System of a Down
System of a Down


5.0
classic

Review

by John weathered old reviewer Hanson STAFF
August 19th, 2006 | 689 replies | 61,501 views


Release Date: 1998 | Tracklist


In fact, System of a Down as a whole still pretty much totally owns any album ever, period. Forget about what you think you know about System from past reviews, sans a few tracks on Steal This Album, the general sound of this album could be an entirely different band from that who made Toxicity.

Before they decided to pursue their thrash-y roots, System of a Down was a very minimalist, cautious band. Not in the normal sense, but in that they never wanted to go over the top with their music, without there being a real purpose for it. This is most clearly expressed in Daron’s guitar playing, which focuses far less on the chugging riffs of latter material, and more so on strangely constructed chord progressions. He also experiments more with sudden time changes and complete turnarounds in playing style here more often than anywhere else; Mind goes from a roaring riff to a single, elongated note, to a droning guitar line, back to that pounding riff, and then into a black metal-inspired riff-fest. While he isn’t as competent as he would later be, he was certainly more interesting to listen to.

The album is much in the same vein. The songs are simpler than they would end up being; despite all the uniqueness and originality they’d express here, you aren’t going to get a technical masterpiece like Soldier Side or B.Y.O.B here. Instead, what you get are supremely odd songs like Ddevil, which just bounces along to Shavo’s bouncy bass technique (ah, back in the days when we could hear him) and Serj’s most eclectic vocal work. Peephole puts itself on echo to warn you of what’s coming, and is actually a scary song to listen to. You may not piss your pants, but if you’ve ever been in those shoes the lyrics allude to, you’ll certainly get a tad bit frightened.

Getting onto Serj’s vocals, however, it’s a strange conundrum. He isn’t quite as strong a vocalist as he would later become, so instead of being as detached or operatic as he would later be, he opts to just give it everything he’s got. He screams, he growls, he goes from screaming and growling into falsettos, and then he’ll still start to psuedo-rap if the mood strikes him. It just sounds like he wants to be into the music more than on any other album, and this lends him an air of likeability he normally doesn’t get. It also helps he’s such an diverse vocalist; he can instantly change his tone and pitch, almost in the middle of a word, without having to drag it out. It makes for some of the most interesting vocal melodies this side of Mike Patton, and for him to draw such a comparison in the midst of all that is going on can be no less of an understatement.

Going back to the element of surprise, listening now, it’s astounding how good the lyrics are. Instead of drawing everything out into huge metaphors and using literary allusions to say “war is bad”, System really just say what they mean here. War?, the definitive political song by them, clearly states that what we do today is no longer even able to be considered “war”, and the fervor with which they do so is convincing, regardless of political beliefs. Mind is another highlight; with Serj describing the pain of childhood abuse. His delivery (and the guttural squawk he gives) gives the lyrics a heightened sense of danger, as the unraveling of it near its end (and the repetition of the haunting “Look at each other…”) makes you just feel…well, sad.

Soil then bursts in with a tale of suicide that touches your heart, but System decide against making it sentimental, and instead focus on the anger those around the deceased person feel towards god, while downplaying the part the deceased played in it themselves. It really is one of the most honest portrayals of coping with suicide on album; you don’t curse that person for killing themselves, you curse the things around him. Previously mentioned, Peephole is a semi-cautionary tale on drug use, describing what essentially equates to a bad high. Using some vivid imagery, Serj & Daron perfectly describe what its like to go on a bad acid trip, and do so in an entirely too real manner, even replicating a sound that resembles that feeling.

In fact, that’s what makes System of a Down so brutally good; the sounds they achieve are so sublimely made and fit so well with a songs lyrical content. To put it into perspective, imagine most bands having four or five pipes that their music comes out of. Now, the stuff that’s comes out of those pipes does eventually all come back together. System of a Down just have one extra large pipe, where nothing is lost in the process. It’s a horrific analogy, but perhaps the only way to make it work. Mind just feels depraved, Peephole feels creepy and out there, Soil feels jaded and wrong. The atmosphere of nearly every song here is perfect, particularly the haunting song about mind control, Spiders, which is so under-toned that it makes you pay attention to it closely, essentially forcing you to do the opposite of what it is actually suggesting. Wicked, eh?

There are two aspects that really make or break albums. One is the flow of said album, and the other is how good the songs just generally are. System of a Down succeeds flawlessly in both areas. The album flows seamlessly; Suite Pee, a rather silly track dealing with religion, goes into Know, one of the more straight-metal tracks on the album, with very little resistance. Often tracks compliment each other; it’s such a relief to hear Ddevil with all it’s quirkiness in between Spiders and Soil, two of the most dead serious songs on the album.

