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Mission Statements, Abound
Written: Jul 24, 2006
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Serj wrote most of the songs, excellent drumming
Cons:Lyrics and music will be over the edge for some.
The Bottom Line: System of a Down's self-titled debut remains their most creative, experimental, and consistently excellent release
Back in 1998, before becoming the musical obsession of wannabe-socialists across the country, System of a Down released their self-titled debut on the world without too much commotion outside of the metal-head community. Sure, Sugar and Spiders got occasional airplay on adventurous radio stations (and I use the term adventurous VERY loosely), but much of the albums music wasnt quite accessible enough for more mainstream attention (thats probably why this band has since become Hot Topics new messiah of capital gain. Its become quite popular to hate the mainstream). But mainstream or not, this album had promise and talent written all over it. It was the first chapter that would see this band towards its destiny as the masters of progressive metal - seamlessly yet abrasively shifting from melodious singing to incoherent screaming, and shattering many conventions to the common song structure as we know it today. But the thing is, they never reached that destiny - the destiny that was waiting for them after this CDs release. Instead, each subsequent release brought them further away from the insane musical genius of this dark masterpiece, and brought them more into the realm of just another political band.
Now hold on a second. Before I start getting IEDs in the mail, I should clarify that this band still has an incredibly unique sound. And anyone who tries to argue that Serj cant sing, or that John Dolmayan isnt one of the best drummers in the entire genre, either has the IQ of my T-shirt size (and seeing as shirt sizes are letters, Im pretty sure that removes the said individual from the realm of sentient thought), or is a radical conservative living in a church steeple in Texas manning an M-60 trained across the Mexican border. However, they have since taken that spark of creativity - the spark that exists on this album - and deliberately stifled it in order to produce a less inspired simulacrum of their former selves. Enter Hypnotize. . .
Granted, even their newer material is a hell of a lot more inspired than most other acts these days, but this album is the best sampling of all those musical quirks weve come to expect from System - bizarre time-shifts, hit and run guitar riffs, and the bizarre Mike Pattton-ish shrieking/singing/squawking of lead singer, Serj Tanakian. Yeah baby, its all here, and its all gold.
Although fans of the Secret Chiefs or John Zorns Naked City might not think so, System of a Downs self-titled album really is an excellent dose of experimental music. It might not destroy all the boundaries of musical convention by cramming as many genres into one CD as possible, but it definitely stretches the borders of metal in good taste. With Serjs schizophrenic lyrics, Darons bipolar guitar-wailing, Dolmayans calculated and furious flurry-drumming, and Shavos prevalent, yet mellow bass lines, System of a Down covers every bit of musical terrain one can while still being confined to a single genre. And Systems bizarre take on metal is revealed to us in the albums opener, Suite-Pee. . .
A curious flurry of notes is sent our way from Darons guitar at the beginning of Suit-Pee, akin to the sound of a defunct Atari game on speed. An assault of thrashing drums and chugging chords follows suit, before it all mellows over to the incessant tick of Dolmayans high-hat and a spasm of guitar and bass strings. Serj sets out early to confuse us with obscure metaphors, singing I had an out-of body experience the other day, her name was Jesus followed in the second verse by Crossed and terrored ravages of architecture, lend me thy blades! A confusing, sacrilegious song to say the least. However, a slow, bass-driven bridge supported by Serj and Darons growls and shrieks, respectively, adds an element to this song that makes it the brilliant, multi-layered intro it is.
Dolmayan carries the next track - Know - by flexing his technical prowess behind the drums. An intense tribal beat pounds the lifeblood into this incredible song, providing a sonic beach-head for the rest of his band-mates to follow through with some of the best music on the CD. Moments of traditional, heavy-metal guitar-work make this song more accessible to the laymen listener, but the presence of some unusual instrumentation adds just enough flair to make it stand out. At times, Daron shoots out a high-pitched noodle from his guitar amidst a moment of silence, reminiscent of Tom Morellos unique playing style (R.I.P Rage Against the Machine). But all other factors pale when compared to the rhythmic beating of Dolmayans pummeling drums, particularly during the bridge, when they deliver a beat that sounds like the war-drums of an ancient tribal society. And all of this accompanying Serjs poetic attack on humanist life-wh*res: Books all say different things, while people flap their yellow wings. Trying to sore by being a wh*re of life and almost everything. Overly indulgent identity wh*res irritate me too, Mr. Tanakian.
