One Day as a Lionby One Day as a Lion
Here it is...finally. One Day as a Lion are Zack de la Rocha, lead vocalist (and current as of July 2008) for Rage Against the Machine, and Jon Theodore, former drummer with the Mars Volta. De la Rocha and Theodore have been reportedly working on this project since 2006. The end result is a volatile mix of rhythm, noise, and radical poetry. De la Rocha is no stranger to the great political poets; his brand of rapping and freestyling has always been saturated with their influence as well as his own constantly evolving political thought. Many of these writers are cited in the set's acknowledgements -- Jimmy Santiago Baca, Amiri Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, and Junot Diaz, to name just four. The name of the band comes from a near mythic photograph by the great George Rodriguez published in 1970: "It's better to live one day as a lion, than a thousand years as a lamb." The slogan is a tag centered in a frame on a white wall in Boyle Heights. Knowing this, you might believe you have an idea of what these songs are about, but you'd be wrong; you only think you do. Yes, these five songs, clocking in at just over 20 minutes, are an intense racket of sociopolitical noise. Theodore's drums add the taut, tightly wound pulse of the lion, the phrase, the breath, the heart of the sound, while de la Rocha's keyboards blurt, pulse, and skronk a post-9/11 warning siren throughout. Some nonsense has been made of this entire project being influenced by Led Zeppelin -- that seems to be the thing to write in 2008. Truth is, one track, "Ocean View," touches on Zep's mighty tune "The Ocean" in the melody of its refrain, but its lyrical content is in stark, even violent contrast to the former hard rock heroes as de la Rocha spits atop some mighty organic beats and squalling synths: ."..Oceans of tears now rise aflame to tear them down/Oceans of past crimes now fill our hearts to tear them down...." It's poetry, it's political, it's mysterious -- until you sit down and let this killer track knock you flat on your back with its rage, power, and knowledge of reckoning. The rest you are going to have to check out, save to say that all five of these cuts are essential, pure kinetic anger motivated by love for people (to paraphrase Che Guevara). This is a five-cut call to arms. No matter what ultimately happened with One Day as a Lion, we now have this document, perfect in its short sparking length and raucous in its truth. Twenty minutes? How long was the first Sex Pistols album, 30 with some filler? How long was Grandmaster Flash's "The Message"? Eight? There isn't any filler here; it's all the aural ignition of a gasoline bomb going off in your ears.
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The album by itself is alright. I would much rather put on some Rage or Mars Volta, but this isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination. It sounds like a less-armed early Rage to me. Read my detailed review to kind of get a better idea of how I feel.
Finally, we get a glimpse into De La Rocha's M.I.A. years. In spite of rumored collab albums with the likes of Roni Size and Trent Reznor, we only saw a few singles coming out from him every now and then,and fans had little to no idea exactly what he was up to. This albums proof he had not been resting on his laurels, letting skills stagnate or playing fruitlessly. One Day As A Lion clearly highlights his continuing evolution as writer and musician. I should also credit the better half of the equation, ex-The Mars Volta's genius drummer Jon Theodore, for bringing out Zach's more experimental side. Although we don't get much opportunity here to hear Theodore indulge himself in powerful solos, he more than contributes his share collaboratively. Also interesting is the unique sound developed in the album, as Zach eschews the guitars for a beatup and powerful organ, to great effect. AS a whole, the album sounds like what it is: Rage's vocalist playing around with Mars Volta-ish (actually, more At The Drive-In-ish) sounds. I don't mind so much the brevity of the album, as it feels so tight and well put together as a whole as well as individually. Rage/Volta fans will really get into this social experiment, perhaps the only one we'll get to see among the many Zach had tried out. Kudos to Anti records for allowing all songs full streaming in the official website as well as on the Myspace page. We may not know if they will ever perform these live, or if they'll even get back together again, but this is one fine album all on its own.