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
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.
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
, 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
, and Suite Pee
are all insanely catchy, while War?
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