Review Summary: Stylized, high-quality metal that has a resounding element of fun, fun, fun.
I’ll admit that I initially felt bad for System of a Down back when they debuted in 1998, since their strong, stylistic metal sound was originally lumped under the nu metal genre alongside Limp Bizket, Korn, and all those other rap metal clowns. But after two terrific albums and one satisfying b-side collection, they easily broke free of the false label and continued to evolve their own unique sound. The band’s talent arguably peaked in 2005 when they released their third album, Mezmerize
, and the effort stands to be not only one of the strongest metal offerings of that year, but arguably one of the best of the entire decade.
What makes System of a Down so appealing, in my mind, is their ability to create catchy, crushing metal songs. Tracks like “B.Y.O.B.”, “Revenga” and “Sad Statue”, for example, showcase the band’s impressive talent to make a catchy and memorable song through a parade of thick, de-tuned guitar riffs. The band’s unique style, which effortlessly nests elements of melody and catchy choruses within a slew of barrelling riffs, is infectious beyond belief. “Question!” also perfectly exemplifies the band’s inhibited, flowing approach to song writing, as the song seamlessly weaves in and out of 5/8, 6/8 and 9/8 time signatures, all the while maintaining a logical, organic coherence.
Another large part of Mezmerize
’s success is that the band’s trademark quirkiness is not lost on them here, and I’d go as far to say that it sounds just as natural as ever. While “This Cocaine…” showcases the group’s full-fledged zany side, most songs incorporate it flawlessly without it sounding too forced: “Radio/Video” showcases a polka/ska interlude before finishing off with a barrage of kooky la-la-la’s, while the circus themes of “Cigaro” perfectly accommodates the song’s outrageous fun and boisterous lyrics. “Violent Pornography” has a bizarre rapid-fire vocal delivery in the verses that strangely accommodates the eccentric nature of the song, and “Old School Hollywood” has an uncharacteristic techno feel that accents the tongue-in-cheek feel. It’s these features of the songs that make them the most memorable, and these elements still are fun to listen to even after five year’s time.
But the absolute smartest thing the band did for Mezmerize
, hands down, was give guitarist Daron Malakian a greater share of the vocal duties: he and Serj Tankian are perfect together, as Daron’s higher registry really emphases the melodic character of the vocal lines when he sings back-up (eg. the chorus of B.Y.O.B.), and the two singers also do a fantastic job of playing off each other (eg. verses of Cigaro and Radio/Video). Daron also comes into the forefront and hits it out of the park with “Lost In Hollywood”, as his sullen delivery and bittersweet lyrics capture the tone of the song impeccably.
While all of System of a Down’s pervious attempts were excellent efforts, you can make a case that they were trying just a bit too hard to be unorthodox at times, and that took just a little fun out of it. Mezmerize
, however, really shows the band at it’s best, with the marriage of their eccentric personality and incredible song writing that just comes off as genuine and natural. Mezmerize
is a solid effort that has incredible longevity thanks to it’s lasting stylistic elements and overall terrific sense of fun and playfulness, and only time will tell if it, along with the band, proves to be a strong influence for the next generation of metal music to come.