System of a Down - "Mezmerize"
Masters of circusthrash System of a Down defy definition. Record corporations and online shops lump them in with the rest of the "nu-metal", perhaps in response to the band's noise level.
I see SOAD as part of a broader category: the same sphere occupied by certain Mike Patton bands (Faith No More, Mr. Bungle), experimental geniuses like Frank Zappa and his progenitors, and even progressive rock (another phrase loved by the record companies). Their music can appeal to the jaded music fan as easily as the mindless metalhead.
This is probably why I've never really fallen for typical metal. Few modern metal bands really bother to sound any different. The recent fusion of commercial pop, alternative and metal has turned modern metal into, whiny radio-friendly hits with louder guitars.
Along came SOAD. System of a Down's first records were mindblowing - the first two albums were presented as fantastically heavy, mindbending pieces of circus thrash. Their music radiated devotion and intensity, and the band began selling albums by the millions.
Their B-sides record, "Steal This Album", made itself interesting as a more experimental endeavor. While much of the album stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of System's work, some fans were disappointed by the album's "softer" and less cohesive feel. Many of the tracks were downright silly, which was refreshing if nothing else. Still, System seemed to be slipping slightly. The music simply didn't radiate the same devotion and intensity as SOAD's earlier output.
Enter "Mezmerize", System's third album proper, and the first half of a double whammy of SOAD records, culminating in "Hypnotize" sometime later this year. "Mezmerize" is more of everything: the "fast" songs are faster ("Cigaro" ), the "silly" songs are sillier ("This Cocaine. . ." ), and the political songs are more overtly political than ever ("B.Y.O.B.", "Sad Statue" ).
The album keeps important System staples: schizo melodies pop in and out when least expected, the expected tempo changes coupled with Serj's awesome acid-scat delivery keep the songs fresh and hooky, the band uses instruments you'd never expect to hear in a thrash record and the overall creative insanity of the band perseveres for the most part. And Daron Malakian sings. A lot.
Some of it doesn't feel quite as magical as previous System releases. Serj's vocal deliveries often seem halfhearted and some of the silliest lyrics fail to make an impact. On the band's first album, even silly songs like "Peephold" felt powerful in their own way. The punky, funky polkametal is still there, and the album is still consistently fun to listen to, but maybe it's just gotten a little too gimmicky for its own good.
Lyrics take a bit of a backseat on this album, which is a bit of a shame - most of the verses and choruses have simple, repeating lyrics. Many of the songs' second verses have the same words as the first verses, creation a problem with repetition.
Bottom line: None of these minor gripes destroy the record; the album still rocks head and shoulders above nearly any other heavy musical release of 2005 (It's also one of the highest-rated records of the last half-decade - check Metacritic.com's music page.)
The final diagnosis: while this album has few tracks that stand with earlier SOAD songs like "Peephole", "War?", "Sugar", "Prison Song", or "The Forest" as possibly some of the greatest, most original metal songs ever, System of a Down's latest release will not seriously disappoint serious System fans. This album has no real slacking points, making it a wonderful record to listen to again and again. It's great to see a band continue to innovate and experiment this far into their careers, and SOAD's latest "Mezmerize" is no exception.
Soldier Side - Intro
This acoustic number sets the mood for the rest of the album nicely. It's short and adds a sensitive touch to the madness of the rest of the album, which segues seamlessly into the first single. . .
B.Y.O.B. [Bring Your Own Bombs]
B.Y.O.B. is a great piece of riffage - I'm sure that you've all heard it by now. As a political piece, it's no "P.L.U.C.K." or "War?", but it does the job of promoting the record (and thoroughly rocking) nicely. System of a Down seems to be moving somewhat away from the "Intro, Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus, Outro" format of most of the songs from their previous records. This song was made
Frantic signature vocal tradeoffs and riffs. The main riff of this song is great, showcasing the band's ability to play faster, machine gun-like riffs now that they've uptuned their guitars a little and eased up on the distortion. The chorus is a little cliched, though Daron's vocals add nicely to the song's end, even if the vocal "taking, making" tradeoff toward the end gets a little ridiculous.
Pure, unadulterated thrash. Listen for Serj's awesome chorus and the bizarre interlude. More great handbangers' fare.
This metal opera track doesn't really click with me, as the weakness of the lyrics take a big punch out of this song's effect. The operatic themes are cool, but the verses lack thought.
This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I'm On This Song
A Serj showpiece in the same vein as "F**k the System" from "Steal This Album". Serj reverts a little to his SOAD self-titled stylings as he chokes out the near-unrecognizable chorus bridge: "Killers never hurt feelings, killers never hurt feelings" followed by the inexplicable "Gonnorhea, gorgonzola, gonnorhea, gorgonzola. . ." Only SOAD could pull off a song as fun as this.
This anti-porn anthem is probably the catchiest song on the album. All of the pieces come together nicely despite their jarring nature: the slow, funky intro suddenly jumps into crazy, simple vocal schizophrenia: ("Everybody, everybody, everybody, everybody, everybody, everybody", etc.) As always, the bouncy music disguises the song's true nature: it's a completely political song about media brainwashing.. The lyrics take some great potshots:
"It's a non-stop disco, betcha it's Nabisco. . ."
This is probably one of the best songs on the album. It has a great buildup, starting out very slow with a bit of "cha cha cha" instrumentation. Of course, it quickly builds into traditional shredding System riffage before the epic finale. The lyrics in the quiet parts flow smoothly and nicely, and the whole song feels a little - dare I say it? - "progressive".
"Sad Statue" covers similar ground as "B.Y.O.B.", both politically and musically. A shredding, crazy verse builds into an epic, groovy chorus. The main riff can't be beat - it defines the song, similar to the way the main riff in "Revenga" shapes its appeal.
Old School Hollywood
This song feels very original for SOAD; nearly the whole song - guitars, vocals, keyboards - have been heavily altered for a more techno sound. The main pounding riff even has a little bit of '80s flavor to it, as do the lyrics: how long has it been since Tony Danza was on anybody's
mind? (Daron Malakian grew up in Hollywood, undoubtedly a strong influence on this and the following track)
Lost in Hollywood
Serj Tankian recently announced that this is the next planned "Mezmerize" single, and it's a good choice. It's one of the most effective songs on the record; everything flows nicely and the song's theme is immediately evident. In an age of longing for the "Beverly Hills" lifestyle, it's nice to hear a song about the corrosive effects of Hollywood. I suppose that the radio version of this song probably edits the word "fag" as slang for "cigarettes". That would be disappointing - it's in the chorus and important to the flow of the song.
This song is completely beautiful, and touches me like no SOAD song since "War?", but in a completely different way; Daron's and Serj's vocals are perfect, and the music is great by itself. It's great that this album could begin and end on the same somber note - SOAD really is
moving in a new direction. Thankfully, we won't know what direction that is until we see what these madmen do next.
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