When Creed's second album entered the charts at No. 1 last month, it was just the beginning of hard rock's fall offensive. Some of the most successful rock bands of the '90s release new albums this week, including Bush, Stone Temple Pilots and Rage Against the Machine, which appears tonight at the 9:30 club.

Rage Against the Machine Zack de la Rochaper cdnow may have written his most enduring refrain--the one that goes something like "Gosh no, I won't do what you tell me"--for his band's 1992 debut, but Rage Against the Machine's rhetorical power has only grown since then. De la Rocha still addresses the same sort of issues, but the band's expressiveness has evolved significantly. The quartet's new "The Battle of Los Angeles" (Epic) is its most dense and dynamic work, with strident electronics extending the range of the band's metal-hop style.

Sonically, Rage's current attack is one of the most potent offshoots of Public Enemy's late-'80s style, but the band also recalls Gang of Four's angular punk-funk. Like the Four's Andy Gill, Rage guitarist Tom Morello alternates between jagged leads and sheets of electric noise, while the quartet's rhythm section drives the songs with a precise, near-robotic swagger. From the air-raid-siren guitar of "Guerrilla Radio" to the squawking bridge of "Born as Ghosts" to the machine-gun-like noise bursts of "New Millennium Homes," the band rages not against but like a machine.

De la Rocha's anger is equal to the music's assault as he critiques imperialism, capitalism and the media while supporting long shots (activist Mumia Abu-Jamal, who's fighting for a new trial in a murder case) and delivering cheap shots (pederast priests). Although his lyrics include many topical references, they're not limited by them. Instead, they offer a grand unified theory of oppression, both contemporary and historical--slavery is a recurrent theme--while presenting the vocalist as a mix of leftist revolutionary, shamanistic visionary and hip-hop braggart. "I hijacked tha frequencies/ Blockin' tha Beltway/ Move on D.C.," announces "Guerrilla Radio," while "Calm Like a Bomb" proclaims that de la Rocha "be walkin' God like a dog/ My narrative fearless/ My word war returns to burn/ Like Baldwin home from Paris."

Even when de la Rocha's narrative is more fearless than persuasive, he articulates it with newfound artfulness. Married to Rage's adrenal-overload blitz, the singer's free-floating outrage is a formidable weapon. It may not stop the Machine in its tracks, but has driven the band to the best music of its career.

(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8161.)

Stone Temple Pilots

"The Battle of Los Angeles" producer Brendan O'Brien also supervised Stone Temple Pilots' "No. 4" (Atlantic), and he gives most of the latter a similarly vehement, if less distinctive, bite. But the thudding guitars that open the San Diego quartet's accurately if obviously titled fourth album yield to marimba by the final track, "Atlanta," a grandiose ballad that recalls the Doors in their "Soft Parade" period. In between are a few songs, notably "Sour Girl (Westlake Remix)" and "I Got You," on which the Pilots investigate the stately melodies and airy harmonies of such Southern California forebears as the Beach Boys and the Byrds.

There's nothing wrong with range, but in whatever style they undertake the Pilots have always showed more facility than personality. The band's last album, "Tiny Music . . . Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop," introduced a newly pop-conscious sound, but didn't stake a more convincing claim to it than to the carbon-copy grunge of "Core," the band's first (and best-selling) album. While guitarist Dean DeLeo and bassist Robert DeLeo remain capable composers, singer-lyricist Scott Weiland's high-profile battle with heroin doesn't seem to have made him any more reflective. He mostly sings about unsuccessful relationships, from the "sour girl" who was "a happy girl the day that she left me" to the woman in the punky "Sex & Violence" who "used to love me but kicked me out." Such songs are adequate on their own undernourished terms, but compared with Creed's questing spirituality and Rage Against the Machine's roiling ideology, the Pilots sound stone shallow.

(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8162.)

Bush

Bush is one of the few British rock bands to establish an major American following in the '90s, but it did so by sounding a lot like Stone Temple Pilots--which is to say, like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. For borrowing so heavily from Seattle, the quartet has been denounced on both sides of the Atlantic, but in fact Bush's music is as convincing as that of any other grunge-come-latelies. Alas, the group has something besides its influences in common with the Pilots: Both have lots of sound but very little vision.

Perhaps in an attempt to boost its credibility in techno-minded Britain, Bush has added more electronic effects to its third album, "The Science of Things" (Trauma). The synthesized bleats and thumps, however, don't significantly alter the band's style, which still shifts between blustering and woozy in the Seattle '92 manner. As was Kurt Cobain, Bush singer-guitarist Gavin Rossdale is grandly forlorn, but the latter's distress lacks conviction.

The singer gropes for something to sulk about, but finds only vague complaints about technology, ecology and "the government" to outfit such songs as "Jesus Online," "The Disease of Dancing Cats" and "The Chemicals Between Us." In the latter, he's reduced to borrowing from T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men," whose 1925 depiction of emotional emptiness seems as contemporary as any of Rossdale's protestations. Musically, Bush's new album is more assured and cohesive than the Pilots', but its outlook can be reduced to a less than stirring maxim: Life stinks, and then you go platinum.

(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8163.)