I’m something of a System of a Down fanboy. No, really, I am. They’re one of the bands that when I hear someone say “Oh they suck”, I get irrational and start blabbering incoherently about how awesome they really are. Recently, System of a Down (once again, one of my favorite bands), announced they would be disbanding for a good deal of time. This made me entirely too sad. So, in loving memory of the first portion of System of a Down’s career (and, fingers crossed, hopefully not their last), I have taken it upon myself to take a look back on their entire discography, and give a fairly detailed analysis on each of the bands 5 albums (essentially, however, only three distinct phases) now that we have a large scope with which to compare them.
We must start with not their first album, though, but the album that blew them up. Toxicity
was close to becoming a cultural phenomenon. It came out when I was in 6th grade, and the middle school I attended was, to be honest, majority African American or Haitian. In the interest of not stereotyping, I’ll say the majority of my school did not listen to metal at all. However, strangely, Toxicity
strangely became one of the most listened to bands or artists at my schools, even in the predominantly hip hop circles. While I was rather ticked that System had gotten popular (at that point, they had been the only band I liked that few people had known about in my area), I couldn’t deny how cool it was to see a Haitian family pull up with Chop Suey!
blasting in their car.
When the album shines, it does so brilliantly. The single that got them the large amount of fame and accolades they receive now, Chop Suey!
, is one of the most brutally beautiful metal songs I’ve, plainly, ever heard. From the hushed sentence about suicide at the beginning, to the pulse-pounding verses, to the piano-laden chorus, and to the eventual burst of emotion at the bridge, the song captures the energy and emotion System so obviously wanted to display on this album. And, however cheesy they may seem now, in a twelve year olds eyes that’s some brilliant songwriting, and even now I can’t deny that its still far more than typical, cliché angst.
The best point on the album is undoubtedly Serj Tanakian. Forgoing his past or future, he was at his overall best here. He was still a little rough around the edges, and he had lost a lot of the playfulness and quirkyness that had made him who he was on their debut, but there were few singers who could touch on the emotionb he could convey in the mainstream MTV audience at the time, and perhaps none with such a unique voice. The lyrics may be simple, but they’re dumb; System packs their tunes with plenty of metaphors and allusions to actually make you think about what they’re talking about instead of taking it at simply face value, which was again a rarity in the mainstream. Songs like Toxicity
and [i]Aerials[i] succeeded on the radio likely solely because of the emotion he conveyed and the weirdness of his voice.
In fact, the best songs on the album otherwise are also driven by his voice. A.T.W.A
, a seemingly sweet love ballad at first, devolves in a flash to a focused blast of teenage angst, that while not original, is saved by Serj’s delivery. Then there’s Psycho
, perhaps the most under-appreciated song on the album. The chorus is insanely catchy, as Serj simply declares ”Psycho! Groupie! Cocaine! Crazy!”
, but somehow making it as sing-along-able as a Kidz Bop album. The verses are quite strange, being an almost Indian-tinged break. The final song that really goes anywhere special is Deer Dance
. To be perfectly honest, however, its almost ruined by the far too heavy faux-thrash-y chorus that doesn’t mesh with the very groovin’ (and, frankly, [i]bitc
hin’) verses. The bridge is a thing of absolute beauty, however, being one of the most touching little bits of music System have yet to write.
Unfortunately, the only thing that stands out about most of the other tracks is Serj and the occasional odd guitar lines from Daron. John, however great of a drummer he is live, loses something on record, likely the force with which he actually hits. Shavo unfortunately had already begun to lose any real place in the band, and is relegated to being nearly-useless on the album, as Daron often dominates over his rather simplistic playing. Daron himself, though, began his transformation into a thrashier and more technical style of playing on this album, as opposed to the strange yet inventive guitar parts on S/T and the mostly-written-before-Toxicity Steal this Album!
. However, he wasn’t as precise or as good of a player as he was on the later double albums Mesmerize
, and it gives much of the guitar work on this album a very generic feel.
That very feel kills many, many songs, causing them to be far too repetitive and same-y sounding, without anything brilliant being thrown into the mix. The fun songs, in particular, suffer; he stills keeps a modicum of quirkiness for them, but still doesn’t get quirky enough to justify most of them (Bounce
is, however, the only song here that’s truly sounds like it would fit on the self titled). Prison Song
, a track revered by many a System fan, is plain boring to me. It attempts to be strange and heavy at the same time, and unlike previous songs like Sugar
or later songs like Vicinity of Obscenity
, it does neither very well, thus leading the albums strongest song lyrically (a rather pointed and truthful attack on the anti-drug efforts of the U.S government) in something of a hole, that not even the shouted [i]”All research and successful drug policy that treatment should be increased, and law enforcement decreased While abolishing mandatory minimum sentences!”
The thing is, half of the album sounds the same in a similar vein. Sure, Forest
might have a neat drum fill in the beginning, but even that song isn’t that great sans-Serj’s vocals. Thus, what do we really learn from Toxicity
? That Serj was at his best, but not even that can save it from being a too repetitive album. I can’t really write that much really negative about the album, because the negatives are few. But the negatives are absolutely glaring, and detract from even the best songs (Deer Dance
both sound similar to numerous other tracks on the album, despite their singular greatness), making the album as a whole a disappointment. However, it’s still indubitably the best starting place for anyone (that somehow hasn’t) getting into System. It has the right blend of catchiness and emotion from Serj, and enough interesting guitar licks from Daron, but as a whole, it really just falls somewhat flat.