was a huge hit. There’s no denying that it pole-vaulted them to the upper echelon of metal superstars, and possibly made the biggest metal act in the world. However, instead of capitalizing on that success, they released a “b-sides” and waited around 5 years to release anything new. The end result of that five years was the double album (released seperately), Mesmerize/Hypnotize
. It received extremely mixed sentiments; some felt that this was exactly what System should have come out with, while others felt System had “sold out” or, at the very least, become a mediocre band. In particular, Hypnotize
sufferred much backlash, and much of it was the fact many regarded it as a b-sides to Mesmerize
, and generally disregarding the album in it’s entirety.
This is why I have to regard Hypnotize
as being the most underrated of all the System records. It’s surprising, because it’s probably the one that showcases their two strongest points in highest fashion; Daron seemingly decided to include his best guitar moments from the recording on this disc, while Serj is at his best singing here, even if he may have lost a bit of the conviction that had previously made him.
Much of the criticism stemmed from a trio of extremely misplaced songs on the album. After Holy Mountains
, the tracklisting was sordidly more…shall we say, awkward. Vicinity of Obscenity
is a great track in and of itself, being a strange and fun little romp through Serj’s much, much more straight-up and well…obscene writing style (Daron wrote nearly all of the songs on the album). However, it’s placed directly after Holy Mountains
, quite possibly the most emotional and epic song in System’s discography, and thus it’s generally overlooked as a crock. It doesn’t help that the songs directly after are truly bad songs; She’s Like Heroin
may very well be the worst songs from the double album, with the excellent guitar work ruined by a generic chorus and insipid lyrics such as “I need someone to make some cash selling, A
suffers much in the same way; it’s one of Daron’s most touching guitar work ever, and the vocal harmonies between him and Serj are a wonder to listen too and should have been explored far more often (”And if you go, I want to go with you, and if you die I want to die with you, take your hand and walk away
” epitomizes both the previous and coming points). However, the lyrics are once again some of the absolute worst I’ve ever heard, cliché and overly-emotional for apparently no reason. They go on about how much they hurt inside, yet never actually say why
, leaving the listener emotionally detached and wondering when the hell they’re going to shut up.
However, for all the mediocrity on the album, there’s plenty of good to be had here, and more of System’s best than on Mesmerize
. As previously stated, Daron is at his best ever on this album; he’s got the perfect mix of odd guitar lines with diverse time signature changes and all that other technical jargon, a surprising amount of kick ass solo’s (something sorely missing from most of their other work), and some pulse-shattering riff’s. Tentative
has perhaps the most bitchin’ riff in System history, and the bridge is, bar nearly the entirety of Holy Mountains
and Soldier Side
, the most haunting moment on the album (”Where do you expect us to go when the bombs fall?”
), and the female oh’s harmonizing with Serj’s are one of the more remarkable moments on the album.
Serj also shows his stuff, but in a different manner than on Toxicity
; instead of the emotionally charged, yet sometimes faulty singing that won him hearts around the world, he opts for clearly better vocals, but lacking the fervor of previous works. His singing on Hypnotize
is clearly some of the most touching he’s ever done, and then throughout the album the harmonies him and Daron create (who, thankfully, on this disc is less present as a lead and often just back Serj up, albeit often) are frequently highlights of songs.
It’s not to say he’s lost all emotion at all, however. Attack
, the albums high-charged opener, has perhaps the best range of Serj vocals ever; featuring a quaint and smooth lull, an emotionally charged attack on war (”We attack, all the years of propaganda, WE SHALL ATTACK!
), and operatic elements in the verses. However, Daron does not share this. For the two songs he takes lead vocals in (She’s Like Heroin
and Lonely Day
) are by far the worst songs on the album. It’s not that he has a bad voice at the core; it’s quite pleasant to listen too, even if he is a tad bit annoying or whiney. It’s that his voice just doesn’t fit the music; we’ve become so accustomed to hearing Serj with the odd thrash- and progressive-tinged metal System traditionally has created, that Daron sounds out-of-place whenever he takes lead. As stated before, he does harmonize with Serj incredibly well, and songs meh songs like Dreaming
are often saved by short moments of his singing and their harmonization, but then again too often songs devolve into near-drivel because of it (Stealing Society
The thing is, that, past all of that, you can disregard everything else I’ve told you and just know two things; the two most haunting songs System has ever wrote are on this album, and are on near opposite edges of that spectrum. Soldier Side
is a psuedo-ballad, brilliantly exposing on what a soldier would feel like in combat (it’s arguably the best lyrical work on the album). Daron also busts out his mandolin for the song, and the solo he produces on it is, in a way, as strangely beautiful as anything off of System of a Down
. Then, there is Holy Mountains
, arguably the best song they have ever written, period. Forget about “Oh, the intro sounds too much like Aerials womg”, this song truly does “own face”. Instead of going for any sort of complicated sound, System opt for a minimal, but hard hitting sound, with the screaming from Serj and Daron blending perfectly with Serj’s impassioned cries of ”Freedom!
” When the near-breakdown occurs, and Serj proclaims ”They have returned, resting on the mountain side
”, it becomes the most powerful moment in System of a Down history, surpassing Soil, Chop Suey, Aerials, War?
, you name it. Holy Mountains
, is, in a short phrase, the definitive System of a Down song.
Of course, it can easily be said the Mesmerize/Hypnotize
double album could have been the definitive System of a Down album. This half features a few tracks that could have easily been left on the cutting room floor (U-Fig, She’s Like Heroin,
and perhaps Lonely Day
), and does suffer a bit from its entirely too short length. However, it still features some smashing songs, and those in the end greatly outweigh the mediocre tracks on the album. Out of the two albums, it is certainly a stronger album overall, even if it does lack the…shall we say, originality, that Mesmerize
tries to express.