Rage Against the Machine released its eponymous debut album in 1992 to commercial and critical success, leading to a slot in the 1993 Lollapalooza festival. Their second album, Evil Empire, was released in 1996. Their third, The Battle of Los Angeles, followed in 1999, and in 2003, it was ranked number 426 on the same list. During their initial nine-year run, they became one of the most popular and influential bands in music history. They were also ranked No. 33 on VH1's 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock.
In 2000, Rage Against the Machine released the cover album Renegades and disbanded after growing creative differences led to de la Rocha's departure. De la Rocha started a low-key solo career, while the rest of the band formed the rock supergroupAudioslave with Chris Cornell, the former frontman of Soundgarden; Audioslave recorded three albums before disbanding in 2007. The same year, Rage Against the Machine announced a reunion and performed together for the first time in seven years at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in April 2007. Until 2011, the band continued to perform at more live venues and festivals around the world. In 2016, Morello, Commerford and Wilk formed a new band, Prophets of Rage, with B-Real, Chuck D, and DJ Lord. Rage Against the Machine were nominated for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility in 2017 and 2018, although both bids failed. The band had a large influence on the nu metal genre which came to prominence during the second half of the 1990s. In 2003, the album was ranked number 368 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
In 1991, following the break-up of guitarist Tom Morello's former band Lock Up, former Lock Up drummer Jon Knox encouraged Tim Commerford and Zack de la Rocha to jam with Tom Morello as he was looking to start a new group. Morello soon contacted Brad Wilk, who had unsuccessfully auditioned for Lock Up. This lineup named themselves Rage Against the Machine, after a song de la Rocha had written for his former underground hardcore punk band Inside Out (also to be the title of the unrecorded Inside Out full-length album).Kent McClard, with whom Inside Out were associated, had coined the phrase "rage against the machine" in a 1989 article in his zineNo Answers.
Shortly after forming, they gave their first public performance on October 23, 1991, at the Quad of California State University, Northridge. The blueprint for the group's major-label debut album, demo tape Rage Against the Machine, was laid on a twelve-song self-released cassette, the cover image of which featured newspaper clippings of the stockmarket section with a single match taped to the inlay card. Not all 12 songs made it onto the final album—two were eventually included as B-sides, while three others never saw an official release. Several record labels expressed interest, and the band eventually signed with Epic Records. Morello said, "Epic agreed to everything we asked—and they've followed through ... We never saw a[n] [ideological] conflict as long as we maintained creative control."
Despite rumors of a breakup for several years, Rage Against the Machine's second album, Evil Empire, entered Billboard's Top 200 chart at number one in 1996, and subsequently rose to triple platinum status. The song "Bulls on Parade" was performed on Saturday Night Live in April 1996. Their planned two-song performance was cut to one song when the band attempted to hang inverted American flags from their amplifiers ("a sign of distress or great danger"), a protest against having Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes as guest host on the program that night.
In 1997, the band opened for U2 on their PopMart Tour, for which all of Rage's profits went to support social organizations, including U.N.I.T.E., Women Alive and the Zapatista Front for National Liberation. Rage subsequently began an abortive headlining U.S. tour with special guests Wu-Tang Clan. Police in several jurisdictions unsuccessfully attempted to have the concerts cancelled, citing amongst other reasons, the bands' "violent and anti-law enforcement philosophies". Wu-Tang Clan were eventually removed from the lineup and replaced with The Roots, when Wu-Tang Clan pulled a no show during a concert at Riverport. On the Japan leg of their tour promoting Evil Empire, a compilation album composed of the band's B-side recordings titled Live & Rare was released by Sony Records. A live video, also titled Rage Against the Machine, was released later the same year.
