One Day as a Lion – a pairing of onetime Rage Against the Machine frontman Zack de la Rocha and former Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore – shoot first and ask questions later on their combustive debut. Though only consisting of five songs, One Day as a Lion makes up for its lack of length with a plethora of rebel-rock attitude, decrying war and political apathy with a mad desperation.
Potent Slogans Urgently Sung
In the nine years since the last Rage Against the Machine studio album, The Battle of Los Angeles, Zack de la Rocha has been mostly silent, and his enraged singing on One Day as a Lion reminds listeners what a potent frontman he was with his old band. Admittedly, as a lyricist he’s more of a sloganeer than an insightful poet, but lines like “Your god is a homeless assassin” (from “Last Letter”) have an evocative power from the way he hurls them like bombs from his mouth. As in the best Rage songs, de la Rocha mixes rap and hard rock in his vocals for One Day as a Lion, conjuring the haranguing fury of a protest rally. He remains an abrasive presence, but his urgent delivery is perfectly in keeping with the album’s seething discontent.
Loud as a Bomb
It’s impossible to imagine Rage Against the Machine without Tom Morello’s squealing guitars, and yet One Day as a Lion puts the emphasis on keyboards and drums. That doesn’t mean the album is a new wave record – to the contrary, the red-alert paranoia of the title track sounds like it’s constructed from a wall of guitars. Throughout One Day as a Lion, de la Rocha and Theodore call to mind the high anxiety of the Bomb Squad, the legendary production team behind Public Enemy’s seminal albums. Rage envisioned their songs as the sonic equivalent of a war zone, and One Day as a Lion continues that tradition.
Spare, Steely Music
One Day as a Lion is a model of taut songwriting. “If You Fear Dying” starts as a slow rumble before Theodore’s spare drums being to assert themselves into the mix, building tension that never gets released – perfect for a song about a coming apocalypse or political coup. On several tracks, Theodore serves the same function Morello used to in Rage, offering an instrumental counterpoint to de la Rocha’s rabble-rousing flow. When de la Rocha condemns the Iraq War in “Wild International,” Theodore pounds on the skins in such a way that his fills almost resemble guitar solos. One Day as a Lion can’t match the full-bodied assault of Rage, but its terse musicianship tears away the fat, reducing these songs to their spare, steely essence.
A Taste of Things to Come?
An argument could be made that One Day as a Lion is so strong because it’s only five songs long – it’s more of a taste than an entire meal. Perhaps, but what is here works extremely well. Zack de la Rocha may not be able to do anything about the corruption he sees around him, but to quote an apropos R.E.M. song, “I feel better having screamed, don’t you?”
“One Day as a Lion”
Best Tracks:“If You Fear Dying”
“One Day as a Lion”
Release date – July 22, 2008