“The electric guitar is an instrument that doesn’t just have a past; it has a future,” Tom Morello told NME ahead of the release of ‘The Atlas Underground Fire’ earlier this year. Recorded over lockdown, the solo album saw the Rage Against The Machine guitarist team up with a whole host of established scene legends (Bring Me The Horizon, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Bruce Springsteen) and a few lesser-known artists (including Palestinian DJ Sama’ Abdulhadi) to create a focused, evolved rock record.
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Now, seven weeks later, Morello is back with sister album ‘The Atlas Underground Flood’. Inspired by The Clash’s iconic 1979 double album ‘London Calling’, part two doesn’t have a mission statement, just a loose concept. It is, according to Morello, a record where “artistic intent supersedes genre”.
If you want to know what he means by that, you only need to look as far as the opening song. ‘A Radical In The Family’ features Dutch DJ San Holo and is a warped, progressive house track. Across the instrumental number, the pair conjure sadness, euphoria and escape. You wouldn’t know Morello was even involved unless you were told.
Likewise, ‘Human’, led by the British-born songwriter Barns Courtney, is confident and radio-friendly, more akin to Bastille’s millennial art-pop than the snarling fury of Morello’s day job. The closing ‘Warrior Spirit’ is an urgent, flamenco-inspired jam session featuring Mexican instrumentalists Rodrigo Y Gabriela. ‘Flood’ might be bold, brilliant and surprising, but Morello’s involvement is often subtle.
Yet ‘Hard Times’, with Americana don Nathaniel Ratecliff, is a politicised rock‘n’roll rager – and exactly what you’d expect Rage Against The Machine to sound like in 2021, if they were ever to get into the studio. Similarly, ‘Raising Hell’, with multi-instrumentalist Ben Harper, echoes the folk protest music Morello makes as The Nightwatchman.
Elsewhere techno meets nu-metal on ‘Ride At Dawn’, as producer BreakCode helps Morello create a riotous, club-ready banger that goes hard, then harder while ‘The Lost Cause’ is an ethereal, emo track that features cult indie band Manchester Orchestra. Even IDLES, perhaps the least surprising guests on ‘Flood’, embrace the unpredictable nature of the record with ‘The Bachelor’. The snarling punk number is driven by their usual vitriol but also takes in grunge and noise-rock. Morello is an inspired curator who can coax artists from their comfort zones.
More experimental than ‘Fire’, ‘Flood’ finds Tom Morello out to prove that, just like his beloved electric guitar, he has a fascinating future indeed.
Release date: December 3
Record label: Mom + Pop