REACTA: REFRACTION

(ALARIC RECORDS; 2014)

Reacta cover

Reacta is a… let’s call ’em an alternative prog rock band, shall we… hailing from a small town in Mexico called Aguascalientes. They started a couple of years back as an instrumental project, but have taken their intense fusion of sounds (rock, jazz, ambient, pop) to a whole other level since adding American lyricist and singer, William Merritt Hendricks to the fold. To say that this band’s musical style and influences are hard to pin down is a huge understatement. I guess that, to some people, saying that REFRACTION is simply good music just won’t cut it. They wanna know who Reacta sounds like. Well, good luck with that one, chum. Each of the ten songs, while offering a coherent whole, has so many things happening that just when you think, “I’m hearing a bit of the Edge’s guitar style here,” the entire vibe changes and you’re thinking, “The vocal phrasing kinda reminds me of Adam Levine.”

The opening track, “Lost,” is a gently rocking ballad with a smooth Maroon 5 vibe and a guitar part that is vaguely reminiscent of Big Country’s Stuart Adamson. “Back Home” continues the alternative pop feel, featuring swirling guitar textures and powerful drumming. The one comparison I’m getting is, again, a mish-mash of current and classic artists: Bruno Mars (with better lyrics) fronting early U2 or NONSUCH-era XTC. The track segues into “Puzzles,” which offers a more muscular sound, while maintaining the Bill Nelson/Robert Fripp sonic washes. The rhythm guitar is a staccato chatter throughout, which gives the tune a kind of heavy jam band feel. The Adam Levine reference comes in again while, musically, I’m hearing an Incubus influence.

Reacta (uncredited photo)

Reacta (uncredited photo)

With “Stay Here,” the U2 connection returns, at least lyrically and melodically. The guitars and keyboards interact well here, more as tonal effects as opposed to specific notes. This device is prominently displayed over the course of the album’s 54 minutes. The drumming is, again, very powerful and dynamic. The centerpiece of the entire disc is the 12 minute long “Complication.” An electric piano leads into a strident, anthemic first section. A powerful, heavy middle bridge leads into a funkier groove before transitioning into a kind of prog rock rave-up. There are at least four stylistic markers before (at about the 8:40 mark) the song morphs into a loopy, pastoral ambient soundscape. The track is rather schizophrenic, but the several disparate pieces actually make for an enjoyably cohesive whole, making it one of my favorite tracks from REFRACTION. “Skyscraper” is another slab of Maroon 5 style alternative soul funkiness, with power chords aplenty dominating the choruses.

City of Lights” has that light and easy groove of the perfect summer windows-down, radio-up car tune. If the powers that be at Alaric Records are listening, save this one as an end of May single release! Until then, this album version will have to keep us warm through these colder-than-usual winter months. “Sound of Drums,” the first single, is another feel good anthem, though I’m not too certain as to the meaning. Apparently, it’s… an odd ode to the perfect drummer? The lyrics and melody line are easy and memorable, making a perfect sing-a-long song. The track also features an exceptional guitar solo in a sea of great solos. A dirty display of pure hard rock power kicks off “Last Train” before the artsier (almost jazzy) musical leanings are introduced. The vocals, like the music, are more forceful. If I had to compare the track with anything… maybe a more melodic, less grating Limp Bizkit fused with the more jam band like tendencies of Incubus. Uh… so there’s no mistaking what I’m saying here, this is more a stylistic comparison: This tune is more accomplished than anything LB ever produced. The final track, “Storyline,” offers a strange casio-cum-calliope rhythm and a sleepy, laconic vocal. A very nice way to end a thoroughly enjoyable debut.

Reacta (publicity photo)

Reacta (publicity photo)

Id like to say that Reacta needs to find that niche sound that will hold them in good stead with a certain stylistically like-minded group of fans. However, I think the fact that they can’t be so easily pigeonholed will enable them to cross genre lines and become an across the board success. There aren’t too many of those around these days. I just wish that somewhere (a web-site, an album cover, something) they would give us more info on who is in the band and who does what!


