System Of A Down
t’s easier than ever to turn a band name into a taboo. In a relatively vibrant musical landscape, who knew that being a hard rock band with pop leanings would be just as reviled as a choreographed five-piece? But then again, here we are. In front of us stands System of a Down: four misshapen, poorly shaved men with juvenile lyrics and an incredible knack for melody. And this is their first album of this year.
Following up the relatively shitty Steal This Album! and the respectable Toxicity, the new take on the big sound is putting songwriter Daron Malakian in the forefront and stomping out several SOAD by-the-numbers cuts that don’t necessarily disappoint, but leave you wishing for the more creative edge of their older work. While the System is known for punching out heavy riffs in conjunction with instruments like mandolins (“Chop Suey!”) and bongos (“Forest”), this record is ultimately more limited to being a bread and butter pop-rock assault. And back-to-basics isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does leave their lyrics front and center—ripe for criticism.
Be it about war, music, media or drugs, Daron Malakian will find a way to write an embarrassing, childish song about the subject in question. While his melodies are consistently addictive, ironic lyrics about ‘choking chicks and sodomy,’ and meditations on how ‘everybody fucks/sucks/cries/dies’ jump out of my Grade 8 notebook and strangle Future Rollie to death. Not a good thing. Plus using Malakian as a lead vocalist is a mistake, as Serj Tankian is a consistently more intriguing frontman that demands attention with his staccato delivery and distinctive voice.
But if you can turn your brain off, there is fun to be had. “Old School Hollywood” is a measured indictment of LA phonies through the conduit of vocoder, synth, and a lament for the old guard: “Old school Hollywood baseball, me, and Frankie Avalon.” “Cigaro” pummels corrupt leaders and the American dichotomy of masculinity with a machine gun verse and the kind of emotionally stirring Tankian chorus that dominated rock radio in 2001. While the second half of 2005 holds another record (Hypnotize) to possibly take SOAD down a completely different route of sound, Mezmerize successfully continues their history of aggressive melody.
Reviewed by: Rollie Pemberton
Reviewed on: 2005-07-22