Tom Morello's The Atlas Underground Fire: a star-studded, style-shifting roll of the dice from RATM guitarist

Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello drafts in Springsteen, Eddie Vedder and Oli Sykes for The Atlas Underground Fire

Tom Morello - The Atlas Underground Fire
(Image: © Mom & Pop)

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Rage Against The Machine (opens in new tab) lived to transgress. As they soundtracked 90s counterculture, their coalition of rap and rock (opens in new tab) tested both genres’ boundaries. Their onstage stunts, such as protesting censorship in the nude at Lollapalooza (opens in new tab), decimated the lines of political correctness. And their guitarist, Tom Morello (opens in new tab), somehow made funk-inspired (opens in new tab) licks sound perfectly heavy metal (opens in new tab).

Two decades after RATM’s heyday, Tom still stirs controversy. His solo debut, The Atlas Underground (opens in new tab), was self-described as “a brand-new alloy of metal, EDM and guitar-shreddery (opens in new tab)” and conflicted feedback was hurled in return. Depending on who you ask, its darting from genre to genre and cameo to cameo was either visionary or unfocused. Its follow-up splits the difference. This time also flirting with garage rock (opens in new tab), folk (opens in new tab), electronic and noise (opens in new tab), it’s a smorgasbord of hits and misses.

Opening instrumental Harlem Hellfighter encapsulates the album’s best qualities. Buzzing guitars are routinely interrupted by J-Pop joviality before it finishes in a cacophony of synths. However, persistently heavy percussion keeps everything anchored, invigorating from start to end. In that vein, Oli Sykes (opens in new tab)’ yells affirm Let’s Get The Party Started as an aggro anthem, while Charmed I’m Sure uses a riff groovy enough for RATM as the nucleus of an EDM stomper. On the flipside, a pedestrian Highway To Hell casts two of rock’s greatest singers, Eddie Vedder and Bruce Springsteen (opens in new tab), as little better than frontmen for a pub cover band. Chris Stapleton leads The War Inside through nauseatingly schmaltzy country (opens in new tab), then Naraka plateaus in repetitive r'n'b beats. On The Shore Of Eternity proves a sadly similar finale, plodding monotonously for eight minutes.

Tom Morello could easily shit out bottom-tier funk rock songs and call it a solo album. That he’s taken a dozen risks is magnificent, but no gambler wins every time.

The Atlas Underground Fire is released on October 15 via Mom+Pop Records

Matt Mills

Louder’s resident Cult Of Luna obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.