FIREHORSE: PILLS FROM STRANGERS

(SELF-RELEASED EP; 2013)

Firehorse - Pills From Strangers

Firehorse is, essentially, the vehicle which singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Leah Siegel uses to drive her tunes. This short (seven songs in less than 27 minutes) release is an odd conglomeration of indie rock and pop excess – think Lady Gaga channeling Liz Phair with a dash of Pink for just the right dose of snottiness and a dollop of Tom Waits for just the right amount of strange. All of this is over a new wavey, synth-fueled bed that brings to mind the good (Gary Numan) and the bad (Peaches, referenced here just to keep the band honest and making a concerted effort not to swerve in that direction) of the genre.

PILLS FROM STRANGERS is the follow-up to the band’s 2011 debut, AND SO THEY RAN FASTER… and features the same players (Siegel, drummer Brian Wolfe, bassist Tim Luntzel and guitarist Steve Elliot) with the addition of keyboardist/programmer Mendeley Wells, whose presence is felt immediately on the quirky opener, “Bloodstream,” with its bizarre, blippy synthesizer coda that could be majorly annoying. Toss in a delivery of the line “Get in my bloodstream” that immediately conjurs up visions of Mike Myers and “Get in my belly!” and the song comes very close to tanking in a disastrous, Peaches kind of way. But, you know what? It works, thanks in part to several other attributes, including the lyrics. A fun way to kick things off!

Firehorse's Leah Siegel (photo credit: WILL O'HARE)

Firehorse’s Leah Siegel (photo credit: WILL O’HARE)

The new wave synth pattern and drumming are the real highlights of the throwback sound of “Good,” a nifty little number that has that certain something that makes it immediately appealing, if not exceptional. “Wave” is the first song on the disc that would actually prompt me to buy the thing. Again, a bouncy new wave vibe turns into the perfect setting for Leah Siegel’s Siouxsie Sioux-cum-Kate Bush vocal delivery. The first two and a quarter minutes of “Any Other Day,” with Leah’s soulful gospel inflections and a choir behind her totally makes the tune work. When the full instrumentation is introduced, the transition to the rather menacing final minute is quite a fine piece of musical structuring. Really nice!

The metallic clang and sparse percussion of “Scarecrow” transforms the tune into a minimalist nightmare. Siegel’s lyrics and voice are perfectly menacing. Without a doubt, this is the single most impressive song on the record! Though not as overtly ominous as the previous track, “Walls” keeps the quality high and the instrumentation stripped to a bare minimum, with a nice acoustic lead driving the tune. “Fool” maintains the minimalist feel going with a strange funk vibe, evoked more than anything by Leah’s vocal performance… kinda like a soulful Nikka Costa thing filtered through Prince at his most funky purpleness. I do like this record, but… I can’t help wondering what an entire album of material like the last three… make that four… songs, ’cause “Any Other Day” has the same less-is-more ambiance that seems to propel Leah’s vocals to whole new level. PILLS FROM A STRANGER is available at the usual download places and at the band’s website, thisisfirehorse.com. Physical copies of AND SO THEY RAN FASTER… are also available from their site. Go ye forth and consume, my brethren and… uh… sistren!


GHOST AND GOBLIN: SUPERHORRORCASTLELAND

(SELF-RELEASED; 2013)

ghost and goblin cover

Over the past couple weeks, I find myself thoroughly enamored with this record. Ghost and Goblin (the duo of Nicholas DiMichele and Spencer Synwolt) bring completely original ideas to themes introduced by such disparate auteurs as the Misfits, Alice Cooper, Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Damned. They have built upon the objective of providing the soundtrack to the coolest, creepiest haunted house/funhouse attraction in the world, tossed their lot in with true masters of the genre and have immediately elevated themselves to those same lofty heights. I know, I know! There are those among you who will dismiss the seemingly over-the-top hyperbole as a disingenuous attempt to garner favor (and free stuff), but I truly find myself liking SUPERHORRORCASTLELAND more and more with each listen. So… “Nyah!” to you.

