Sound — 8
Many in America had wished for the reunion of Rage Against the Machine since their breakup in 2000, the sentiment especially flaring up at numerous points in the 21st century. Whether it was the 2008 financial crisis, the rise of Occupy Wall Street in 2011, Edward Snowden letting the public know about the NSA's massive domestic spying programs, or other politically-charged events, there was always someone to say with a wistful aggravation, "this would be a perfect time for a new Rage album."
But the event that would finally summon the band back to formation was one that Rage Against the Machine satirically foretold in one of their own music videos - the rise of Donald Trump's presidential campaign that had, astoundingly, resulted in winning the election. At this point, it was basically a call of duty for the band to get back together, though the reformation is not wholly complete: Zack De La Rocha is the missing fourth member of this revamped group of guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford, and drummer Brad Wilk. In his place, however, the band has recruited Public Enemy's Chuck D and Cypress Hill's B-Real, establishing the band's new iteration, Prophets of Rage.
Having worked as this supergroup since last year, releasing their debut EP, "The Party's Over," as well as performing in Cleveland during the RNC as a demonstration against Trump's nomination, Prophets of Rage release their self-titled debut album, which is as close to that long-anticipated fifth RATM album as anyone's going to get. And instrumentally, POR pick the torch back up nicely. Along with Commerford's bass grooves and Wilk's syncopated drumbeats paving the way nicely throughout, one can find a handful of nods to classic RATM moments in Morello's signature oddball guitar noises. His scratching technique appears in the guitar solo of "Hail To The Chief," the sirening tones used in "Fired A Shot" throws back to "Ashes In The Fall," the delay-laden guitar solo in "Smashit" is reminiscent of his guitar solo in "Calm Like A Bomb," and the noisy, choppy guitar sounds in the guitar solo in "Unfuck The World" sounds like a faster, stronger version of his guitar solo in "Without A Face."
While the throwback factor of "Prophets of Rage" is a big one, it doesn't keep the band from offering new tricks. Classic rock influences manifest in parts of the album, whether in the bluesy main riff of "Smashit," or the talkbox effect used in "Legalize Me," and they also mash up some of that classic rock pull-off riffing with an unexpected dose of funk rock in "Take Me Higher." Morello also whips up some new crazy guitar moments, whether it's the multi-faceted pedal fest in his guitar solo in "Radical Eyes," or making his guitar sound like a spaceship laser in "Who Owns Who," which are bound to inspire gearheads to do their best to reverse-engineer Morello's enigmatic ingenuity.
Lyrics — 7
As dual vocalists, Chuck D maintains a consistent medium throughout "Prophets of Rage" while B-Real has his ups and downs - while his speedier flow in "Hail To The Chief" is one of the most captivating verses on the album, other songs like "Legalize Me" hamper his voice with effects. And the two also have their own throwback moment in "Take Me Higher," with the first verse and bridge using the same vocal pattern as LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out," though it feels more like an unambitious recycling of ideas rather than nifty homage.
But for the most part, Chuck D and B-Real's lyrics in "Prophets of Rage" meet the politically-charged bar of expectations. Whether addressing long-established issues, like the military-industrial complex ("Bombs droppin on cities where kids play / Soldiers fallin' in the name of freedom hey / Civilians buried in the rubble where dreams die / Politicians spew lie after fuckin lie" in "Unfuck The World"), widespread homelessness in America ("Four sharing one tent / Can't afford no rent / Forgotten by the government" in "Living On The 110"), or referring to recent events, like the 2016 election ("They say what they must / To gain our trust / But once the ballot's cast, they forget about us" in "Smashit"), and the DAPL protest at the Standing Rock Indian Preservation ("Standing on a rock / Staring at the cop / With the hose in hand / Fire water hit the fuckin flock / We don't want no pipeline / Injustice of our life time" in "Strength In Numbers"), Chuck D and B-Real are forthright in their political dissent. Though they're certainly up to par, their forces combined still can't one-up the incendiary energy of Zack De La Rocha.
Overall Impression — 8
As the highly-anticipated return of an influential band in American rock music, both in terms of sound and lyrical substance, Prophets of Rage don't overthink their comeback on their debut self-titled album. While some moments focus on bringing a few new things to the table, the majority of the album is simply set on tapping back into the innovative, sonically wonky alternative rock that helped make RATM an iconic name in the first place. Even after all this time, "Prophets of Rage" proves that Rage still got it.