track EP, but its mix of acid jazz rhythms, unusual time signatures and de la Rocha’s unmistakable lyrical firepower prove that he was always the RATM member willing to take the most risks musically. It’s just a shame they left it at this.
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5. Rage Against The Machine – Renegades (2000)
Covers albums can be hit and miss affairs, but fair play to Rage Against The Machine – Renegades hits the target way more than it misses. The lead single was a fattened-up groove through Afrika Bambaataa’s classic Renegades Of Funk, but whether they’re going gangsta rap on Cypress Hill’s How I Could Just Kill A Man, hardcore punk on Minor Threat’s In My Eyes or garage rock on The Stooges Down On The Street, Rage prove they can adapt without losing any of their own identity. The true highlight though is their brilliant re-imagining of Bob Dylan’s counterculture war cry Maggie's Farm, which brings some musical muscle to fit those seething lyrics.
4. Audioslave – Audioslave (2002)
When Audioslave were touted as Chris Cornell fronting Rage Against The Machine fans of alternative rock couldn’t help but salivate at the prospect, but, just like most supergroups, there was still an air of trepidation that hung around the band at first, with many wondering if the pairing could gel. As soon as you heard the first album by the band all that went away, Audioslave is a hell of a record, which, for once, finds a supergroup managing to live up to the sum of its parts. Cornell’s voice is, as ever, the most wonderfully rasping, honey-soaked croon and bellow you’re ever likely to hear, and the band behind him live out their stadium rock, Led Zep fantasies with incredible results. Cochise and Like A Stone became huge hits and propelled Audioslave into the same positions on festival bills as their previous bands had afforded them, but less talked about numbers like Gasoline and Light My Way are every bit as good.
3. Rage Against The Machine – The Battle Of Los Angeles (1999)
Coming in 1999, three years after the release of Evil Empire, it was a new musical climate that RATM found themselves returning to. The blueprint of rap and hard rock that they had perfected had been co-opted by the hugely popular nu-metal bands of the time, but Rage still stayed ahead of the game. The Battle Of Los Angeles is maybe not quite as consistent as the first couple of albums, but it remains a brilliantly powerful piece of work all the same, with the swirling march of Testify, the rhythmically dexterous Calm Like A Bomb and the bouncing, crushing Sleep Now In The Fire (complete with its iconic video where Rage shut down the Stock Exchange) all becoming definitive moments in the bands career.
2. Rage Against The Machine – Evil Empire (1996)
Seen as a bit of a dip at the time of release in 1996, it’s good to see that RATM’s sophomore album now gets the dues that it richly deserves. It’s really only due to the fact that it followed one of the greatest albums ever made that it has to take the silver medal here, and even then, it is only by the very smallest of margins. Evil Empire is a phenomenal record, spawning mega hits like Bulls On Parade and People Of The Sun, but it’s when you dig a little deeper that you can really get the genius of this record. Songs like the psychedelic punk of Revolver or the scattergun jazz of Down Rodeo are as good and as experimental as anything Rage have ever written. It might be number two here, but this is still a ten out of ten album.
1. Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine (1992)
One of the most revolutionary albums in the history of music, the 1992 debut album by Rage Against The Machine remains a legitimately groundbreaking and utterly perfect. By the early 90’s rap and rock had started to become closely linked, but no one could have seen the amalgam of the two styles be so perfectly realised as it is here. It’s really no exaggeration to say that almost every track on Rage Against The Machine has gone on to become an anthem of the era which still stands up today; Know Your Enemy, Bullet In The Head, Freedom, Bombtrack and, of course, Killing In The Name, there are plenty of other bands who have released greatest hits albums that couldn’t hold a candle to the track listing here. Morello’s unique guitar style, the perfectly synched, tightly wound rhythm section and De La Rocha’s furious and intelligent raps, you’d not change a single second of this record, an all-time great.