From the haunted house intro (“SUPERHORRORCASTLELAND”) into the creepy vibe of the first song (the pairing clocks in at just over ten minutes of metallic bliss that borders on industrial), “Rust Golem,” you know that this is going to be as fun and spooky and intense as the album title implies. The slightly breathy, slightly echoey vocals are amazingly effective here. “Step inside the machine/All your sins will be wiped clean.”

Ghost and Goblin (publicity photo)

Ghost and Goblin (publicity photo)

Who’s There” continues the haunted feeling (literally and figuratively) with some powerful guitar work and a frenzied refrain of “I’m scared” repeating through the final minute of the song adds a certain manic intensity to the already sinister tone. An oddly placed Flaminco-style guitar solo only works to heighten the creep factor. “Skeletons In the Closet” reminds me of some of Alice Cooper’s early solo work, particularly “Some Folks” from the classic WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE. The tune begins with an organ piece worthy of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA before the main section kicks in with a cool Rhumba/Samba/Tango (I know it’s one of those, I’m just not up on my ballroom dance terminology) feel. The PHANTOM… organ returns toward the end of the song only to be supplanted again by the main musical theme to end the track. With “Rust Golem,” this is definitely one of my favorite songs here.

Look At the Clouds” is the first “real” song, eschewing the horror themes and echo for a funky, psychedelic vibe, intoning the Purple One himself, Prince, especially the stylistic approach to the vocals. Tacked on to the end is the minute long “Ultra Puzzle Song,” which sounds like an extensions of those short pastiches of sound and lunacy used by Frank Zappa to thematically tie the SHEIK YER BOUTI songs together. I wonder if the song title may not be a nod to Zappa and that album. “Magic Missiles” brings us back to the major album theme. It’s a harpsichord instrumental that would have brought a smile to Lurch’s face and had Gomez and Morticia tangoing madly through the graveyard. “Blood Beach” has a very eerie Joy Division new wave thing happening. Is that the ghost of Ian Curtis swinging to the beat?

Ghost and Goblin (uncredited photo)

Ghost and Goblin (uncredited photo)

On the surface, “Low (Bringin’ Me Down)” seems an anomaly. As the name implies, the song’s lyrical content is a downer, though the feel is more one of melancholy than spooky. The lone guitar throughout lends to that sense of melancholia and the addition of accordion (or is it a hurdy gurdy?) in the final section is nice, prompting a comparison to early 16 Horsepower. The metallic crunch is back for the doublet, “Fleshcraft”/”The Transfiguration.” Atmospherically, we can again harken back to Alice Cooper, as well as Rob Zombie and old Hammer Studio horror movies. These two lead back into a tarted up reprise of “Low (Bringin’ Me Down),” with a heavy, fuzzed-out guitar replacing the acoustic of the main song and histrionic screams and wails replacing the lyrics, bringing everything back around to the beginning. Have I mentioned yet how much I like this record? Visit the band’s Bandcamp page (ghostandgoblin.bandcamp.com) to listen or to purchase a limited edition vinyl pressing of SUPERHORRORCASTLELAND. Your ears will thank me.


SONS OF HIPPIES: GRIFFONS AT THE GATES OF HEAVEN

(CLEOPATRA RECORDS; 2013)

sons-of-hippies1

Sons of Hippies are exactly what they sound like… sorta. First off, I’m fairly certain that one of ’em ain’t. I’ll go out on a limb and call it now: Katherine Kelly was never anyone’s son. Second, they borrow from the early psychedelia of the ’60s, the hard rock of the ’70s, the New Wave of the ’80s and everything that came before and after and in between. By my estimation, that’s around 60 years of rock and roll to draw from and, while the Sons’ songs can be said to sound like a certain band from a certain period in time, they have a sound that can best be described as… well, Sons of Hippies. I kinda like bands that sound familiar and, at the same time, completely new and original. So, for purposes of this review, I’m gonna give you as many musical reference points as I can to convince you that this trio is the real deal.

The album kicks off with “Forward,” a swirling piece of mid-tempo, mind-melting Hawkwind-ish spacey psychedelic goodness. “Mirrorball” features a peppy little guitar signature that continually threatens to explode into a ravaging solo. The only things that ever really explode are the multi-layered vocals on the chorus. That’s okay, though, because those vocals add a quirky vibe to what would otherwise be a rather pedestrian attempt at a Widowspeak type pop tune.

