How did they get it all so badly wrong?
Label: Caroline International
Released: 15th September 2017
When Prophets of Rage stepped out of the limbo in 2016 that its members had been inhabiting since their respective previous projects came to an end, wanting to “Make the World Rage Again”, as their 2017 tour would have it, there were those who were understandably excited. After all, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, Brad Wilk, DJ Lord, Chuck D and B-Real are members of some of the most incendiary musical groups of the last fifty years, and collectively responsible for providing an outlet for a rage that angst-ridden teenagers across the world wouldn’t know how to express until they put on ‘Evil Empire’ or ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back’.
It’s all the more disappointing then, that when thrust together the Prophets of Rage and their self-titled debut seem to forget everything that once gave them their status as, as Morello himself put it in 2016, an “elite task force of revolutionary musicians” and instead diminish their once innovative respective styles into a mess of cliched heavy-handedness.
One of the biggest problems with Prophets of Rage can be encapsulated within the first two songs. While opener ‘Radical Eyes’ bursts through the door with crashing drums, ready a la Rage Against the Machine for the ghostly, screaming guitar that Morello has been duly providing for the last 20 years, and to which he applies himself capably here, it seems to change its mind about what it wants to be by the time the verse rolls around. Chuck D’s lyricism smacks of Public Enemy, and the drawl with which they’re spun by himself and B-Real only highlights the extent to which the song seems to struggle in satisfying both the funk and metal histories of its players. While in the opener, as in much of the rest of the record, the backing is all rage, the incorporation of the funk which was the undeniable primary calling of B-Real’s Cypress Hill and Chuck D’s Public Enemy leads the rest of the song to lose its teeth, and leaves it wavering in the middle ground. Both elements were once – and remain – brilliant in their own rights, but the sheen on the production leaves the metal half of the group feeling over-polished, while Chuck D and B-Real struggle to jog along at such a faux-menacing pace.
If getting caught in the middle ground between the styles of its members isn’t bad enough, what’s worse is that the style that’s most prevalent amounts to little more than sub-par emulation of something better. Zach de la Rocha feels like the elephant in the room that everybody’s trying to ignore, especially on tracks like ‘Take Me Higher’, where what would have been de la Rocha’s visceral, rallying sloganeering is replaced by the repetition of lines such as “Drones / They got you tapped, they got your phone / Look out!” Again, the delivery doesn’t quite match up to the wider style at large, but unfortunately, neither does the actual writing.
In these turbulent times, it’s easy to see why the Prophets of Rage have appeared in our lives. What’s more difficult to comprehend, however, is how they managed to get it so badly wrong when they’ve all been there and done so much better in the past. Ben Kitto