More and more I'm convinced that, rather than being the crazy moshing half brother of Rage Against The Machine, System Of A Down are actually not a metal band at all, but rather the sole heirs of The Dead Kennedys' estate. On 'Mezmerize', the first part of this year's double release ('Hypnotize' will be released in the autumn), there's that same familiar psychotic energy and enthusiasm that manages to add a blitz of colour to their records even when they're being as dark as hell, black comedy like Slim Pickens cowboy hick air force captain riding the bomb to oblivion in 'Dr.Strangelove'. It does not conform.
It's nice when the album runs from the quiet minor melancholy intro, 'Soldier Side', into frenetic supercharged 'Maiden territory for the Gulf War tirade 'B.Y.O.B.', and also nice when that song empties out into a hooky chorus that could almost be the Backstreet Boys bent over a big riff. On 'Revenga', Serj Tankian switches between an almost unintelligibly fast vocal and melancholy armenian folk meets Fugazi. Loved the epic Devin Townsend-ish middle eight. 'Cigaro', with it's cock fixation, estranges me a bit. Though the point of the song appears to be to parody male posturing, it steers a little too close to that which it mocks.
I don't know if it's an attempt to force their songs into being more 'pop', but the band have developed a habit of overly repeating a lyric in the hope that it sticks. In theory that's fine, but in this case, some of the phrases they choose to repeat aren't particularly memorable and the repetition can be irritating and clumsy (like the chorus to 'Radio/Video').... Good thing they never stick in one place long enough to get boring and are still expert at setting verses to some rhythm you didn't expect. (That track dives in to a few different reggae feels and finally settles on something like a wedding dance!). 'This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I'm On This Song' is very much like an modern Dead Kennedys song might sound, fast and furious, while 'Violent Pornography' begins like a bit of a nursery rhyme. Nice chorus, but I'm not sure if I really get the lyrics. I really liked the way 'Question!' was put together... it's different, and difficult to describe. 'Sad Statue' and 'Old School Hollywood' are both decent enough SOAD fare, but make sure you wait for the last song!
I think 'Lost In Hollywood', a bitter blast at it's phony manipulative flipside, is the band's 'Under The Bridge'. A great ballad, a great tune and a great song. Many lighters will sway from side to side to it, and many fans will sing along, but I wonder if the caustic words may (sadly) keep it off the daytime playlist.
The minor key melodies and armenian folk side of Daron Malakian's writing are much more in evidence on 'Mezmerize' than on their previous albums...imagine Anthrax and the Cardiacs doing a soundtrack for 'Fiddler On The Roof', the eastern folk melodies playing Dr.Jekyll to the heavy riffing staccato Hyde. Perhaps they're settling into their identity...Fast and furious often, melodic often, powerful often, diverse always. It very occasionally loses me, but on the whole, the album is perfect for anyone with a low attention span. If played in isolation, most of the songs would catch the first time listener because System of A Down still sound very different from anyone else (remember what it was like hearing 'Chop Suey!!!' on Xfm), but 'Mezmerize'is primarily an album that I would almost always play from front to back, since it provides a bit of a journey for the listener (on the back of a scooter going the wrong way down a one way street in Naples in rush hour). Worth mentioning the excellent inner artwork, and specifically the abstract band pictures.
Three years after their brilliant 1998 debut,'System Of A Down', came the album that propelled the band into many people's consciousness,'Toxicity', and four years later here we are with another excellent record, 'Mezmerize'. It's nice to see them back, and I hope the forthcoming 'Hypnotize' is as good.
8Chris Nettleton's Score