Is it hip-metal or heavy-hop? Whatever you call it, the music on Evil Empire, the second album from Rage Against the Machine, is undeniably potent, sort of like Pantera for homeboys. Although cross-fertilization between rap and rock has been taking place since the days of Run-D.M.C.'s ''Rock Box,'' a wholly successful merger seems to have eluded almost everyone, with the exception of the Beastie Boys. RATM's sample-free fusing of the two disparate yet compatible styles into one tightly wrapped, visceral package may finally change that.
Much of the credit for the album's invigorating sonic kick must go to guitarist Tom Morello, who embellishes his killer riffs with an ear-grabbing array of effects. In Morello's hands, guitars blare and grind and clang, they shriek and whir and go bang-shang-a-lang; Jimi Hendrix, granddaddy of guitar tricknology, would be proud. Adding to the excitement is the pumped-up bravado with which vocalist Zack de la Rocha delivers his politically charged, if somewhat opaque, tirades. Even if it's not always clear just what de la Rocha is so upset about, the power and fury of the music comes through louder than bombs.