Sugar seems to be everyones favorite, and I havent figured out why. Granted, its a great song with entertaining lyrics and bizarre music, but if anything, I would think that that fact would make it more of an acquired taste track. After a brief, thrash-jam session, Daron picks away at his guitar in a swing fashion, though Shavos stepped bass functions as the propellant undertone of the songs verses. I play Russian Roulette everyday, a mans sport, with a bullet called Life - Yeah mamma called it Life Serj sings, leading us to believe that, combined with a reference to the komucha mushroom people, the song pertains to the life of a drug user. My girl, you know, she lashes out at me sometimes, and I just f*cking kick her, and then, Oh BaBy, Shes O.K.At times, Serj sings with the quivering voice of a madman, and at others, hes billowing out lines at such speed that you wonder if hes actually saying everything thats written in the lyric book. This dysfunctional song gradually self-destructs, sonically twirling in circles, accelerating with each rotation towards the conclusion, until it all erupts into an orchestra of articulate nonsense.
There could be no better way to balance the nightmarish music of Sugar than with the beautiful acoustic introduction of Suggestions. We are greeted with a tranquil yet tense guitar melody that slowly ushers us into the hyper-speed metronome of Dolmayans high-hat. All the while Serj sings of how the light post flaunts its status as our guiding-light, and how it abuses this status to run the ships ashore:
If you are the Light Post, then you own the working class
But if you want the answers, YOU BETTER GIVE A PIECE OF A#S!
This metaphor is elaborated on by. . .
Post hypnotic suggestions - are running the ships ashore
The orange light that follows, will soon proclaim itself a god
If you point your questions, the fog will surely chew you up
But if you want the answers, YOU BETTER GET READY FOR THE FIRE!
After a heavy, System-styled jam session, strange keyboards flutter through the fading sonic debris of Suggestions conclusion. A truly inspired piece of music, and perhaps my favorite System song of all time (actually, its tied with Know).
Spiders drifts in slowly via Shavos brooding bass - an effective pace setter for this slow burning track. Although Serjs singing is top-notch here, showcasing his more melodious and soothing side, this track doesnt work too well with me. Granted, the emotion in Tanakians voice is almost palpable, but I find the low-key bass lines arent complimented well by the heavy, chugging, thrash sessions that provide interludes between stretches of somber music. Overall, the music is a little too depressing for my tastes, and those of you who have a similar distaste for gothic music will probably agree. Aside from an intense bridge guided by Shavos heavy, distorted, grunge-like bass, this is a lackluster track.
A repetitive drum-line, sounding like a cross between military percussion and a circus act, starts up the bizarre Ddevil. I apologize, but I am at a loss for words with this one. Ddevil is, along with Vicinity of Obscenity from Hypnotize, the strangest song put out by System. Sure, you still have Daron taking conventional metallic riffs and eviscerating them to his own aims, and Dolmayan bouncing all about behind his drums, but the lyrics. . .Jesus. Plagiarized existence exists among the writers of the word - Shake your spear at Shakespeare. Or how about: My blue moon rivets in exits, forewarned customary spirits, by myself! I have my interpretations, but I think thats all anyone can have about this song. Unless you have a distaste for insane music, I doubt you can even have an objective opinion of the song. One thing is for sure, Ddevils conclusion sees Dolmayan hammering his drums with such precision and ferocity that youd swear an earthquake had occurred.
Soil in a lot of ways is similar to Know - only with concrete lyrics. Serj repeatedly sings, Friends for years images in red, blew off his own mother f*cking head. Though clearly about suicide, interesting metaphors reveal a more allusive, secondary topic: The phoenix he helped create and Shot the gun that started my life point to the notion of an after-life. Later on in the song, Daron messes with the pitch of his guitar, similar to the twitching sound found on Know, but this time he weaves it into a multi-layered riff. Dolmayans proficiency in tribe-styled drumming shines through again, only now we see more variety with the unceasing pummel of his musical powers.
