Make metal rage again: Why Prophets Of Rage are this year's most important band

A photograph of Prophets Of Rage all stood with their fists in the air
(Image credit: John McMurtrie)

Fuck Trump. Those are the words taped to the back of Tom Morello’s guitar, held aloft for all to see while he plays a solo with his teeth, because of course he does.

We’re packed tightly into the sweaty Rockhal venue in south-west Luxembourg, as Prophets Of Rage lay waste to thousands of bodies. They’re midway through their first European tour, playing festivals and shows designed to make metal rage again in the wake of America’s elections and a worldwide spread of disturbing far-right rhetoric. But will metalheads heed their call to action? Tom thinks so.

“The conquest of Europe is well underway,” he laughs before tonight’s show, relaxing backstage in a room set up by the band’s masseuse. “It’s been exciting to go out and rock fools and sear their faces!”

“I’ve never seen three wheelchairs getting passed along in pits,” co-vocalist Chuck D adds. “Hellfest was the first gig where I just could not see the end of the audience – and I recently had laser eye surgery!”

“The Significant Six” are a live force to be reckoned with

“The Significant Six” are a live force to be reckoned with (Image credit: John McMurtrie)

Tom formed Prophets Of Rage in May 2016 as a reaction to a news article in which the reporter, ironically, declared Donald Trump was ‘raging against the machine’ by making a bid for the White House. He contacted former Rage comrades bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk about reviving their band.

As a reunion with Zack de la Rocha wasn’t on the cards – although Tom has openly said he is welcome to join at any time – the trio roped in Cypress Hill’s B-Real, along with turntablist DJ Lord and mainman Chuck D from Public Enemy, whose band were instrumental in shaping Tom’s view that music can positively change society.

“When I had some ideas about how the world was, I was listening to bands who sing about dungeons and dragons,” he says. “And then along came The Clash and Public Enemy, who made me feel less alone in those opinions, and made me feel that there was a wider world out there with people trying to change it.”

Prophets Of Rage: the unusual suspects

Prophets Of Rage: the unusual suspects (Image credit: John McMurtrie)

Chuck D has long been connected with metal. Public Enemy made waves back in 1991, when they reworked Bring The Noise with Anthrax, bringing their sound to a whole new community. Meanwhile, B-Real previously worked with drummer Brad Wilk on Cypress Hill’s 2000 rap-metal album Skull & Bones, which also featured Deftones’ Chino Moreno and Fear Factory’s Dino Cazares. In Prophets Of Rage, the two trade vocals in a new visceral style: this is not Rage Against The Machine karaoke.

“There was no possible way that I was gonna take on Rage Against The Machine and fill in a position that was the size of a crater,” says Chuck in his trademark drawling baritone. “Nobody could replace Zack De La Rocha’s shrieking like a 25-year-old with a knife turning in him. Zack was more like martial arts; me and B-Real are like straight-out rugby, putting your face in the mud.”

“I felt like it was a natural transition for me from the years I’ve spent experimenting with different genres of music,” says B-Real, visibly buzzing. “I felt like all that prepared me for this band.”

Tom Morello has never been one to mince his words

Tom Morello has never been one to mince his words (Image credit: John McMurtrie)

The results have been revolutionary; they have played to more than one million people since their first show in May last year, and in the UK alone, they’ve played a weekend-owning set at Download, received the Spirit Of Hammer award at the Golden Gods, and headlined London’s prestigious Brixton O2 Academy.

But despite the overwhelming reaction from crowds across the continent, some in the metal community have, unsurprisingly, criticised the band for reforming without Zack, declaring the band “coffee shop socialism” and “Profits Of Rage” on the Metal Hammer Facebook page. Tom is keen to point out these accusations are bollocks.

“We’d have kept the cash then, wouldn’t we?” he laughs. “The first eight shows this band played, we gave away 100% of the proceeds to homeless charities and activist organisations in the cities where we played. In each of the cities in the entire US tour, we left a portion of the proceeds to grassroots organisations.”

Tom has done this throughout his career, from Rage to solo project The Nightwatchman, most famously donating his X-Factor-beating Christmas Number One money from Killing In The Name to the charity Youth Music in 2009. With Serj Tankian, he founded Axis Of Justice – a nonprofit organisation bringing together music lovers to fight for social justice. And it’s that connection to the grassroots, the voiceless and the overlooked, that pushes Prophets Of Rage forward.

Their next step is taking the band from a live project to a fully fledged recording outfit, building on the back of last year’s The Party’s Over EP. Latest single Living On The 110 advances their socially conscious agenda – it’s about the large homeless population living under the 110 freeway in Los Angeles, while rich families drive their cars above.

Chuck D and B-Real call it a win

Chuck D and B-Real call it a win (Image credit: John McMurtrie)

“You have this ironic daily juxtaposition of Bentleys and Rolls Royces rolling over the impoverished,” says Tom. “It’s an analogy for the world where the five richest families have as much wealth as the poorest two billion people. Living On The 110 holds up a mirror to that situation.”

Their upcoming self-titled debut album, produced by longtime Rage collaborator Brendan O’Brien, also tackles topics from drone warfare (Take Me Higher) to the freedom of individuals (Legalize Me). And despite Tom Morello planting the seeds of the band, he says everyone’s voice is heard in their new music.

“It had the same vibe as when we wrote and recorded the first Rage Against The Machine record, where everyone is a joy to be in the room with, has the openness to share ideas, and the humility to be open to everyone else’s ideas,” he says.

