Audioslave’s Rick Rubin-produced debut, released in 2002, was a landmark effort for several reasons. For one, it ushered in the rise of the supergroup era, as Chris Cornell joined forces with Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk. But more importantly, it was an absolute monster of a rock record, teaming Zeppelin-esque swagger with grunge’s serrated edge and Morello’s off-the-wall guitar solos.
After a rocky start – the band split up and reformed before they even played a show – the group’s debut effort was trailed by the release of lead single Cochise, which was steamrollered into public consciousness by one of Tom Morello’s all-time great hooks, and one widely heralded as one of the best riffs of the 21st century.
Yet that riff had been waiting on the sidelines for six years before it finally wound up on Audioslave’s debut. Its first outing was never officially released, and it was under a Morello banner you might not be familiar with.
Formed in 1995 and named after the ’70s militant organization, Weatherman was an underground side-project featuring Morello alongside singer Vic Bondi, of Chicago politi-punks Articles of Faith. Very little else is known about the lineup, but its formation took place during the four-year wait between RATM’s debut and its 1996 followup, Evil Empire, which found the band’s members pursuing “different interests” (opens in new tab) in between recording sessions. Bondi later revealed Weatherman was funded by RATM’s record label (opens in new tab), Sony, who were presumably hoping for something to release as they waited for Rage to finish their sophomore effort.
Although the project was short-lived, its impact would prove to be long-lasting: the writing sessions for the three tracks eventually committed to tape spawned a number of riffs that would later feature on the debut Audioslave record – chiefly Cochise, which was then known as Enola Gay, after the aircraft that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
Though the recordings never surfaced via official channels, they eventually leaked onto the web, enabling us to hear Morello’s dry run for his future supergroup.
Enola Gay begins with a fat low E and violent string scrapes before everything stops to make way for that pentatonic riff. Bondi’s lower-range vocal performance doesn’t match Cornell’s Whole Lotta Love-esque wail, but the verse is unmistakably Cochise.
The track’s chorus and solo are again very different to Audioslave’s effort, further embellishing on the low-key intro, but another familiar riff crops up to close – this time The Narrows, from RATM’s 1991 demo tape.
It’s a concept of riff recycling that provides a through-line from Weatherman to Audioslave. Another track from the sessions, Drop, serves up supersized drop-B riffs that would feature in ’slave’s What You Are and Shadow on the Sun. (Action Man (opens in new tab), the final song from the sessions, has yet to have any of its irresistible grooves reused – watch this space.)
But it’s the Cochise/Enola Gay riff that’s gone down in history – and perhaps that’s in part because it reminds us of other classic head-bangers: over the years, fans have pointed out its similarities to Pantera’s I’m Broken, Led Zeppelin’s The Ocean and even Soundgarden’s Get on the Snake, not to mention Morello’s own riff for Your Time Has Come, which opens Audioslave’s 2005 followup, Out of Exile.
The track’s legacy, however, is entirely its own. Tony Iommi, one of Morello’s personal riff lords, named Cochise his favorite of the 21st century, and it ranks highly in lists to this day.
A regular show closer during Audioslave’s initial tenure, the track’s final performance took place on January 20 2017 during Prophets of Rage’s Anti-Inaugural Ball at LA’s Teragram Ballroom. It was the band’s first performance in 12 years and prompted talks of a reunion tour, but tragically Chris Cornell would take his life just four months later.
While the song’s origins lie elsewhere, Cochise has come to represent both the birth and the epitaph of Morello’s musical relationship with Cornell – and it all started with that riff.
“Cochise was the introduction to Audioslave, where Chris Cornell, Tim, Brad and I came together,” Tom Morello told Kerrang! (opens in new tab) in 2021. “Plus, it features one of my favourite riffs that I’ve ever written.
“It was Chris’s outrageously spectacular and terrifying voice, and his rock-god presence matched up with us three players. It was such a great way to show that band to the world.”