Rage Against the Machine was one of the best bands of the 1990's, but when they called it quits in 2000, it seemed like an appropriate time, as they seemed to have explored almost everything they could do in the rock/rap genre. It was exciting news when guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerfold, and drummer Brad Wilk announced they were reforming with Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell as the "supergroup" Audioslave. At a point when Creed and Limp Biskit ruled the rock radio airwaves, Audioslave's eponymous release gave these stations some needed quality.
If you could go into a laboratory to create the perfect hard rock singer, the result would be Cornell. The mix of his majestic pipes and heavy metal god-like looks, makes him the perfect choice to front a hard rock band. From the beginning, the name of the band and the CD cover art, made me a little queasy about Cornell's influence, but the music won out, as Audioslave's first release was one of the best of 2002.
The video to the first single, Cochise, was how a hard rock video should look and it didn't hurt that the song kicked harder than Ray Guy. Tom Morello's unique guitar style was abundant all over this release, especially on "Gasoline". The great rhythm section of Commerfold and Wilk were in fine form bringing their funky thud all over the record, while on "Light My Way", you got to hear what Rage would have sounded like if Cornell were just a hired gun. The former RATM members showed they could even provide a great backbeat to Cornell's bluesy ballad, "Getaway Car".
Considering that I felt the first Audioslave release was one of the best of 2002, I decided to go out and pick up their newest release, the first day it came out. Now I did have some trepidation about doing this, as the first single, "Be Yourself", I had listened to on MTV2 a few times the week prior, and was taken aback by how power ballad-ish the music was and how the lyrics seemed influenced by a Dr. Phil episode. Despite this initial reaction, I figured it was just a bad choice for the initial release.
Unfortunately, most of Audioslave's "Out of Exile" follows the "Be Yourself" example. From the cover art, which resembles a Ronnie James Dio album to the ridiculous lyrics which endlessly go over the sun, the waves, the clouds, it would appear that Cornell is in full control of the project. Black Hole Sun's and My Waves were great back in grunge era Soundgarden, but it's time to get past obsessing about the earth's elements. All the blame is not on Cornell, though, as the rest of the band rarely brings anything new to disc. Only some great licks on "Drown Me Slowly" and the dramatic passion displayed in "Heaven's Dead", saves this from being a snorefest.
Isn't it time to bring former RATM singer, Zach de la Rosa out of exile? Despite threatening a solo record since they broke up, only one movie soundtrack tune has hit the public from de la Rosa. It's like he's been hanging out in some rock and roll witness protection with Axl Rose. Isn't it ironic that when the band stops raging, the US undergoes a right-wing blast from Bush and his phony-crony crew. Just when the band would seem to be most needed, Zach is nowhere to be found and Tom is playing power chords behind "Be yourself is all that you can do." The first Audioslave release was a great change of pace, but guys, it's time to fight the powers that be.
Stepping into the void left by Rage, has been System of a Down. Coming out the week after "Out of Exile", System of a Down's "Mesmerize" just magnifies how weak Audioslave second release is. "Mesmerize" is the first of what will be 2 new releases in 2005 by SOAD and it just happens to be the best CD from start to finish, since Green Day's "American Idiot". The band manages to do something very difficult-- take on social and political issues, while still making dynamic music.
If you haven't heard System of a Down, before, listening to them is like hearing a mix tape scattered with early Metallica, Frank Zappa, Queen, and Primus. Kind of like a reuben sandwich, the ingredients don't seem to fit well together, but somehow, their merging flavors leave something delicious to consume. The standout song, "B.Y.O.B" is a brilliant mix of ideas, with a great anti-war message. Not since Midnight Oil's "Beds are Burning" has a tune been so catchy and subversive at the same time.
Overall I would rate "Mesmerize" an A, while "Out of Exile" gets a C-. In today's world of downloading, it's rare to have a need to purchase a whole disc, but System of a Down's "Mesmerize" is one of the exceptions.