Review Summary: System of a Down's first effort is one to remember. Composed beautifully by experts at their trade, the album shines in every way and flows perfectly from the first song to the last. It's safe to say metal has never been this good.
This review of System of a Down's debut self titled album will attempt not to merely summarize one opinion in a way that is highly subjective to the reader but will focus more on the standpoint that this is (un)arguably the beginning of a series of timeless masterpieces put out by a band that revolutionized the sound of metal, and made it its own. It will delve into the intricacies that make this punk laced, explosive, roller coaster of an album not only unique from later efforts, but from the rest of music itself.
Now where to begin... I think the first point that should be mentioned is the sheer range of this album; not only does it vary musically, but it has its own personality like none other (Mind you, the personality of a schizophrenic, mad man with multiple personality disorder). Serj Tankian's vocals combined with Daron Malakian's guitar/composing is not only a force to be reckoned with, but is also so innovative and fresh that it leaves many other styles in this genre feeling almost contrived. It just isn't discussed enough of the fact that there is not one band that can say they sound anything like SOAD's music all together, whether it be the middle eastern feel, the spontaneous lyrics and delivery, or the way the seriousness of the music is still reflected by their comical, quirky, sometimes goofy style. It's what makes this band stand out above and beyond the rest. Now enough summary.. let's get to the album.
1. SUITE PEE: We start off with with this behemoth of an opening song. A catchy intro riff acquires the listener's attention for a few seconds, and then explodes into a fast paced song most likely satirizing religion. Serj belts along with Daron's simple yet appropriate riff, and it really sets the tone for the rest of this album. Simplicity meets creativity meets crazy Armenian metal. Before you know it the world's most satisfying breakdown, in the form of a pace changing bass riff, sends the song spiraling into a heavy, feet stomping bridge and eventual conclusion. Guttural screams and shouts accompany this raging track and hint at what this band is really capable of. (A-)
2. KNOW: What can I say about this song other than the fact that it goes hard. Not one second is wasted in getting the listener in this uptempo groove and it never lets go. A drum intro allows recovery from the former song and then comes back for more sweet metal-y goodness, before plunging into a tribal sounding verse that will be prominent on many songs to come. Then the song swings into the addicting chorus.... YOU NEVER THINK YOU KNOW! (WWHHYY) KNOW!! YOU NEVER THINK YOU KNOW!! (And that sweet melodic pause on the 3rd measure of the chorus). This is all too bad ass for most human minds to handle and will invariably result in repeated mental playbacks for the rest of the day, week, lifetime, etc. As if that wasn't enough, Serj and Daron come together for a tension building, and emotionally powerful bridge that is sure to leave goosebumps. (A)
3. SUGAR: Without any time to catch a breather, the most recognizable track on the album takes its turn and, for those who aren't ready, makes quick work of dismantling the thought of this being the every day, standard, generic metal album SOAD wanted you to believe this was. Everything about this song and its sound is different. New. Revolutionary. CLASSIC. The chorus is absolutely fantastic. The verse is edgy, catchy, and dangerous. Almost as dangerous as the second half of this song. But not quite because it quickly morphs from the "in your face" chorus and verse into a more controlled and professional bridge, and it seems as if Serj is waiting to break loose. This song showcases his talent for owning the use of spontaneous sounds and quirky noises. It gives the impression this song belongs in an insane asylum. (A+)
4. SUGGESTIONS: Suggestions is another song where the vocal range of Serj takes simple music (2 chords at any given time), and spins it into a high octane and VERY fun song to listen to (Feel free to blast this out your car window). This is also one of the songs that Daron politely lets us all know HE KNOWS HOW TO SCREAM. Back to Daron's composing though, and you get a song built up around 2 chords, but all over the fret board and in different combinations of notes. I cannot stress enough that the beauty of this music is how these simplistic layouts create this flowing and well organized feel that on its own is bad ass sounding music, but gives Serj the opportunity to absolutely own each and every song. The thing that makes this song really stand out is the transitioning between a clean, bouncy little feel and a heavy, overpowering chorus. Oh but who can forget Serj at the end with his hilarious outro verse... Okay so two things make this song. (A+)
5. SPIDERS: Ahhh Spiders... This is the song where Serj takes anyone's doubts of his vocal talent (Many say he is too raw and unpolished on this album) and shoves it up there a**holes. Sweet mother of Vocal Chords. Starting with an eerie bass line (the guitar feeds off this tremendously) and flowing into a melodic verse, the song sets the atmosphere for both power and emotion. Previously said power and emotion quickly become apparent when the chorus hits and "THROUGH MY HEEEAADDDD, THROUGH MYYY HEAADD" never leaves your head again. This song continues to do its thing, and makes its way through an interesting octave based solo that keeps the (once again) power and emotion thing going and then catapults into the best part of the song. This outro chorus is jaw dropping in so many ways, whether its Serj's vocals or that main guitar riff, that was formerly just begging to be distorted, now blaring through your ear drums refusing to die down. And then it does. Need I say power and emotion again? (A+)