SONS OF HIPPIES (Katherine Kelly, Jonas Canales, David Daly) (publicity photo)

SONS OF HIPPIES (Katherine Kelly, Jonas Canales, David Daly) (publicity photo)

Dark Daisies” kinda sounds like a Sabbath tune for the very latest century – if Sabbath hadn’t already given us a number one album full of those things – with an ominously heavier-than-thou guitar riff and equally heavy (steady, never showy) drumming. As the song progresses, the heaviness morphs into an Ian Kilmister-era Hawkind sorta space groove. Now, that’s cool! Ms Kelly’s voice has a Susannah-Hoff-filtered-through-Siouxsie-Sioux quality through-out the album, a comparison that immediately jumps out on the next track. “Rose” is a trippy Bangles style power pop tune and the album’s second single, with a bloody, awesome video to accompany it (it’s sure a shame that MTV isn’t any longer because this one would play great there). GRIFFONS AT THE GATES OF HEAVEN doesn’t get much better than “Rose.” It may be the perfect Sons song.

Sounding a bit like classic Dick Dale surf tunage, “Spaceship Ride” adds solid vocals and a crunchy-sounding chorus leading into an echo-laden guitar solo, the first time that any musician really busts out of the quasi-laid back late ’60s vibe. “Man Or Moon” continues to kick-up (and mix up) the tempo with another solid drumming job from Jonas Canales and a nifty descending bass line from David Daly. Again, Katherine Kelly adds a nice solo and some cool Annabella Lwin like vocals. “Magnets” is another fine – if rather unimaginative – tune. The vocals are, as always, top notch but, overall, this may be the weak link in an otherwise highly enjoyable album.

SONS OF HIPPIES (uncredited photo)

SONS OF HIPPIES (uncredited photo)

Blood In the Water” wanders through all of the musical territory mentioned before, adding a sweet Monster Magnet heavy space feel to the proceedings. Canales and, especially, Daly have seemingly found the muscle that’s been missing from some of the other tracks. Of course, Kelly adds another great solo. “Whatever We Spend” has a neat New Wave-y sound with a very Siousxie-esque vocal performance from Katherine. Odd – dare I say – hippie lyrics add to the strange, circular vibe of the music. “Minute x Minute” brings the chunky, heavy leads of “Dark Daisies” back into play. Solid vocal and drum performances help propel the song toward its raucous end, 2:40 later.

A snaky, sinewy sitar lead features on “Animal Battle” before slamming headfirst into a wickedly arrogant guitar. The song plays out as another killer slice of Hawkwind/Monster Magnet space rock. The final track is “Cautionary Tale.” It is, I suppose, the album’s power ballad. It features another strong vocal performance, underpinned by great guitar work and solid backing from the rhythm section.

SONS OF HIPPIES (uncredited photo)

SONS OF HIPPIES (uncredited photo)

In the late ’90s, there was a band called Medicine. The more I consider it, I’m kinda reminded of them as much as anybody when I listen to Sons of Hippies. The one thing that I remember about that band was how awesome they were live. I’ve never seen the Sons play, but I have a feeling that the songs from GRIFFONS… would be absolutely killer in a live setting! I can’t wait to find out.


THE PASSION: ALL MY YESTERDAYS

(SELF-RELEASED; 2013)

The Passion

The Passion are from Columbia, MO. Their music is from all over. They have a kind of Joy Division meets the Smiths meets Echo and the Bunnymen sound, with guitarist Chris Dohm evoking (invoking?) memories of Will Sergeant and Johnny Marr and their slashing, percussive style of playing. There’s even a little hint of very early David Evans (you may know him better as the Edge from U2). Singer Larry Krapf could (and maybe does!) front a Smiths tribute band (for some reason, these bands insist on calling themselves “tribute bands” instead of cover bands which, in fact, they are… they just cover songs by one band… but I digress) as he has a definite Steve Morrissey sound, only with less whining.

