Morello, Rage’s guitarist and founder, is aware of the doomsday forecasts that have been issued for his groundbreaking, rock-rap fusion band since frontman Zach de la Rocha’s surprise split from the foursome in October. De la Rocha left soon after the band finished work on its latest album, Renegades, which reworks some of the group’s favorite songs by artists such as Bob Dylan and Cypress Hill.

De la Rocha’s fiery vocals, paired with the band’s hard rocking background and leftist lyrics, fueled Rage’s multiplatinum album sales and paved the way for the proliferation of rock-rap hybrids such as Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock. Without de la Rocha, some have wondered whether the band will be able to continue.

“I think it’s a huge blow,” said Alan Light, editor of Spin magazine. “I think in most people’s minds, as with most great bands, the backbone for most fans is the interplay between the lead singer and the guitar player … I think if you take one of those away, it just seriously shifts the dynamic.”

But Morello sees de la Rocha’s departure as an opportunity for the band to grow creatively and politically after years of strife between de la Rocha and the rest of the group, which includes bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk.

“It’s been a real honor playing in the band with Zach,” Morello said. “But we have a tremendous amount of musical and political ideas that hopefully now, with reduced tensions in the band, we’ll be able to really actualize.”

“We’ve spent too much time raging against each other and not enough time raging against the machine in my opinion, and that I promise you will be remedied,” he added.

Renegades, released in December, is the band’s fourth album. It sold 152,000 copies in its first week, according to Soundscan, and debuted at No. 14 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart. That’s a far cry from the No. 1 debut and 430,000 copies sold in the first week for Rage’s previous release, the critically acclaimed disc The Battle of Los Angeles, which has sold more than 2 million copies since its fall 1999 release.

“What we’ve done is we’ve taken lyrics of some of our favorite music renegades and written brand new Rage Against the Machine music to accompany them, so it is very much a brand new Rage Against the Machine record,” said Morello of the new disc.

Rick Rubin, who produced Renegades, said there was little sign of strife between the band members when he worked with them.

“Everybody worked together, laughing and making music, and it was pretty positive,” said Rubin, the co-founder of Def Jam Records who has produced music for artists including Run DMC, the Beastie Boys and Johnny Cash.

“I would say the only time there was any friction had nothing to do with making music – it had to do with meetings with managers, and kind of business decisions, and scheduling decisions.”

When asked to describe the turmoil, Morello laughingly said: “It’s nothing that you haven’t seen on VH1’s ‘Behind the Music’ 100 times over.”

De la Rocha declined to comment on his decision to leave the band, but at the time he had said the group’s “decision-making process has completely failed. … It is no longer meeting the aspirations of all four of us collectively as a band, and from my perspective, has undermined our artistic and political ideals.”

Rage’s political activism has sometimes garnered more attention than their music. Rage has been active in the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was sentenced to death for the killing of a police officer in Pennsylvania, and

Leonard Peltier, an American Indian imprisoned for killing two FBI agents. The band performed at a protest concert outside the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles this summer.Morello said that since de la Rocha’s departure, the band has refocused its commitment to social causes and plans to expand its focus to connect better with fans.

He also said Rage will be more productive. Since its 1992 debut, the band has produced only four albums, an output Morello blames on “dysfunction.”

Although Battle was a success, Light said it likely could have sold millions more. Rage’s problems limited their touring and other promotions.

“If they wanted to they could have been one of the biggest bands in the world,” he said.

Rubin conceded that “because the guys didn’t see eye to eye, a lot of things didn’t happen that could have, and because of that lack of communication, I would say it very much hurt their career.”But, he said: “I think they probably wanted to be as successful as they could be without selling out, which I don’t think they ever did.”

De la Rocha is featured on Renegades and on the group’s upcoming live album. But Morello knows he will have to find someone soon to replace de la Rocha, a decision he said the band hopes to make in the coming weeks. Although names such as B-Real of the rap group Cypress Hill have been mentioned, Morello said no commitments have been made.

As for de la Rocha, he plans to release a solo album in the fall.

“I think that Zach can go on and have a tremendous career on his own, and I think the band can have a tremendous career on their own,” Rubin said. “It’s kind of an unusual situation when both sides are really talented, and they are.”