RATM's astonishing debut album assessed

Rage Against The Machine is that rare thing: a protest band that isn’t faintly embarrassing. Although mainstream acceptance and chart success have taken the intimidating edge off their political rants – which target a vague combination of corporations and governments – there’s no denying the immense power of their music, and their often jaw-dropping musicianship.

As for the bass playing by Tim Commerford? Absolutely world-class. Although Commerford has had his ‘special’ moments (he once climbed a gantry during a TV awards show, disrupting the event) and is on a mildly unusual mission to cover as much of his epidermis as possible with blue ink, the way he approaches and delivers his bass parts is second to none. A fingerstyle player who somehow sounds as if he’s using a pick, he has a percussive, economical approach which everyone could learn from. On RATM’s self-titled debut album, the bass-lines were as prominent as Tom Morello’s equally innovative guitar parts, holding down the grooves with robotic accuracy and adding a flamboyant melodic twist from time to time.

The high points of Commerford’s bass tracks are many. The beginning of Rage’s best-known song, ‘Killing In The Name’, is a sinister E plus octave of F; the immense overdriven line at the end of ‘Know Your Enemy’ is unforgettable; and most awe-inspiringly, the whole of the song ‘Bullet In The Head’ is iconic to bass players. If you learn any of Rage’s bass parts, learn this song’s opening riff, which goes: five notes on E at the A string’s seventh fret, then a note on the open E, and then a simple chord made up of G# (sixth fret, D string) and D (seventh fret, G string).

At the end of the song there is a fantastic, spidery riff that descends from the octave of E down to the open E, and is so easy and satisfying to figure out that we’ll let you do the honors. What’s most amazing about this last riff is that Commerford plays it repeatedly with such consistency and accuracy that you’d think it was sampled and looped. Not a beat is off, not a fret buzz is heard. The guy is a genius.