In 1999 Rage Against the Machine played at the Woodstock '99 concert. The following release, The Battle of Los Angeles also debuted at number one in 1999, selling 450,000 copies in the first week and then going double-platinum. That same year the song "Wake Up" was featured on the soundtrack of the film The Matrix. The track "Calm Like a Bomb" was later featured in the film's sequel, 2003's The Matrix Reloaded. In 2000, the band planned to support the Beastie Boys on the "Rhyme and Reason" tour; however, the tour was cancelled when Beastie Boys drummer Mike D suffered a serious injury. In 2003, The Battle of Los Angeles was ranked number 426 on Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
2000–2006: Break-up and subsequent projects
On January 26, 2000, an altercation during filming of the video for "Sleep Now in the Fire", directed by Michael Moore, caused the doors of the New York Stock Exchange to be closed and the band to be escorted from the site by security after band members attempted to gain entry into the exchange. The video shoot had attracted several hundred people, according to a representative for the city's Deputy Commissioner for Public Information. New York City's film office does not allow weekday film shoots on Wall Street. Moore had permission to use the steps of Federal Hall National Memorial but did not have a permit to shoot on the sidewalk or the street, nor did he have a loud-noise permit or the proper parking permits. "Michael basically gave us one directorial instruction, "No matter what happens, don't stop playing", Tom Morello recalls. When the band left the steps, police officers apprehended Moore and led him away. Moore yelled to the band, "Take the New York Stock Exchange!" In an interview with the Socialist Worker, Morello said he and scores of others ran into the Stock Exchange. "About two hundred of us got through the first set of doors, but our charge was stopped when the Stock Exchange's titanium riot doors came crashing down." "For a few minutes, Rage Against the Machine was able to shut down American capitalism", Moore said. "An act that I am sure tens of thousands of downsized citizens would cheer".
On September 7, 2000, the band attended the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards, and performed "Testify". After the Best Rock Video award was given to Limp Bizkit, however, Commerford climbed onto the scaffolding of the set. Commerford and his bodyguard were sentenced to a night in jail and de la Rocha reportedly left the awards after the stunt. Morello recalled that Commerford relayed his plan to the rest of the band before the show, and that both de la Rocha and Morello advised him against it immediately after Bizkit was presented the award.
On October 18, 2000, de la Rocha released a statement announcing his departure from the band. He said, "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." "There was so much squabbling over everything", explained Morello, "and I mean everything. We would even have fist fights over whether our T-shirts should be mauve or camouflaged! It was ridiculous. We were patently political, internally combustible. It was ugly for a long time".
After the group's breakup, Morello, Wilk, and Commerford decided to stay together and find a new vocalist. "There was talk for a while of us becoming Ozzy Osbourne's backing band, and even Macy Gray's", said Morello. "We informed them that losing our singer was actually a blessing in disguise, and that we had bigger ambitions than being somebody's hired musicians." They eventually teamed up with then-former Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell to form Audioslave. The first Audioslave single, "Cochise", was released in early November 2002, and a self-titled debut album followed to mainly positive reviews. Compared to Rage Against the Machine, most of Audioslave's music was apolitical, although some songs touched on political issues. Their second album Out of Exile debuted at the number one position on the Billboard charts in 2005. Audioslave released its third album Revelations on September 5, 2006, but an accompanying tour did not occur as Cornell and Morello were working on solo albums. After months of inactivity and rumors of a breakup, Audioslave disbanded on February 15, 2007, after Cornell announced he was leaving the band.
Members of the band had been offered large sums of money to reunite for concerts and tours, and had turned the offers down. Rumors of tension between de la Rocha and the other former band members subsequently circulated, but Commerford said that he and de la Rocha saw each other often and went surfing together, while Morello said he and de la Rocha communicated by phone, and had met up at a September 15, 2005 protest in support of the South Central Farm.
Rumors that Rage Against the Machine could reunite at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival were circulating in mid-January 2007, and were confirmed on January 22. The band was confirmed to be headlining the final day of Coachella 2007. The reunion was described by Morello as primarily being a vehicle to voice the band's opposition to the "right-wingpurgatory" the United States has "slid into" under the George W. Bush administration since Rage Against the Machine's dissolution. Though the performance was initially thought to be a one-off, this turned out not to be the case.
On April 14, 2007, Morello and de la Rocha reunited onstage early to perform a brief acoustic set at a Coalition of Immokalee Workers rally in downtown Chicago. Morello described the event as "very exciting for everybody in the room, myself included". This was followed by the scheduled Coachella performance on Sunday, April 29 where the band staged a much anticipated performance in front of an EZLN backdrop to the largest crowds of the festival.
There are no plans to do that ... That's a whole other ball of wax right there. Writing and recording albums is a whole different thing than getting back on the bike (laughs), you know, and playing these songs. But I think that the one thing about the Rage catalog is that to me none of it feels dated. You know, it doesn't feel at all like a nostalgia show. It feels like these are songs that were born and bred to be played now.
Morello declined to comment about the possibility of a new album when interviewed by MTV News in April 2008. In July 2008, it was revealed that de la Rocha had begun a new project called One Day as a Lion with drummer Jon Theodore formerly of The Mars Volta, with an eponymous EP released on July 22, 2008.
