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Can They Keep On Raging Without Zack?

In the aftermath of De la Rocha's exit, Rage Against the Machine plans to 'keep it loud.'

October 21, 2000|RANDY LEWIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For nine years Rage Against the Machine redefined modern rock with its volcanic rap-metal sound, but ultimately the rage within tore the group apart.

Rumors of the Los Angeles-based quartet's breakup have sprouted regularly for years, which made singer Zack de la Rocha's announcement Wednesday that he was leaving the group more of a shock than a surprise to fans and those close to the band.

Guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk apparently were among those caught off guard by his exit.

A statement from the trio issued Thursday through Epic Records said: "We are committed to continuing with our efforts to effect change in the social and political arena and look forward to creating more groundbreaking music for our fans. In other words, we'll keep it loud, keep it funky and most definitely rock on."

Whether that means they'll continue together or keep using the Rage name is unclear. An Epic spokeswoman said neither the band members nor label executives would elaborate on the release.

De la Rocha's statement Wednesday said, in part: "I feel that it is now necessary to leave Rage because our decision-making process has completely failed. It is no longer meeting the aspirations of all four of us collectively as a band and, from my perspective, has undermined our artistic and political ideal."

De la Rocha also declined further comment, though last month he told Rolling Stone that he had been "so humiliated" by Commerford's stage-climbing disruption of the MTV Video Music Awards on Sept. 7 that he left the ceremony early.

That led to increased speculation after the group's Grand Olympic Auditorium shows in September that De la Rocha was on his way out, a viewpoint further fueled by word that he was at work on a solo album.

Film documentarian Michael Moore, who directed two of the band's videos, told MTV News that the plans for the solo album created a rift and that a planned Beastie Boys-Rage tour was canceled chiefly because De la Rocha wanted to get moving on the solo work.

Rage fans quickly started debating the group's future on its Web site (http://www.ratm.com), some supporting the three remaining members' continuing without De la Rocha, some offering ideas for a replacement lead singer ranging from the intriguing but extremely unlikely (Eminem) to the more conceivable (Public Enemy's Chuck D.).

Regardless of its future, Rage has cemented its legacy as one of the most electrifying bands ever to come out of Southern California.

"One time I saw them play--I think it was in Belgium--and there were probably about 30,000 people. I'd never seen anything like it," said Flea, bassist for L.A.'s Red Hot Chili Peppers, a band whose punk-metal-funk-rap synthesis helped point the way for Rage's sound. "You could see the whole place moving like a big organism jumping up and down. It was the craziest, most intense thing I've ever seen. It was phenomenal."

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Its combination of radical politics with a then-unproven rap-metal-punk musical recipe made Rage a longshot for pop stardom.

But its 1992 debut album has sold 2.6 million in the U.S. alone, according to SoundScan, a figure nearly equaled by 1996's "Evil Empire" and one rapidly being approached by 1999's "The Battle of Los Angeles."

Epic Records will release a new Rick Rubin-produced Rage album that contains studio versions of such rock and hip-hop tunes as Bob Dylan's "Maggie's Farm," Afrika Bambaataa's "Renegades of Funk" and the Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man." There is no release date for a live album recently recorded by the band.

Spin magazine once labeled Rage's sound a "blisteringly conscious wake-up call that inspired dozens of genre-crossing offspring," from Korn, the Deftones and Primal Scream to System of a Down and At the Drive-In.

In addition to mounting a furious lyrical and sonic attack, Rage has frequently taken part in benefit shows for causes ranging from Tibetan freedom to striking L.A. janitors and imprisoned American Indian Movement activist Leonard Peltier.

They put on a free concert Aug. 15 in downtown L.A. decrying the proceedings at the nearby Democratic National Convention, and also have actively protested exploitation of illegal immigrants in Southland sweatshops and anything perceived as censorship.

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Whether fans responded specifically to the group's political viewpoint or simply to the sheer power with which it was delivered has long been debated.

"One of my friend's sons really loves Rage," said Bob Forrest, a veteran of the L.A. punk-alternative scene with bands including Thelonious Monster and the Bicycle Thief. "So about two years ago I asked him: 'What do you like about them? Is it the things they're singing about? Do you know what they're trying to say about the Zapatistas, or about the way corporate America runs our lives?' He's 14. He said, 'Not really. I just know that they're [angry].' "

The same passion that was directed at outside targets also created a volatility within the group, which always made a breakup seem more a matter of when than if. Rage fired three management teams within the last three years, and didn't hide the interior struggles that led to a long delay finishing "Evil Empire."

"There's always going to be tension between the four of us," Wilk told The Times in 1996. "We're like a microcosm of Los Angeles in some ways. We come from different backgrounds, different cultures.

"We also have different tastes in music," Wilk added, "and it's a battle in the studio to come up with something we all agree on, and you can feel that battle on the record. There's nothing easy about what we do."

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