Carved In Sand” starts things off nicely, with a very Joy Division sounding tune. I suppose if you squint your eyes and hold your head just right while listening to ALL MY YESTERDAYS, you can hear a bit of Ian Curtis in Krapf’s voice, as well. Now, all of these comparisons may have you thinking, “You know, I already have all of the Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen albums I need and I can’t stand the Smiths because of Morrissey’s whiny voice and hissy fit lyrics, so why do I need this record by the Passion?” A valid point, I assume (except for the Morrissey thing,,, that’s just me), if this band didn’t have more to offer. Making comparisons is kinda what I have to do so you’ll have a musical reference to see if a particular band’s music falls somewhere in your listening wheelhouse. That doesn’t mean that the Passion are a carbon copy of any of the band’s mentioned. In fact, dip down a few songs, to track 7, and you’ll find a very goth sounding tune called “Everybody Wants,” with Melissa Robertson’s synth out front more than any other song here.

The Passion: Chris Dohm, Larry Krapf, Melissa Robertson, Shannon Morris and SeanErickson (publicity photo)

The Passion: Chris Dohm, Larry Krapf, Melissa Robertson, Shannon Morris and Sean Erickson (publicity photo)

Robertson’s playing is understated and her parts are well thought out and add just the right texture. Her voice is also well used, not all over the place but appearing when (and where) it’s needed. The rhythm section of Andy Gibbs on bass (he left shortly after this album was recorded, replaced by Shannon Morris) and Sean Erickson on drums are solid, with Erickson exhibiting a more adventurous side on several of the tracks. The title track (“All My Yesterdays,” in case you’ve forgotten) has a little bit of everything: great vocals from Krapf, gang vocals on the chorus, a driving rhythm propelling things forward at nearly breakneck speed, a punchy synthesizer part and a trashy garage-like solo from Dohm.

Overall, I can find very little negative to say about the Passion’s ALL MY YESTERDAYS. It definitely brings back memories of some really great late ’70s/early ’80s bands; it also breaks some new ground production-wise, giving Larry Krapf’s voice a more meaty sound than Morrissey ever dreamed of and a certain bright sheen on Chris Dohm’s guitar. If you’re still thinking, “So why do I need this record by the Passion?,” how about this: you can pick up a digital copy on the band’s Bandcamp page (that would be thepassionband.bandcamp.com) for a “name your own price” download fee. Listen to “Carved In Sand,” “I Won’t Be Another Story,” “Everybody Wants” and the title song and I can virtually guarantee that you’ll be hitting that download button!


WIDOWSPEAK: ALMANAC

(CAPTURED TRACKS; 2013)

Widowspeak Almanac

I like this record! I really like this record! How do I love thee, Widowspeak? Let me count the ways… or, at least, let me tell you why I am so enamored with the duo’s sophomore release, ALMANAC.

The tone is set with the pulsing dynamics of set opener, “Perennials,” and the ethereal vocals of Molly Hamilton, which evoke (rather than mimic) memories of both Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval and Stevie Nicks (the latter more for her hippie, gauzy lyrics – and looks – than any vocal similarities). This combination of powerful, noisy music and almost whisper-thin voice grabs you from the outset and doesn’t relent until that final, strangled note, some 4 minutes and 9 seconds later! Molly and band mate Robert Earl Thomas pile on layer after layer of guitar – alongside autoharp and keyboards aplenty – to produce a swirling backdrop for Molly’s voice, with crisp yet understated percussion provided by Kyle Clairmont Jacques. The effect is stunning and we’ve only gotten through the first track.

With “Dyed In the Wool” and its kaleidoscopic walls and sonic washes of guitars giving off a definite psychedelic vibe, Molly’s hypnotic voice has an even more ominous, spooky appeal for me. Sounding like the evil step-sibling of Chris Issak’s “Wicked Game”(which the band covered as a B-side to their GUN SHY single in 2011), the tune is the closest to a standard-issue “rock and roll” song you’ll hear on ALMANAC, though the record does rock from one end to the other.

