TOM MORELLO

The At­las Un­der­ground BMG Ex-Rage Against The Ma­chine axe hero finds fer­tile new pas­tures

Metal Hammer (UK) - - Albums. Lives. Merch. - JOE DALY

In a world where the amount of at­ten­tion that you re­ceives de­pends on the ex­trem­ity of your opin­ions, there are few takes colder than the one declar­ing that “rock is dead”. Ut­ter non­sense. Rock, metal and vir­tu­ally all forms of mod­ern mu­sic have en­tered an ex­plo­sive new era where tra­di­tional in­stru­ments and tech­nol­ogy have col­lided with ex­hil­a­rat­ing re­sults, thanks largely to vi­sion­ary cre­atives like Tom Morello.

The former Rage Against The Ma­chine gui­tarist has cre­ated a body of mu­sic erupt­ing with bold ideas, fiery lyri­cism and his in­ex­tin­guish­able pas­sion for re­ject­ing all man­ners of sta­tus quo. And he’s im­pos­si­ble to pin down. In the wake of RATM’s rap-metal in­sur­rec­tion, Morello would in­dulge his sta­dium rock am­bi­tions with Au­dioslave and his in­ner Spring­steen in a se­ries of solo al­bums as The Night­watch­man. In 2016 he co-founded the RATM/hip hop su­per­group Prophets Of Rage, and along the way he’s worked with the likes of Linkin Park, Anti-Flag, Rise Against, Spring­steen and oth­ers. Be­yond his in­starecog­nis­able riffs, what unites these projects is an ag­gres­sive re­fusal to com­pro­mise any as­pect of his art. He be­lieves what he be­lieves, he plays what he plays and he doesn’t give a fly­ing fuck what you think.

Which brings us neatly to The At­las Un­der­ground, a glitzy show­case of Morello per­form­ing with a wide ar­ray of col­leagues from the worlds of hip hop, EDM and pop, in­clud­ing Mar­cus Mum­ford, Big Boi, Gary Clark Jr and Steve Aoki. At first pass, the al­bum feels like a shiny gag­gle of ul­tra-pol­ished pop songs. Re­peated spins, how­ever, re­veal a stun­ning range of depth. Bat­tle Sirens, the in­stru­men­tal opener, starts out with punchy Rage Against The Ma­chine-style riff­ing but when the synths kick in at about 1:40, you un­der­stand that we are time zones away from 90s rap rock. That said, his un­mis­tak­able riff­ing dom­i­nates bel­ters like Road­run­ner while on tracks like Where It’s At Ain’t What It Is, he uses his gui­tar to coax a spec­trum of scratches, pulses and bright dy­nam­ics.

Not every­thing lands. Find An­other Way is the kind of ear­worm you’ll spend days try­ing to ex­tin­guish but over­all, the ma­te­rial is am­bi­tious and in­tox­i­cat­ing. High­lights in­clude the supremely groovy Lucky One, with vo­cal­ist K Flay chan­nelling the smoky sen­su­al­ity of Wolf Alice and de­liv­er­ing a wickedly ad­dic­tive cho­rus. Also worth not­ing is How Long, a taut, pul­sat­ing jam fea­tur­ing Steve Aoki and Rise Against’s

Tim McIl­rath and Vig­i­lante Noc­turno, a quirky in­stru­men­tal that re­calls Morello’s 2001 col­lab­o­ra­tion with The Crys­tal Method.

The big­gest risk here is not that peo­ple won’t like it; it’s that peo­ple won’t re­ally care, and for a provo­ca­teur, in­dif­fer­ence is the worst kind of re­sponse. That would be a shame be­cause these songs are ab­surdly well-crafted and hooky as hell. You’re read­ing this in Metal Ham­mer so know that there’s zero metal on this al­bum and if metal is all you en­joy, then you won’t find any­thing here to like. But any fan of Tom Morello’s past projects or any­one with a mind open enough to ab­sorb new ideas and to maybe ex­pand their world­view will find a rich trove of new sounds, tex­tures and ideas. Set aside every­thing you think about mu­sic and give this a shot.

FOR FANS OF: RUN THE JEWELS, THE PRODIGY, THE CHAINSMOKERS

Tom Morello: a non-con­form­iston many lev­els

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