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Swan-song from American rock gods channels Led Zeppelin and Free
on 9 August 2007
Audioslave might reasonably have been forgiven for imagining a conspiracy amongst the world's press to put an end to them. Dogged by breakup rumours since their inception and bedevilled by comparisons to their members' old bands, they finally splintered back into their component parts early in 2007. Before that, though, they cheerfully soldiered through a slew of live dates around the world which established them in the minds of fans, if not of journalists, as a coherent musical force.
They also produced a thoughtful and exploratory sophomore album in 2005's Out of Exile. Although often exciting and surprising it felt transitional, as thought the band were hunting down a new aesthetic which would finally lay the ghosts of Soundgarden and Rage Against The Machine.
It's a shame that this album turned out to be the band's swan-song - because Revelations establishes Audioslave's coherence through a brutally succinct reinterpretation of sounds that probably shaped the band's own musical vocabulary. Lead-off single "Original Fire" recalls rock's glory days over a hard, funky Motown stomp, but strip away the sonic shell and what's left inside sounds like a Springsteen "Nebraska"-era mood-piece.
The other eleven tracks run the gamut of emotional fuel from anger ("Revelations") to agony ("Nothing Left To Say But Goodbye"), but the ferocious musical assault seldom lets up. Tracks such as "Somedays" and "Jewel Of The Summertime" are among the heaviest tracks the band has recorded, although this is very far from mindless riffing. The language Audioslave speak here is elastically blues-based, recalling classic 70s rock bands like Free and Led Zeppelin - although the Commerford/Wilk rhythm section can get unexpectedly funky and Tom Morello's trademark atonality often veers towards violence.
There's an old-school soul influence, too, especially in Chris Cornell's vocal for the bitter "One And The Same". With Atlanta-based producer Brendan O'Brien at the helm in place of Rick Rubin, Revelations's sound is more cohesive, with layered vocals and tightly-controlled arrangements contributing to the music's determined power and impact.
Lyrically the album is more sinister than its predecessor, embracing both the personal and the political in a dystopian view of dark days ahead. Although "Wide Awake" is a frank indictment of US government inaction post-Katrina, songs such as "Broken City" and "Sound Of A Gun" touch upon the kind of fears we all have for the future in an increasingly brutal culture.
It's not all gloom, though; in "Moth", ex-addict Cornell paints a realistic picture of recovery and "Until We Fall" cautiously intimates that some scars can heal.