The Dark Age” surges and swells, ebbs and flows as it roils toward its inevitable terminus, with a marshal drum track and an unforgettable guitar riff forcing Molly’s voice to ever more urgent levels. “Thick As Thieves” has an old-time country murder-tune vibe, reminiscent of some of Johnny Cash’s best. While not as harsh and uncompromising as Cash, the feeling is nonetheless foreboding.

Widowspeak (Andrew Smith)

Widowspeak (photo credit: ANDREW SMITH)

A short, quiet intro called “Almanac” leads into the album’s first single, a slow building mid-tempo tune called “Ballad of the Golden Hour.” The Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac comparisons are most noticeable here. Thomas’ guitar moves from a Lindsey Buckingham-like percussive, slashing lead to a Peter Green style, no-holds-barred solo as Kyle Clairmont Jacques does an almost perfect Mick Fleetwood imitation behind the drum kit. Of course, over it all, is Hamilton’s lilting vocals, again not matching Nicks’ volume or power, merely evoking memories of her through lyrical content and phrasing.

The word “hypnotic” has continually cropped up in this review, and with good reason. The terminology is again applicable to “Devil Eyes” and its circular rhythmic patterns and a repeating lead guitar part that could be mistaken for a taped loop. The lazy, slow burn of “Sore Eyes” continually threatens to head off into a crazed guitar rave-up, but is reined in at just the right time to build the suspense and tension of the song. If not for the sufferingly dark lyrics, this could be the most cleverly executed ballad I’ve heard in a very long time. The circular quality of “Devil Eyes” returns two songs later with “Locusts.” The instrumentation is, if anything, more restrained here as Hamilton’s vocals weave a claustrophobic melody over it all.

The sounds of crickets and burning wood envelope “Minnewaska,” a dreamy campfire song, with acoustic guitar, harmonium and multi-tracked background vocals and a certain lost-in-the-woods echo throughout. The languid feel of the short “Minnewaska” is again on display – with more success – on the next cut, a lazy, sleepy little ditty called “Spirit Is Willing.” The album closer, “Storm King,” maintains the slow, almost dirge-like quality of the previous tracks, though it possess an ominous, grinding feel throughout. While each of the last three songs are as good as anything else on display here, they may have been better spaced out among the other tunes. Coming, as they did, at the end of the album, just seems to leave the listener feeling down and – maybe – just a little bit crushed by the suffocating effect of the triptych’s sullen pace.

As you can tell from these observations, I really do like this record. And, if the only thing even remotely negative I can find to say about it is a minor sequencing issue (from my standpoint, at least), then I must assume that you will feel like-minded regarding Widowspeak. Spoil yourself with an aural treat… pick up a copy of ALMANAC and enjoy!


RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE: XX

(LEGACY/EPIC/SONY; 2012)

121009_ratmxx_cover

If there is one thing that can be said about the 20th Anniversary Legacy Edition of Rage Against the Machine’s debut album, it is this: It is impressive. Impressive and awesome. Hmm… now, wait a minute. Let’s start over. There are two words that can describe the 20th Anniversary Legacy Edition of Rage Against the Machine’s debut album. Those words are impressive, awesome and comprehensive. Aawww, shoot! There are several words that can be used to describe the 20th Anniversary Legacy Edition of Rage Against the Machine’s debut album. Among those words are impressive, awesome, comprehensive and essential.

Enough of that, huh? I mean, nobody expects a Monty Pythonesque review of one of the seminal albums in the realm of rap-metal. Check that – Rage Against the Machine’s first record is THE seminal album of the then new genre of rap-metal. The politically charged lyrics of Zack de La Rocha and the unique guitar sound and phrasing of Tom Morello gave new meaning to the word “intense.” The imaginative yet rock-steady rhythm section of drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Timmy C (Commerford) provide a bottom you could caulk boats with. Well, then! Using the four words in the previous paragraph, let’s take a look at this set, shall we?

