Review Summary: SOAD's double album is a hit-and-miss effort, but this is certainly the better half.
System of a Down is a difficult band to categorize. They can be put under the genres of heavy metal, thrash, progressive, and even Middle Eastern world-ish type music. Whatever combination SOAD puts these genres into, it (almost) always seems to work, as evidenced on their first two albums. Although I believe "Steal This Album" is better than most people give it credit for, the album was still a disappointment coming off of "Toxicity" and it's probably my least played album from their catalog. After "Steal This Album" I felt that System was on their way down (bad pun) so when I heard they were releasing a new album, I wasn't really that excited. I really should have been.
"Mezmerize" is the first half of SOAD's double album, and the other half is called "Hypnotize", which was released about 6 months later. I personally like "Mezmerize" a lot better than "Hypnotize", and I think it's their second-best record behind only their s/t album. Mezmerize literally has no filler-it's just 36 minutes of thrashy middle eastern fusion heavy riffiness. The complete absence of filler is why I rank this album above "Toxicity" but let's get into the musical content.
Pros: The politically undertoned lyrics are even more evident on this album (B.Y.O.B., Sad Statue, Cigaro) and they're considerably better than they were on "Steal This Album," where tracks such as "Boom!" were generally unimpressive to me and I most often skipped over them. B.Y.O.B.'s repeated scream of "Why don't presidents fight the war, why do they always send the poor?" will make you bang your head as well as use it to think about what they're trying to say about our country (I'm from America as well as System).
Serj Tankian returns with a vengeance on songs such as "This Cocaine" or "B.Y.O.B." as well as great choruses on "Sad Statue" and "Question!" Guitarist Daron Malakian's voice is much more present on the double album, and he performs lead vocals on "Lost in Hollywood" with Serj providing harmonies. This isn't necessarily a bad thing-the guy can sing. However, Serj just adds a whole new dimension to the band with his new voice that I just don't feel with Daron's vocals.
The riffs are even more brutal and slashing ("Revenga", "Cigaro") and John Dolmayan's drumming is ridiculously simple but complex ("Question!", "B.Y.O.B.", "Violent Pornography"). You might notice that I keep mentioning "B.Y.O.B."-I might as well add it to the pros section. This is one of my favorite songs SOAD has ever released. The lyrics are angry and well-written, the riff is uncannily quick and brutal, the double-bass drums pounding are top-notch, and the song seamlessly transitions from heavy verses to light little choruses without breaking a sweat. Not to mention the bridge-oh, man, the bridge. It's utterly, ridiculously face-melting. Daron screams at the top of his lungs "BLAST OFF, IT'S PARTY TIME" leading into one of Dolmayan's best moments on the track while the vocal harmonies reach their all time best.
The bass is nearly inaudible. Shavo has a couple of good lines on "B.Y.O.B." and "Sad Statue" but most of the time he's just sitting in the back playing some boring thing that the audience can barely even hear.
Some songs sound a little too similar too each other-such as "Revenga" or "Sad Statue". Both songs are great-it's just that the album is so short that I don't want to hear the same song twice.
"Old School Hollywood". This is the only song off the album I don't like-it's just so NOT System. Synthesizers, sound effects are added to Serj's voice, it sounds like an epic '70's prog failure. I don't blame them for trying-it just didn't work.
Overall this is a great album and I highly recommend (buy it in a bundle with "Hypnotize") as well as the rest of System's catalogue. If you've never really gotten into hard rock/metal before, System is a great band to start with, and "Mezmerize" is one of their most accessible records, as well as "Toxicity".
Lost In Hollywood
Old School Hollywood