6. DDEVIL: Oh hey Shavo! Didn't see you there. The intro bass line creates the bouncing, rhythmic tone that will be important for this song. A harmonic pauses the song for a couple bars, and allows the guitar to crash into mimicking the bass riff. This song is definitely a punky/thrashy song, and is very straightforward. That first line in the first chorus, "LOUD AND NOISY" pretty much explains this wonderful track. Serj's interesting vocals and shouts is a great part of this song and is really what holds it up. Its a shame, this song could have been so much better if they just did a little more with it; there's always a sense of wanting more when this short song ends. But hey, its a punk song... it's supposed to be short. This song would've received lower marks if it wasn't so damn catchy. (A-)
7. SOIL: THIS SONG IS SO GREAT. This song makes me want to head bang, and mosh, and punch someone in the face. All at the same time (Not too out of the ordinary actually). The song starts and stops, and changes speed, and changes mood, and does everything it needs to do to consistently keep the listener wanting more every time. John also does a perfect job on the drums for this one. A song about suicide isn't an easy thing to pull off, and instead of whining about useless B.S., the group focused on revolving the track around the memories of his being alive, and almost taking a stance that what is done is done. Now as we get towards the end of this song many go, "Oh My! There's a solo in this one." Yes a very rare beast indeed, but everyone knows when SOAD wants a solo they make sure it is part of the song and not boring, unneeded filler. Even further after the solo is the best part... but Ill leave that to you guys. (A+)
8. WAR?: Opening with a nasty little intro and jumping straight into one of my favorite riffs on the album, "War?" lets you know that this song is going to blow your mind. Yes, yes, another song about war for SOAD you say. But this band knows exactly what they're doing when they write these songs. They manage to infuse intense emotion and scathing lyrics at the same time. The chorus of this song,"WE WILL FIGHT THE HEATHENS, WE WILL FIGHT THE HEATHENS" takes the stance of the war hungry policy of U.S. (or maybe anyone), and is an absolute headbanger. I really love the message of this song. It condemns the government for instigating war for selfish reasons, while they accuse countries in the middle east for their "selfish conflicts". Yet we are at fault for the same. Long story short, this is a great song, and combined with the heavy "riffery" going on and the pace changing bridge it gets an... (A)
9. MIND: This song has always given me mixed emotions. While being an absolute powerhouse of a song with goose bump giving moments, it is also bulky and long, rumbling on to the beat of its own drums. I love the intro and outro, both whispering that intense line "Look at each other". It sets up the song for its message about child abuse and makes you wonder... Do we make the effort to notice each others' lives and struggles enough? There are some METAL moments in this song and I really do love the way its composed, I really do... but it's just too long for its content, plain and simple. There's not much else to say about this song, but it really does hit home in the thought provoking department. (B+)
10. PEEPHOLE: Aaaand we have the stoner song. And what a magnificent stoner song it is. There are some really catchy tunes in this song, and I've had the universal warning of "DON'T YOU EVER GET STUCK IN THE SKY" stuck in my head for ages. Serj's vocals are great here and Daron gives us all a gift with his fantastic riffs, filled with soft to hard and quiet to loud (Same thing?). The song also has a bad ass sort of Russian polka vibe to it and I love it (See Radio/Video). It also has its own kind of solo... if you can call it that. Some cool little fills flow into some other cool little fills, which flow into some more, which then flow into my favorite rendition of the chorus with Serj shrieking the before mentioned warning. Peephole just feels like a song so polished that its almost put together too well, and I cant help but wonder what a grittier and rawer version would sound like. But that's what live is for I guess, and I am quite happywith this beautiful song. (A)
11. CUBERT: This song blows my mind. The rhythm and stops it has, combined with an undeniably punk chorus (both guitar/vocals) are what makes this song what it is. You can tell Serj has a lot of fun with this song, as he pulls out his bag of tricks and utilizes them to perfection; ear piercing cries, "Oie"s, and other cool sounding additions are all on here. Clocking out at 1:49, this song is short and sweet in it's compactness. It's really what lets it shine, making it very re-playable. I really wish their was a solo on this track. Everyone get their thinking caps on and imagine a blistering little riff giving its own take on the melody of Serj's chorus. Am I right? Anyway, SOLID song, and solid effort by the whole group. (A-)
12. DARTS: I don't need to review this song. (A++)
13. P.L.U.C.K.: The last song on this legendary album is one that pays tribute to the Armenian genocide. A mass killing of the group's ancestors, and something that the band is very vocal about. The song opens with a really cool bit of music. It's just really, really, really good at setting this song up and absolutely belongs. The drums are just BANGIN' throughout this track. Vocals are superb on this song and capture so much rage and sorrow. Daron makes a much needed appearance as backup vocalist and is a great addition to my favorite part of the song. But I have so many favorite parts of this song... Whether its the former, or the "WALK DOWWNNN", or the riffy verse, or the even riffier opening riff to the first verse, or it's just the whole song. This song is perfect, and its really hard to not give this song a perfect score, but I have one problem. The song doesn't have an additional 10 minutes of the chorus repeated at the end. C'mon guys... Just kidding about the perfect score. (A+)