Rage Against the Machine (uncredited photo)

Rage Against the Machine (uncredited photo)

First, impressive. This is where the music is discussed. From the opening track, “Bombtrack,” it is quite obvious that we are listening to something special. For a band with less than a year under their collective belts as a working unit, that is impressive! “Killing In the Name” follows. This is, quite literally, the track that put Rage on the map and in heavy rotation on alternative radio stations and MTV. This riff-heavy tune along with others like “Bullet In the Head,” “Wake Up,” and “Freedom” gives a nod to the band’s forefathers (stylistically, if not lyrically), Black Sabbath. Morello strangles sounds from his guitar that will have you checking the credits for the name of the guy playing the synthesizer. His rhythm work mimics the bass line (and vise versa), blurring the line between the two, much like the interaction between Tony Iommi and Terry “Geezer” Butler. Brad Wilk has a jazzy sensibility that belies the music’s style, much like – again – Sabbath’s Bill Ward. Of course, Zack de La Rocha, is like nothing before – a seething, venom-filled voclist who wears his convictions like a badge. When you add all of this up, what else can you call it but… impressive?

And, so, we move on to awesome. This is where we discuss the breadth (if not the size, which we’ll get to next) of the material here-enclosed. I think that the awesome aspects of this release can be best exemplified by a DVD feature. A camera was rolling as Rage Against the Machine made their public debut on October 23, 1991 on the campus of Cal State, North Ridge. As the band works into “Killing In the Name,” you can see a couple of people milling about; by the time they finish with the second song, “Take the Power Back,” the crowd is growing. As we realize that this group of individuals have been together for just a handful of months, the power and scope of what they’re doing is mind-boggling. Now, you aren’t gonna watch this video for innovative camera angles or production value. You get one camera that appears to be mounted somewhere close to the soundboard. You also get 20 year old technology, a video shot on analog tape. You will, however, watch for the historic significance of the performance, as well as the music, which is fully formed at a very early stage. Take some of the best cuts from the debut album, toss in a few lesser known tunes (“Darkness of Greed” and “Clear the Lane” from the English 12” of KILLING IN THE NAME; “Autologic,” a song from the group’s demo tape; “Hit the Deck,” which I can’t find on any other official release) and a Clash cover (“Clampdown”) and this 52-minute piece of video alone makes this package – if not indispensable – awesome!

Tom Morello (Max Whittaker-Getty Images)

Tom Morello (photo credit: MAX WHITTAKER-GETTY IMAGES)

Up next, we have comprehensive. At this point, we’re gonna talk about the packaging. First off, the “official” name of this reissue is XX, which is Super-Bowlese (or Wrestlemanian, if you rather) for TWENTY. Somewhat fitting for a 20th Anniversary issue, wouldn’t you agree? Now… here’s what you’re getting: One CD with original album (including the three track live bonus EP that was offered with some versions of the 1992 vinyl); another CD of demos, originally given away free at early, pre-record deal Rage shows; a DVD featuring a live show recorded in London on June 6, 2010 along with 12 videos spanning the band’s first eight years (4 of which are either unreleased or are officially available for the first time) and live material from a 1997 compilation; a second DVD which features video of the band’s first public performance in 1991 and 10 more live videos from 1992-94, recorded at various venues. If that’s not enough, you’ve got a vinyl copy of the album, complete with lyrics and that famous 1963 cover photo of the Buddhist Monk who immolated himself in Saigon to protest the Vietnamese government’s persecution of Buddhists. There’s also a 40 page booklet with plenty of pictures, lyrics and an essay by someone who knows a bit about the power of music and politics, Chuck D. Toss in a large 2-sided poster, a postcard and other ephemera and you definitely have something that is… comprehensive!

Rage Against the Machine (Max Whittaker-Getty Images)

Rage Against the Machine (photo credit: MAX WHITTAKER-GETTY IMAGES)

Finally, we get to essential. Well… that’s an easy one. The original 10-track album alone is an essential piece to any music collection. Add to that all of the extras discussed above and a gloriously remastered sound for that original release and you have one of this (or any) year’s essential music purchases. By the way, if you’re not into all of that extra stuff (or if you don’t wanna shell out $100 for the full monty), there are two “smaller” versions of this release: one that features just the 2 CDs and a bonus DVD with six videos from the larger package and one that offers just the first CD (the original album and three bonus tracks).