In an age when the Internet search engine wields great power, choosing a title like Revelations is no small risk for Audioslave. A Google search for “Revelations” initially brings up references to “The Book of Revelation,” the chapter of the Bible that describes the end of the world. You won’t find scriptural verse in Audioslave’s Revelations, but you will find a soaring testament to the redemptive power of rock and soul. Audioslave most likely intends the title to refer to the definition that means “newly revealed information,” and on that front Revelations stands as a flaming bush atop the mount.
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If Audioslave initially was stitched together as something of an alternative rock Frankenstein—a renown singer joins a renown singerless-band—this monster now has a life of its own and Revelations puts that history into back-story. This album is full of experimentation and fresh direction, while at the same time it exudes the kind of poise that could only come from pedigreed-veterans of stadium tours. Not all of Revelations easily fits into the alternative rock pigeonhole, as several songs experiment with rhythmic change-ups. Some of the singing is soulful, there are songs that are funky, and others that are anthematic, though it all adds up to a powerhouse rock record.
Though Audioslave have only been a unit for five years, and Revelations is just their third album, this is the work of a band more mature than that short span might indicate. The full Audioslave history, of course, goes back two decades and embraces two family trees. One begins in the nascent days of the early Seattle music scene of the mid-eighties when singer Chris Cornell was a high school kid fronting a cutting-edge group called Soundgarden. Cornell played with Soundgarden for more than a dozen years, and they produced five studio albums and several EPs before they broke up in 1997. A 2003 MTV poll ranked Cornell as one of the greatest vocalists in music — just behind Michael Jackson and ahead of Eminem.
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In 2001 producer Rick Rubin suggested that Cornell consider hooking up with Rage Against the Machine, who had lost their lead singer the previous year. Rage had their own storied past, and over the course of four albums they had proven that a popular rock bands could operate with a powerful political message at its center. They are the only band to ever have shut down the New York Stock Exchange (they were filming a Michael Moore-directed video and the brokers feared there would be a riot). Their 1996 self-titled debut was a watershed album, and one that challenged the complacency of the music industry and of hard rock at the time. Over the course of four albums, Rage established a reputation as the thinking fan’s hard rock bands.
The pairing of Cornell with Rage’s guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford, and drummer Brad Wilk, proved to be something just short of genius, and Audioslave was formed. When the foursome first went into the studio in May 2001, they wrote 21 songs in 19 days. Audioslave, their debut album released on November 19, 2002, went on to sell five million copies worldwide. The band’s first single, “Cochise,” was followed by “Like a Stone,” and “Show Me How to Live,” all featuring a sound that is at once huge, but also intimate. That seems be one of Audioslave’s gifts: Their songs are filled with enough huge hooks to rock a stadium, but there is also a subtle magic to their sound can’t easily be charted.
Some of that is the wizardry of guitarist Tom Morello, who may be the only Harvard-educated rocker to have ever stood naked on stage at Lollapalooza (in a 1993 protest against censorship). On Revelations he expands his always-innovative runs with a style that is both brainy and heartfelt. Morello is himself no stranger to best-of polls: Rolling Stone ranked him twenty-sixth in their list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all-time. That honor looks more impressive when one observes that he was ranked just behind Freddy King, and ahead of Buddy Guy, and that Morello was one of the youngest players honored.
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Commerford and Wilk also spread out on Revelations, particularly on “Broken City” and “Original Fire,” heretofore unexplored uptempo avenues for Audioslave. As Morello recently told one interviewer, “Tim and Brad are just a ferociously funky rhythm section.” But make no mistake that Revelations is a unmistakably a rock album, with ferocity being the element that ties the twelve songs together. “If you want your ass kicked, you’ve come to the right place,” Morello warns.
Brendan O’Brien, whose history with Audioslave and its members stretches back years, produced Revelations. O’Brien mixed Audioslave’s last album, 2005’s Out of Exile, and mixed Soundgarden’s 1994 disc, Superunknown, plus he produced two of Rage Against the Machine’s albums, Evil Empire and The Battle of Los Angeles. Sessions for Revelations lasted just five weeks as most of the songs had been previously honed in live performance.
In 2005, Audioslave released their second album, Out of Exile which debuted at No. 1 on the charts, and went on to sell over two million copies worldwide. Out of Exile spawned several singles including the smash “Doesn’t Remind Me.”
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Audioslave’s last official release was a DVD of their historic 2005 concert in Havana, the first time an American rock band had played a show in Cuba. For musicians who have always made social activism an important part of their life, on and offstage, Revelations also represents a more overtly politic Audioslave, particularly on the song “Wide Awake.” This scathing condemnation of the Bush administration’s failures may tie together the heart and soul of Revelations. Using the kind of dark imagery that truly suggests the end of days, Cornell rails against a leader who is “trading lives for oil as if the whole world was blind.” With the power of Morello’s guitar, and the driving beat set by Wilk and Commerford, Cornell roars, “I find you guilty of a crime of sleeping at a time when you should have been wide awake.” It is a chorus that could have come straight out of “The Book of Revelation,” and one that we can only hope is not an apocalyptic prophesy.
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