In August 2008, de la Rocha revealed his take on the possibility of new material:
We're going to keep playing shows – we have a couple of big ones happening in front of both conventions. As far as us recording music in the future, I don't know where we all fit with that. We've all embraced each other's projects and support them, and that's great.
In August 2008, during the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Rage headlined the free Tent State Music Festival to End the War. The band was supported by Flobots, State Radio, Jello Biafra, and Wayne Kramer. Following the concert, the band, following uniformed veterans from Iraq Veterans Against the War, led the 8,000 attendees to the Denver Coliseum on a 6-mile march to Invesco Field, host of the DNC. After a 4-hour stand-off with police, Obama's campaign agreed to meet with members of Iraq Veterans Against the War and hear their demands.
In September 2008, Rage performed at the Target Center in Minneapolis during the Republican National Convention. The previous day, they attempted to play a surprise set at a free anti-RNC concert at the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul, but were prevented from doing so by the police. Instead, de la Rocha and Morello rapped and sang through a megaphone. Later that evening, Morello and Boots Reilly joined up with Billy Bragg and Jim Walsh for a three-hour jam session at Pepitos Parkway theater in south Minneapolis.
In December 2008, Tom Morello revealed that Rage Against the Machine shows in 2009 were a possibility, although plans for the band to record a new studio album were very unlikely. When asked by Billboard.com whether they planned to head to the studio in 2009, Morello stated: "we've had a wonderful year and a half of playing shows, and I don't see any reason to not play more shows. The thing is there's only so many hours in the musical day, and mine are very occupied right now".
Morello elaborated that the Nightwatchman is now "my principal musical focus, as I see it, for the remainder of my life. From the earliest days of playing open mic nights at coffee houses, it was apparent to me that this music was as important to me as any music I've ever been involved in. It really encapsulates everything I want to do as an artist." He repeated this point in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
However, after the "Rage Factor" celebratory show in Finsbury Park on June 6, 2010, after the campaign to get "Killing in the Name" to the No. 1 spot on Christmas, Zack de la Rocha stated that it was a "genuine possibility". Stating that they may use the momentum from the campaign to get back into the studio and write a follow-up record to 2000s Renegades after 10 years. When talking to NME, Zack de la Rocha said: "I think it's a genuine possibility, We have to get our heads around what we're going to do towards the end of the year and finish up on some other projects and we'll take it from there."
2009–2015: "Killing in the Name" campaign, European tour, and L.A. Rising
We're very very ecstatic and excited about the song reaching the number one spot. We want to thank everyone that participated in this incredible, organic, grass-roots campaign. It says more about the spontaneous action taken by young people throughout the UK to topple this very sterile pop monopoly. When young people decide to take action they can make what's seemingly impossible, possible.
The band also set a new record, achieving the biggest download sales total in a first week ever in the UK charts. de la Rocha also promised the band would perform a free concert in the UK sometime in 2010 to celebrate the achievement. True to their word, the band announced that they would be performing a free concert at Finsbury Park, London on June 6, 2010. The concert, dubbed "The Rage Factor", gave away all the tickets by free photo registration to prevent touting over the weekend of the February 13–14, followed by an online lottery on February 17. This proved to be popular, with many users facing connection issues. The tickets were all allocated by 13:30 that same day. After allowing ticket holders to vote for who they wanted to be the support acts for "The Rage Factor", it was announced that
Gogol Bordello, Gallows and Roots Manuva would support Rage Against the Machine at the concert.
In addition to the free gig at Finsbury Park, the band headlined European festivals in June 2010 including the Download Festival at Donington Park, England, Rock am Ring and Rock im Park in Germany and Rock in Rio Madrid in Spain.
They also performed in Ireland on June 8 and the Netherlands on June 9. Zack de la Rocha had stated that it was a definite possibility that the band would record a new album, the first time since 2000's Renegades. Morter confirmed this, stating the discussions he and the band had backstage before the Finsbury Park gig saying the band did write new material, but they had no motivation to release them until now. de la Rocha mentioned the very strong reaction from the Download Festival 2010 audience as an incentive for releasing new material. In addition, the band returned to Los Angeles on July 23, 2010 for their first U.S. show in two years and their first hometown show in 10 years. The concert benefited Arizona organizations that are fighting the SB1070 immigration law. On the night of the show, a spokesperson announced to the crowd that ticket sales—all of which are non-profit to the bands—had raised $300,000. The band has been confirmed to do a short South American tour in October, performing at venues such as the SWU Festival in Brazil, the Maquinaria Festival in Chile, and Pepsi Music Festival in Argentina. It was the first time the band played in those countries.
