System of a Down, the famous American-Armenian quartet from LA. Everyone knows these outspoken men, believing what they do, with a voice beyond most people. The biggest controversy surrounding this band is their genre, however. System of a Down's ascension to fame was during the rise of nu-metal in the early years of the 21st century, along with Staind, Slipknot, and such. System of a Down got lumped in the same category, despite their music having several overtones that are definitely not present in those other bands.
Indeed, I consider System to be far from nu-metal, and in fact, this latest release, while being no Toxicity, to be one of the better records that commercial music has produced, in fact, I think System claims the title for most appealing commercial artist, and I really don't like anything of what's on the radio these days, so that's a good thing.
Now, the reason I consider System to be different, is first of all, the musical influences from everywhere, ranging from folk to thrash to armenian to punk to everything you can name. Attack, the album's opening song, is a vicious barrage of staccato riffs in the vein of Slayer, except I actually like this.
SOAD are actually musical, and their main vocalist Serj Tankian, has the voice to go with this band. Modelled after alternative rock idol Mike Patton, Serj has a unique voice, ranging from operatic and soaring vocals, to harsh growls, to mad falsetto screams. And on previous albums, he used this to great effect, making songs such as Bounce and Aerials hit my playlist a lot of the time. However, on this release he shares lead vocal duties with Daron Malakian, who can sing, but only in harmony/disharmony (check out Dreaming!), and not solely in my opinion. While Serj can drive a song with his vocals, and show why System is so great, Daron falls short of the mark with some nauseating, thin, nasal vocals that sound very whiny. It is good to contrast with Serj's deeper voice, and makes for some excellent vocal moments (Dreaming, Attack, Holy Mountains), but on some songs, especially Daron's own song Lonely Day, he falls short. Not to mention Daron's lyrics on that song are nothing short of horrible.
Now, we have spoken about the musical section of SOAD, let us consider the rhythm bit of SOAD. While I by no means think that either Shavo or John are absolute masters of their craft, they're certainly not the worst of the metal bunch. John can keep a beat, and does some interesting fills here and there, not to mention the frantic drumming on songs such as attack. Shavo plays mostly root notes, but he's definitely doing good stuff with the bass, and again I think that while not top-notch, he has a role to play for the better of the band, and that he serves the purpose of the band.
Individual standout songs on the record are the already mentioned Attack, which has to be the trademark SOAD aggression song, with kickass riffing at high speeds, reminiscent of thrash bands along the vein of Slayer and Anthrax. Dreaming is a more typical SOAD track, with some nice harmonising melodies in the choruses, again typical SOAD. U-Fig is mad, but the chorus is hilarious, and Serj shows off once again with his insane vocal skills (Serj indeed is one of my favourite singers). Vicinity of Obscenity continues the food/drugs song trend, exemplified by Sugar, or Chic 'n' Stu, or This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I'm On This Song.
The political topics also are scattered among the record, with the title track, Holy Mountains (kickass song about the Armenian genocide of 1915), Tentative (about civilians in war zones, with the bombs falling), and Soldier Side, describing the soldiers at the front, despairing and hoping they will be saved by the Lord above, but in vain. It may get boring at times, and System's political criticisms are rather obnoxious at times, but at least they speak and keep speaking, without fail. Their anti-crime, anti-capitalistic, pro-peace intentions are genuine, and they keep reiterating the message in their music. Nauseating to the bone, but effective, and the message doesn't get any clearer than this.
Of course, there are also some downside tracks to the record. Lonely Day is a horrible piece of work, no idea what Daron wanted to do here, Kill Rock 'n' Roll is a little too contrived for my tastes, an attempt at being funny, but falling flat. Stealing Society is similarly ineffective filler, no idea what the song is about, or indeed, what the point of it is. She's Like Heroin again has its moments, but is more silly than hilarious in my opinion. I guess you just need to have a certain sense of humour to know what System are about sometimes.
So, overall, where does Hypnotize stand in the SOAD discography. Well, it's not the sheer brilliance of Toxicity, or the experimental nature of Steal This Album!, nor is it as overly mad and psychotic as their self-titled debut. But it's definitely a System of a Down disc, with a lot of good points and some failed experiments, and maybe it would have been better if it had been combined with Mezmerize to make one big disc of excellent tracks, trimming some of the fat off. In itself, it's not a bad record, and I still occasionally find myself coming back to it despite the fact that the novelty of the band has somewhat worn off over the years, also due to a taste in musical preference. System may not be the best band to roam the earth, they're at least one of the few good mainstream metal bands around, and one you can listen to without feeling guilty. And at the end of the day, I'll still take this disc over almost everything else I can find that's popular, and like it. Don't hesitate to get yourself some system, even if you're a metal purist; you're missing out on some good stuff.