Tom Morello – ‘The Atlas Underground Fire’ review: guitar hero pushes the boundaries of rock

In a genre often resistant to change, the former Rage Against the Machine shredder has embraced pop, psych and Palestinian techno

Tom Morello wants to prove the electric guitar has a future. In the ’90s, his squawking, snarling riffs made political rockers Rage Against The Machine sound like the very revolution they were singing about, but in later years, his iconic style hadn’t really evolved.

Proof of that came with his 2018 album ‘The Atlas Underground’. The first record released under his own name, it saw him play along to a variety of thundering EDM tracks that only highlighted just how trapped in the past those big rock riffs were. Likewise, 2017’s self-titled Prophets of Rage album (a supergroup featuring three-quarters of RATM, fronted by Cypress Hill’s B-Real and Public Enemy’s Chuck D) was more an exercise in nostalgia than radical forward momentum.

And at first glance, new album ‘The Atlas Underground Fire’ seemed like it was going to be more of the same. The first single saw Morello team up with fellow middle-aged rockers Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder for a cover of AC/DC’s dad-rock classic ‘Highway To Hell’, as they became the best pub covers band you’d ever heard. But after one nod to the past, Morello’s new album charges towards the future.

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He’s teamed up with the very best in forward-facing heavy music (Grandson, Bring Me The Horizon) and challenging himself with collaborations with pop stars (Mike Posner), psych-rock duos (Phantogram) and even Palestinian techno (Sama’ Abdulhadi). ‘The Atlas Underground Fire’ sounds like the definitive mixtape of future rock & roll, with Morello’s gnarly riffs very much a part of that progression.

The Grandson-led ‘Hold The Line’ is an anthem of rebellion, all snarling battlecries and abrasive guitar licks. ‘The Achilles List’ (featuring Damian Marley) is the closest the record gets to vintage Morello, but the bouncing riffs and spat social commentary feels very 2021, while ‘Save Our Souls’ (fronted by Refused’s Dennis Lyxzén) is polished hardcore.

‘On The Shore Of Eternity’, a dynamic album closer with Sama’ Abdulhadi, is a hypnotic, cinematic instrumental track that’s unlike anything Morello has put his name to in the past. In fact, it’s unlike anything released this year.

And that’s what’s so brilliant about ‘The Atlas Underground Fire’. There are subtle nods to what’s come before, but for the most part, this record sees Morello adapt with the times to create a record on the cutting-edge of a genre often afraid to evolve.

Details

Release date: October 15

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Record label: Mom + Pop

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