During an interview with the Chilean newspaper La Tercera in October 2010, de la Rocha allegedly confirmed that a new album was in the works, with a possibility of a 2011 release. De la Rocha is reported as saying, "We are all bigger and more mature and we do not fall into the problems we faced 10 or 15 years ago. This is different and we project a lot: we are working on a new album due out next year, perhaps summer for the northern hemisphere". However, in early May 2011, guitarist Tom Morello said that the band were not working on a new album, but would not rule out the possibility of future studio work. "The band is not writing songs, the band is not in the studio", Morello told The Pulse of Radio. "We get along famously and we all, you know, intend to do more Rage Against the Machine stuff in the future, but beyond sort of working out a concert this year, there's nothing else on the schedule (for 2011)". The band created its own festival, the L.A. Rising. As Morello stated, the only Rage Against the Machine appearance for 2011 was a performance on July 30 at the L.A. Rising festival with El Gran Silencio, Immortal Technique, Lauryn Hill, Rise Against and Muse. As of mid-2012, there are no plans for any more shows. During an interview on July 30, 2011, Commerford seemingly contradicted Morello's comments, stating that new material was being written, and specific plans for the next two years were in place.
In an October 2012 interview with TMZ, bassist Tim Commerford was asked if Rage Against the Machine was working on a new album. He simply responded, "maybe". Asked by TMZ again in November 2012 whether a new album was being worked on, Commerford replied "definitely maybe ... anything's possible". Later that month, however, Morello denied that they were working on new material, and stated that Rage Against the Machine has "no plans beyond" the reissue of their self-titled debut album. Morello said he would be open to recording new Rage Against the Machine material, but added that it was "not on the table right now".
The band announced on October 9 via their Facebook page that they would be releasing a special 20th anniversary box set to commemorate the group's debut album. The full box set contains never-before-released concert material, including the band's 2010 Finsbury Park show and footage from early in their career, as well as a digitally-remastered version of the album, b-sides and the original demo tape (on disc for the first time). The band released 3-disc and single-disc versions. The collection was released on November 27.
On April 30, 2014, drummer Brad Wilk stated that Rage Against the Machine's 2011 performance at L.A. Rising may have been their final show. In February 2015, Tim Commerford precised that uncertainty was typical of the band's functioning, speculating: "It could be tomorrow; it could be 10 years from now".
On October 16, 2015, the 2010 gig in Finsbury Park was released as a DVD and Blu-ray called Live at Finsbury Park.
2016–present: Prophets of Rage
In May 2016, the band launched a countdown website, prophetsofrage.com, with a clock counting down to June 1. Accompanying the clock was an image of a broken slash through a circle with silhouettes of five people all extending their arms and clenched fists with the hashtag "#takethepowerback" underneath the timer. This led to speculation of the return of the band later in the year. However, a source close to Rage Against the Machine told Rolling Stone that the Prophets of Rage website had nothing do with the announcement of a "Rage-specific reunion", but added that "some of the members" of the band were working on a project that would include live shows. It was later confirmed that Prophets of Rage were a new supergroup formed by Morello, Wilk and Commerford, with Chuck D of Public Enemy and B-Real of Cypress Hill. The band toured through the remainder of 2016 and played the songs of the three bands in which the members of this group participated in before.
Despite Morello, Wilk and Commerford's involvement in Prophets of Rage, Commerford confirmed in an interview with Rolling Stone that Rage Against the Machine has not split up, explaining, "We just do things our own way. Throughout our career, we never did what anyone wanted us to do. We never made the records people wanted us to make. We never played by the rules people wanted us to play by. And here we are, 25 years later, still a band. Clearly that means something. And if we did ever play or make new music or anything, it would be a very big deal. And there's a lot of bands that I've seen come along during that 25-year period that did everything the record companies and the powers-that-be wanted them to do, and they sold millions of records. But where are they now? They're gone." Morello added, "Right now ... the cold embers of Rage Against the Machine are now the burning fire of Prophets of Rage. Where Rage Against the Machine lives, is this summer in these songs that we are playing. And we have nothing but the greatest love and honor and respect for Zack de la Rocha, the brilliant lyricist of Rage Against the Machine, who is working on his own music, which I'm sure will be fantastic—he's a great artist in his own right. But where you're going to hear Rage Against the Machine is in Prophets of Rage."