Review Summary: Inventive Circus Thrash With a Middle-Eastern Touch
System of a Down has been converting music fans across the country with their original songs, creative instrumentations and sophisticated lyrics and imagery. The band's awe-inspiring self-titled 1999 debut left me jumping in the aisles, and "Toxicity" leaves me with nearly the same feeling, barring a few misgivings.
"Toxicity" is, by far, System of a Down's most successful record. Singles "Chop Suey", "Toxicity" and "Aerials" earned steady airplay in radio stations across the country ("Aerials" was probably the most popular radio choice, due to its somewhat softer sound), and the CD climbed to number one on the Billboard music charts.
Having said this, "Toxicity" is much more mainstream than SOAD's self-titled debut, featuring somewhat more conventional lyrics, music, and - dare I say it? - a couple of "filler" songs. Nevertheless, I consider it one of the best albums I own, and a must-buy for anyone who's put it off this long.
System's changing aesthetic can be essentially summed up with one name: Arto Tuncboyaciyan (sometimes spelled as two words: "Tunc Boyaciyan" ). The semi-famous Armenian percussionist adds his musical flourishes to a couple of tracks on the CD, most notably the bridge in "Science" and the secret track "Arto". System of a Down is slowly but surely changing from a gothic- and death-metal inspired band to a more ethnically-influenced group (as the interlude in "Bubbles" from their follow-up CD, "Steal This Album" shows).
The CD is still very hard; opening tracks "Prison Song" and "Needles" are among the hardest and most distinctive System songs ever. The CD hits all bases, from political ("Prison Song", "Shimmy", and to a lesser extent, "Psycho" ) to ethereal ("Chop Suey!", "Aerials) to simply silly ("Bounce" ). Even the singles haven't been ruined by their extensive radio play, and I can comfortably listen to "Chop Suey!", "Toxicity" and "Aerials" anytime, due to their overall quality.
Having said this, I must point out one misgiving I have with the CD. First, despite their initial enjoyability, two tracks in particular seem tiresome to me after repeated listenings. System's self-titled CD had no slacking moments, and finding myself skipping tracks on one of my favorite CDs is disappointing.
Overall, though, even if "Toxicity" is only 90 percent as earth-shatteringly awesome as System's first CD, it still stands head-and-shoulders over most of the commercialized garbage playing over the radio waves these days. I highly recommend that music lovers of all types experience this CD.
This song is perhaps the best opening number I have ever heard on an album. Its false start and silence-sparsed heavy beginning is truly one of the defining moments of post-Y2K music. This song is completely addictive, and blows me away every time. The bridge (where Serj roars "All research and successful drug policy shows. . ." ) should be preachy, but somehow fits into the song. The three seconds of quiet, sweet singing ("Oh, baby, you and meeee. . ." ) is a perfect bridge and ending to the song. Politically, the song lampoons Hollywood's decaying morals, the war on drugs, and America's building prison system - what else could you want in a song?
A great hard song - possibly the hardest on the CD. I even had my favorite line from the song ("My tapeworm tells me what to do" ) made into a T-shirt. Daron Malakian contributes his boyish voice to the chorus, proving that he's an able vocalist (in small doses).
A slight departure from the immense quality of the first two tracks, "Deer Dance" is still one of my favorites, with its politically-charged lyrics and determined intensity. A great mellow vocal bridge evens out the track.
Here's where the album slacks, if only for a brief couple of minutes. I can't put my finger on it, but something about this track screams "Filler!" It's great filler, to be sure, but the chorus repeats itself a little too often, and the song seems a little unmemorable.
Some have compared this song to "Jet Pilot", but "X" is one of my favorite songs on the CD. This song has great pacing and lyrics, and a meaning that can be different to every listener of the song.
This song speaks for itself. Possibly one of System's masterpieces, Chop Suey manages to be hard, emotional, controversial - everything System of a Down stands for or exhibits.
A great track (I won't use the obvious pun, calling it "bouncy" ). Even if you don't know its sinister hidden meaning (as if it isn't obvious), this humorous song about a man, his pogo stick and a bunch of women all taking turns (ahem) manages to cheer me up every time.
Possibly one of the best tracks on the album, Serj's monkeylike shrieks after every line of (equally-memorable) dialogue make this a great song. Thrashing riffs and great building interludes make this one of my favorites.
Probably the slowest track on the CD (I don't want to give its twist away), Atwa is a simple song, but manages to be great in its own way. Its simple guitar structure (notes played three strings apart, just like "Roulette" ) makes it great for guitarists as well.
This track is a tad less noteworthy in my mind than most of the rest of the CD, but still stands out as having one of the best interludes in music history. Arto Tunc Boyaciyan contributes his masterful percussion and instrumentation skills (and his folk-sounding vocals) to the interlude, giving the track some added depth.
Another political song (I performed this during the senior all-night-er heralding the end of High School), its semi-sarcastic lyrics (First attacking the educational system, then stating "Don't be late for school again, boy!" ) make the song for me. The song is sort of a parody of the American dream and so-called "party" music ("I think me, I want life . . . I want a house and a wife, I wanna shimmy, shimmy, shimmy, 'til the break of dawn, yeah!" ).
Another great single, I read this song as another shot at materialism and self-centeredness. Fantastic guitar work and a great, sudden shift in melodies for the ending make this track enjoyable.
I don't know why - I appear to be in the minority with this opinion - but "Psycho" just doesn't do it for me. The chorus is kind of stupid, the song's focus is too narrow to be significant (cocaine-crazed groupies? Give me a break!), and the song takes itself a little too seriously; it would be much better as another humorous aside, a la "Bounce". Again, "Toxicity" is a tad more uneven than System's debut.
Another classic with great guitar work and, to borrow a cliche, "soaring vocals". Intentionally over-poetic lyrics (reminding me of another great System song, "Ego Brain", incidentally) create a feeling of significance signalling the end of the CD.
Great track. Heavily influenced by Armenian stylings and the creative input of Arto Tunc Boyaciyan (who I assume directed the song), this song is a great departure for the CD. It's different than the rest of the CD, and fans of the song should definitely check out the CD "Serart", a side project with SOAD's Serj Tankian and Arto. EDIT: This song was apparently recorded solely by Arto, with no participation by the rest of the band.
MY RATING: ****1/2 (Unconditional Recommendation for heavy music afficionados.)
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