It’s been six years since Rage Against The Machine last graced a stage. Six long, barren years during which time metal’s political conscience has been largely obliterated into extinction by the distractions of social media, celebrity culture and general apathy. While the likes of Architects, Letlive (RIP) and While She Sleeps have made convincing stands, few bands have looked capable of carrying Rage’s message onto a truly global stage. Fortunately, a band are finally here to step into the breach they left. And that band is… Rage Against The Machine.
Or at least three-quarters of Rage Against The Machine, anyway. Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk have joined forces with longtime hero Chuck D of Public Enemy and Cypress Hill rapper B-Real for Prophets Of Rage, a triple-pronged musical assault that draws on three illustrious pedigrees.
The seeds for the band were laid at the start of the last election season – the one that would ultimately conclude with a businessman and former reality TV star in the White House.
“It was a very chaotic and dangerous period, and I just felt that it wasn’t enough to tweet about it or Instagram it,” says Tom Morello. “We had to take action in our vocation. We needed a musical response to the grim political climate in the United States, and we felt that there had to be a countervailing voice of good sense through Marshall stacks. When we formed the band, it was like an emergency call to arms.”
Tom prefers not to use the term ‘supergroup’ in connection with Prophets Of Rage. “We’re more like The Avengers of political rock and rap. And with Trump’s election, it was, like, ‘It looks like we’re going to be needed, gentlemen…’”
The band’s name comes from a song from Public Enemy’s landmark 1988 album, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, though it deliberately evokes the name of Tom’s old band, too. Similarly, last year’s debut EP bridged the two outfits’ back catalogues, featuring covers of Rage’s Killing In The Name, the Public Enemy tracks Shut ’Em Down and Prophets Of Rage itself, a mash-up of the Beastie Boys’ No Sleep Till Brooklyn and Public Enemy’s Fight The Power, plus a new song, The Party’s Over. It was one part whistle-stop tour of late 80s/early 90s rap-metal, one part exercise in mutual admiration.
“Almost singularly in the world of hip hop, Public Enemy is a great live act,” says Tom. “When he was designing stage performances for Public Enemy, Chuck would reference Iron Maiden. As performers, they were up there with my favourite metal bands. And Cypress Hill were one of the cornerstone influences on Rage Against The Machine. B-Real appears in the Killing In The Name video that we shot in 1992. Our personal and musical friendships go back a long way.”
If it sounds like it all came together easily, the reality proved otherwise. The band rehearsed in secret for months before they went public, trying to find the best way of fitting the different pieces of the jigsaw together. “It was five fingers that needed to be forged into a fist,” says Tom (six actually – Prophets Of Rage are completed by Public Enemy’s DJ Lord).
Like their parent bands, Prophets Of Rage are driven by social and political injustice. Now, as then, their mission is to agitate and educate.
“I would say the first thing it’s about is rocking people’s asses,” says Tom. “There’s no education, there’s no activation without first being a fucking great band. That’s the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down. If you take a look at our setlist, we’re able to line up some of the most devastating rock and hip hop that has ever been unleashed. There’s the politics of the lyrics and the politics of the moshpit. And we intend to have both of them dialed up to 11.”
The band have finished recording their debut album with producer Brendan O’Brien, which is due to be released in September according to the guitarist. They have been playing the first track, Unfuck The World, live on a recent tour of South America.
“It felt very much to me like when we sat down to make the first Rage Against The Machine record,” says Tom. “Everybody was very excited to hear everyone else’s ideas, the tunes were really heavy and rocking and took unexpected directions, and they didn’t feel in any way like a Frankensteining together of our three bands. It felt like Prophets Of Rage had emerged as its own musical entity.”
Given recent circumstances, they couldn’t have arrived at a more crucial point. There’s a school of thought that says good art comes out of bad times – and times don’t come much worse than they are now.
“I’d boil it down even further,” says Tom. “I’d say that bad presidents make for great music. But yeah, it certainly sharpens the blade when there’s this horrific, proto-fascist administration to contend with. There needs to be a soundtrack to the counter-offensive. And we’re not afraid of taking on that mantle.”
With Rage Against The Machine never officially splitting, there’s always been the possibility of that leviathan awakening from its slumber – or, even better, co-existing side by side with the Prophets Of Rage.
“Rage hasn’t done anything for maybe six years,” says Tom, giving no inclination that the situation is about to change. “That doesn’t really feel like it’s an issue. There’s no side-by- side if Rage hasn’t done anything in six years. Look, music needs a kick up the ass, and it’s about to get one from a bunch of veterans who have some experience in kicking ass!”
PROPHETS OF RAGE PLAY DOWNLOAD’S MAIN STAGE ON JUNE 9