Tim Commerford: bass instinct

Tim Commerford: bass instinct (Image credit: John McMurtrie)

The new collaborative music plays to the strengths of all involved. While DJ Lord isn’t shoehorned into playing Rage songs live onstage, he has a larger presence on the album, and the play-off between Chuck and B-Real over the greatest rhythm section in metal is life-affirming. Plus, Chuck still has another outlet of his own – today he’s making preparations for the surprise Public Enemy record, Nothing Is Quick In The Desert, that dropped soon after.

“There’s no hierarchy in this band, and when that happens to music and art, it ruins it,” agrees Tim. “Right now we’re in the purest state where there isn’t a hierarchy that creates other insecurities; it’s a cancer that doesn’t exist right now.”

The six musicians come across like a brotherhood. During Hammer’s photoshoot, they throw Tim’s football between them, cracking jokes and raring to get the doors open. While some bands treat touring as part of the business, barely acknowledging each other until 9pm, these guys are a unit, as close as those who spend their nights in the back of a van rather than on planes and in hotel rooms. Throughout our time together, the mission statement “make the world rage again” is uttered more than once.

“Have you ever heard of the Magnificent Seven? We’re the Significant Six,” states Chuck, with just a flicker of humour in his voice.

When Trump ran for President, Tom knew it was time for a fight

When Trump ran for President, Tom knew it was time for a fight (Image credit: John McMurtrie)

Before showtime, during much-hyped support band Zeal & Ardor’s set, Prophets chill out in a series of rooms connected by a rather green-smelling corridor, as their entourage spills out across the floors above. Tim and DJ Lord in particular are tighter than a gnat’s bumhole, barking with laughter, and constantly complimenting each other’s contributions – Lord is one of the chillest people we’ve ever met. Fact.

Despite being eager to downplay his leadership, it’s clear that Tom is at least a driving force. Without him, the band wouldn’t exist at all, and he admits to making lists and drawing diagrams like a football coach. Chuck also reveals that, when it comes to rehearsals, it’s Tom who’s “relentless”, keeping the band going until they’re “numb and doing it on cruise-control”.

When they take the stage, that dedication pays off, and the sleepy town of Esch-sur-Alzette does not know what the fuck has hit it. Chuck repeatedly declares that they are the Prophets Of Rage as he leaps around the stage, swinging his mic like a sword, instilling the idea that this isn’t a covers band but its own entity.

Political anthem Unfuck The World sends Luxembourg into absolute spasms, with bodies and beers flying through the air, kicking off more like a 70s punk show than a rap-rock band in 2017. It has the makings of a new generation’s Killing In The Name.

The core of Tom, Tim and Brad have never played Luxembourg before, meaning tonight’s an opportunity to get their message out to a fresh audience. But even if a room full of likeminded people can bellow the lyrics to a song, or crowd surf during a chorus, does music really have the power to make a change outside of these four walls? It all comes back to that question: can Prophets actually make a difference?

“Music does two things: it can reflect society and it can change society,” Tom says. “There’s no successful social justice movement that hasn’t had a great soundtrack. From We Shall Overcome to Killing In The Name, these are songs that resonate in their time and stir people who are trying to change the world.”

What better place than here? What better time than now?

Prophets Of Rage’s self-titled debut is out on September 15 via Caroline International

Chuck D: the man, the freaking legend

Chuck D: the man, the freaking legend (Image credit: John McMurtrie)

Thrilling in the name

Zeal & Ardor’s Manuel Gagneux reviews Prophets Of Rage

“This is the third time I’ve been lucky enough to see Prophets Of Rage perform live, but it’s the first time I’ve experienced it from the front row. Their show is cleverly structured to make the audience lose their minds. It begins with a 15-minute set by DJ Lord, spinning recognisable and iconic tunes. As the crowd reaches its boiling point, the rest of the gang make their entrance. Luxembourg is in hysterics!

“Not missing a beat, they release the Prophets Of Rage track upon the masses. Full cups of beer suddenly become airborne, and what follows is a mix of Rage Against The Machine covers – Testify, Take The Power Back, Guerrilla Radio – peppered with iconic tracks from Public Enemy and Cypress Hill. Both Rock Superstar and Fight The Power leave their marks on us.

Halfway through, Tom, Tim and Brad leave the stage, while DJ Lord, Chuck D and B-Real give us a distilled, eight-track set of classic hip hop songs ending in House Of Pain’s Jump Around. The majority of the male audience members relieve themselves of their shirts and morph into a sweaty, jumping mess. I barely manage to resist the urge!

The others come back and give an instrumental rendition of Audioslave’s Like A Stone, inviting the crowd to sing along. It works brilliantly. The rest of the set just keeps adding to the aggressive and oddly inclusive energy, culminating in that night’s final song, Killing In The Name. I am smushed, drenched in sweat and supremely happy.”

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Luke Morton joined Metal Hammer as Online Editor in 2014, having previously worked as News Editor at popular (but now sadly defunct) alternative lifestyle magazine, Front. As well as helming the Metal Hammer website for the four years that followed, Luke also helped relaunch the Metal Hammer podcast in early 2018, producing, scripting and presenting the relaunched show during its early days. He also wrote regular features for the magazine, including a 2018 cover feature for his very favourite band in the world, Slipknot, discussing their turbulent 2008 album, All Hope Is Gone.