December 6, 2002

Audioslave: Giants Collide

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Finally our salivating mouths have been satiated; the long wait is over! On November 19th Audioslave released their first album, Audioslave, after several conflicts among rival record companies, a last minute withdrawal from Ozzfest 2002, a break up that lasted just a few months, and a name change from Civilian to Audioslave — not exactly the best name alteration; Civilian better characterizes their music while Audioslave seems superficially general.

The union of ex-Soundgarden front-man Chris Cornell and the former Rage Against the Machine — minus Zack de la Rocha — sounds so unorthodox that it’s perfect. With a little help from producer legend Rick Rubin, Audioslave navigates through uncharted territory pretty damn well on their badass self-titled debut.

The formation of this super-group was unexpected by fans. But it seems only natural for the paths of bands with similar histories to converge at some point. Soundgarden, one of the founders (along with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains) of the grunge movement that gave Seattle notoriety in something other than coffee, shocked fans when they broke up in 1996 after their fifth album, Down on the Upside. Characterized by Kim Thayil’s savage guitars and Chris Cornell’s howling, fierce voice, Soundgarden became one of the most influential bands of the early ’90s blending metal with lyrical imagery — as in their breakthrough hit “Black Hole Sun.”

Rage Against the Machine was also a pioneer (and frankly the best) of their genre , which is comprised of elements of both rap and metal. Rage was one of the few groups which possessed a clear message and sought to open the public’s eyes to social and political injustice. Rage’s fans were also shocked to hear of Zack de la Rocha’s exit in 2001 after their third effort, Battle for L.A.

Audioslave will not disappoint fans of either Rage or Soundgarden. The eponymous album is a collection of high energy songs combining Cornell’s massive voice with Tom Morello’s signature DJ-esque scratching guitar style. In fact, at some points the presence and performance of Cornell and Morello overwhelm the rest of the group — giving the impression of a duet rather than a quartet. That is not to say the rest of the band is insignificant; Timmy Commerford and Brad Wilk get the job done remarkably well considering the new path the group has taken; Cornell and Morello are simply highlighted on more of the album.

Audioslave demonstrates an overall improvement in the ex-Rage members’ musical talent. To accommodate Chris Cornell’s vocals, they focus on melody and — as Timmy C put it in an Audioslave interview — “chord progression,” for which Rage was definitely not known. Surprisingly, although sometimes unrefined and rigid as in the grossly out-of-tune “Bring Em Back Alive,” the band manages to compliment Cornell’s voice. Tom Morello not only adds an occasional acoustic riff, but also impressively diverges from past stiff song structures and instead creates climactic solos comprised of eclectic and fantastic sounds on every track.

After listening to the CD, fans will certainly feel the passion Audioslave put into recording their music. There’s a song for every mood on this album — no doubt a testament to the creativity behind the music and band.

While the influence of Rage Against the Machine slightly graces the album, “Cochise,” the first single of Audioslave is really the only song that critics can claim sounds like the mere replacement of Zack de la Rocha with Chris Cornell. Though an example of Audioslave’s hard edge, it definitely does not do the rest of the album justice. Chris Cornell not only adds ferocious vocals — which by itself is a whole new instrument for the band to play with — he also changes the band’s direction and gives them his own personal and reflective perspective. Cornell made it clear to the rest of the band he was not going to sing about politics and social injustices. “Show Me how to Live,” and “Like a Stone,” particularly represent the new direction in which he steers the band; the first track seemingly alludes to some sort of spiritual dilemma while the second is a rumination on death. Slower songs on Audioslave such as “Getaway Car” and “The Last Remaining Light” — arguably the best song on the LP — further eliminate any trace and influence of previous Rage recordings.

Audioslave blends different kinds of musical influences to form their distinctive style; reaching from funk in such songs as “Set it Off” and “Exploder” — another one of the album’s strongest — to metal, and even electronica, as evident in the hip beats and sound effects of “Hypnotize.”

For you fans of either Soundgarden or Rage Against the Machine (or for that matter, for those of you who are fed up with the cheap garbage that seems to be taking over the radio) and are looking for a new, decent rock album, Audioslave is a must have.

Archived article by Paul Albini