Then, there is the individual class of songs. To be truthful, they work just as well separated as they do together. While still not as varied or as jaw-dropping as on Steal this Album!, the songs here are also far more strange. Suggestions (still a live staple) sounds more like an affected pop song until Daron comes in screaming, and the strange yelpin Serj gives in the chorus is one of the most emasculatingly-awesome metal moments ever. P.L.U.C.K is the catharsis of the album, as Serj and crew let out all the stops and let their feelings on their tragic national history (It is the token Armenian-genocide song on the album, before that became a token of SoaD). It ends the album perfectly, as the simple, mellow, near accepting end it reaches seems like the obvious result of all the emotion and creativity they display throughout the album.

This is where it all began, folks. All the multi-platinum albums, all the humongous tours, the general-public view of them as the metal legends of this era, it all technically started here. Is it the most accessible album by them? Actually, probably. Sugar, Ddevil, and Suite Pee are all insanely catchy, while War?, Mind and Spiders are the perfect “deep tracks”, if they can be called so. Is it the best System of a Down album? I’d certainly say so, overall, that it is by far and away their best body of work, only even rivaled by Steal This Album!. But, you know, there’s probably something I should tell you about myself. Something that might change your thoughts on all of these reviews I’ve written objectivity.

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 took it upon myself to take a look back at their entire discography, and then I gave a fairly detailed analysis on each of the bands 5 albums (essentially, however, only three distinct phases), since we now have a large basis to do so.

Reccomended Tracks From Each Album:
System of a Down: Sugar, Mind, War
Toxicicty: Chop Suey!, Deer Dance, Psycho
Steal This Album!: Ego brain, Streamline, A.D.D
Mesmerize: BYOB, This Cocaine…, Lost in Hollywood
Hypnotize: Tentative, Holy Mountains, Soldier Side




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user ratings (2934)
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
August 19th 2006



16071 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

I can move on with my life.

Digging: Trophy Scars - Holy Vacants

Intransit
August 19th 2006



2797 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

excellent review. Very in depth and well written to boot. Easily my favorite system album, all though I dont listen nearly as much as I should.

francesfarmer
August 19th 2006



1477 Comments


wut tree sistem of a dwn revews on teh frunt payge liek wtfuk

I think this was the best one, good job...

Intransit
August 19th 2006



2797 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

god, as an addition, I forgot to mention how morose that part during their last show was when Daron said "this will be the last system of a down show for a long long time"

I dont think there was a smile in the house at that point

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
August 19th 2006



16071 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

For some odd reason I figure'd this would be the most well recieved of my three today. Oh well!
Yeah, that moment during the show was kind of sad. In happier news, that was also the moment where the idea to review all of their albums that were already over-reviewed came from, so yay!

The Sludge
August 19th 2006



2169 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Well this didn't seem quite as epic as your TBS trilogy, but this was a good feat to boot.

I believe this is the only System album I haven't heard, please don't shoot me.

The Jungler
August 19th 2006



4827 Comments


Spiders is such an awesome song.
Good review.

"Freshly Baked"
August 19th 2006



583 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

My fave SOAD album. A solid 4 from me, but you are constantly writing great reviews.

Bron-Yr-Aur
August 19th 2006



4405 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

[quote=Review]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.[/quote]
I like how this closing paragraph is the opening paragraph for your Toxicity review. Seriously, no sarcasm.

Acey
August 19th 2006



2577 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

good review, have you finished all of the SOAD reviews?
/votes

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
August 19th 2006



16071 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

Yeah, I finished all the soad reviews, cpt for live in LA, whih I might do at a later date, but not have it flow like these did.
And Bron, thanks. It occured to me at the end that would be a neat thing to do, so I tried to pull it off the best I could.

Bron-Yr-Aur
August 19th 2006



4405 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

It worked, I think. Gives it almost a "cycle" like feel. Or maybe I'm weird.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
August 19th 2006



17911 Comments


I liked it too.

Intransit
August 19th 2006



2797 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

its kind of like how Mezmerize opens with Soldier Slide and Hypnotize ends with Soldier Side. Full Circleness.

Iluvatar
Staff Reviewer
August 19th 2006



16071 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0 | Sound Off

jThere should be a movie based off of these reviews tbh.
Hey, it'd be better than American Idiot.

mynameischan
Staff Reviewer
August 19th 2006



17911 Comments


Nah.

Acey
August 19th 2006



2577 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

anything would be better than American Idiot

Onewaytrip2hell
August 19th 2006



508 Comments


Nah, American Idiot is better than the song *** Like That if you heard it..... *shudder*

Acey
August 19th 2006



2577 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

i hate that song, so you are probably right. all it is is generic mainstream rapThis Message Edited On 08.19.06

Onewaytrip2hell
August 19th 2006



508 Comments


Being creative is one thing, but imitating a puppet over an Asian beat - too scary for words.



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