"Evil Empire"


* * * 1/2

Rage Against the Machine's second album barges into an alternative rock world where discontent is routinely channeled into introverted abstraction and metaphor rather than a hard political agenda. The band tapped a constituency with its debut, but it still seems somehow unfashionable as it faces an audience that thinks a Molotov cocktail must be the cool thing to drink at a Combustible Edison gig.

Rage's lyrics approach the timeless leftist foes with fiery freshness, and the band is happy to use names in the news. Among prominent contemporary musicians, only Bruce Springsteen has confronted the human issues of undocumented Mexican immigrants to this degree.

Zack de la Rocha's rubbery, punk-edged rapping, Tom Morello's snarling arsenal of power chords, distressed squeals, bleeps and shudders and the unshakable Tim Bob-Brad Wilk rhythm section create a hurtling, hammering sound that sweeps you into its momentum.

It also puts you on edge, which is part of the idea. Like a ceremonial preparation for battle, it is designed to focus anger, elevate energy and boil blood. This is music to occupy buildings and close streets by, and its ultimate success is really out of the band's hands--it's incomplete without some audience participation. Any takers out there?

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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