System Of A Down

American, 2005

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy


For their duration, System Of A Down was like that one kid in high school or college who acted like the loud, obnoxious hedonistic partier when in a crowd, but was smart, perceptive, and reflective once you got them one-on-one. 

Their album Toxicity broke them into the majors and had the ugly distinction of being the number one album in the United States during the week of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.  When Clear Channel was rushing to remove anything from John Lennon's "Imagine" to Drowning Pool's "Bodies," System Of A Down's Toxicity was the soundtrack of shellshock, battering you with its aggressiveness.

Their follow-up strategy was to release two releases in the same year, each existing as sort of a mirror of one another: Mezmerize and Hypnotize. The first album, Mezmerize, was best known for its pulverizing single "B.Y.O.B." It was one of the most popular and direct critiques of the Iraq war. "Why don't presidents fight the war / Why do we always send the poor?" Idealistic or not, it was a question that lingered thanks to Daron Malakin's Blitzkrieg's guitar work and John Dolmayan's bunker-busting drumming. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

One of System Of A Down's greatest strengths was (is?) the band's ability to move at a speed other than full-throttle. On "Radio/Video," elements of Caribbean and even polka are woven in with a chorus that is sung in ballad form for one stanza and as thrash in another. On "Question!," Serj Tankian's vocals start off gentle, then soar to operatic heights. For the majority of the last decade, it looked like Tool finally had a legitimate challenger to their status as kings of "heady" heavy metal. But if there was one artist I would compare with System Of A Down, it would be closer to Frank Zappa than Black Sabbath.

Unfortunate, that's not necessarily a compliment. There's no doubt that Zappa was a genius, but he was just as guilty in creating some work that borderlined on unlistenable and his sense of humor could range from side-splitting funny to woefully sophomoric. The same could be said for System Of A Down on Mezmerize. "Cigaro," on first listen, is an amusing play on George Carlin's theory that the majority of wars are started because of penis envy, but the repeated "My cock is much bigger than yours" line goes beyond grating. "Old School Hollywood" may have some cool early ‘80s Tron-like music effects, but it falls flat with their targets Frankie Avalon and Tony Danza. Seriously, would a moving target be too much to ask? Its next song "Lost in Hollywood" could either be seen through the eyes of a zealot preaching against that liberal Sodom or a genuine account about how the pursuit of fame eventually leads to ruin. Either way, it's a subject well worn out to exhaustion. Another song "Sad Statue" has a few great lines, but overall, the song could easily be a song for a generic post-apocalyptic movie.

Mezmerize's faults don't keep it from being a worthy purchase. If the band could have combined the best elements of Mezmerize with Hypnotize, they would have had an absolute classic to match Toxicity. The biggest frustration of Mezmerize is that the band's talent is undisputable, but it’s almost stubbornly held back. And on the songs that boldly go against the metal stereotype, they tower. It's just unfortunate that System Of A Down routinely breaks that rhythm to play to the lowest common denominator.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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