Something about War? reminds me of early 90s metal, perhaps in that it doesnt feature any musical incursions into new areas. Although it might be musically regressive, Serj has penned some genuine political gold on this one. Yeah, I know, who would have thought System of a Down could write a good political song! With songs as lyrically trite as B.Y.O.B, Hypnotize, and Soldier Side in their repertoire, I personally didnt think it was possible! And yet behold, some of the greatest lines to appear in any System song:
Beliefs - theyre the bullets of the wicked
One was written on the sword, for you must enter a room to DESTROY, DESTROY, DESTROY!
Now international security - the Call of the Righteous man!
Needs a reason to kill a man!
Genius. Too bad they have yet to top these lyrics, although that is probably because Daron has insisted on writing most of the songs for their past three releases. . .
From personal experience, it seems Mind and Peephole are two songs that are lost to most people. This duet of delusional music will disgust most fans of Systems newer music, and down-right terrify those who do not like any of their music to begin with. Mind meanders lazily through a miasma of soft funk for a few minutes, before erupting into an explosion of extremely heavy metal. Vocally, there is no verse/chorus structure to speak of. Instead, what little lyricism there is, is either screeched or spoken softly. Peephole is a little more accessible, though its lyrics are derivative at best. Shortly after the ambient keyboards of its introduction fade away, the song kicks into full gear with a bizarre, swashbuckler cadence. System actually experiments with a trombone in this tack. Although it plays a minor role, I have to give them kudos for the effort. Fans of Mr. Bungle will probably love these two tracks, as Serj croons like Patton to the backdrop of a band gone mad.
CUBErt ropes us back to Systems norm. Daron loves his high-pitched twitching, and thats first on this tracks list of things to do. Dolmayan is also back in the game with his acrobatic drumming, though both of these musicians play at an unusual pace and pitch. Darons guitar and Shavos bass combine to create a sound like that of a sheet of wobbling metal, and Dolmayans base pedals take on a more simple, primal role. Serj comments on social conformity and socio-economic stagnancy with bizarre lyrics, claiming such a status quo is a pyramid mind f*ck and sarcastically telling us, dont leave your seats now!
I know. The whole non-conformity vs. conformity issue is tired topic of discussion, but CUBErt breathes some originality into an otherwise banal topic.
System of a Down combines their more trippy music with receivable metal in Darts, though they blend these aspects poorly. At its hardest moments, Darts offers us nothing we havent heard before, and in its strangest moments, it just seems boring. Aside from an interesting segment in which Tanakians screaming is separated by extended periods of a ticking clock (which will undoubtedly annoy many listeners), you have the weakest track on the album. Dont worry - P.L.U.C.K more than compensates for this frustrating song.
Suddenly, Systems entire debut album changes. Youd swear the production quality was amplified for this incredible closing track. A piercing chord progression from Daron guides us to what will become a brilliant song. Shavo rapidly plucks his bass with a level of skill more discernable now than ever before. Those awkward pauses and tempo-shifts that have become the classic staple of Systems music - it is all right here. Once all of these musicians are rocking together in unison, P.L.U.C.K becomes nothing less than a flaming fountain of adrenaline. But it wouldnt be System if they didnt throw in a moment or two of mellow singing. Two small verses are sung perfectly by Serj, and Darons backing vocals are laid down perfectly until the very last line is uttered: All in a system, Down. . .
Systems self-title debut remains my favorite release from these Armenian radicals. Listening to it always makes me a bit sad inside, though. System of a Down, while still ground-breaking, failed at being the revolutionary musicians they could have been. Instead of building on their experimental aspects and refining them into a more cohesive listening experience with later releases, they kind of removed them altogether. Sure, these days you still get those awkward musical transitions or the occasional acoustic segment, but where are the intelligent metaphors (the ones that ACTUALLY mean something), or the insane tribal drumming? And wheres that awesome trombone!? Oh, thats right - Daron has been writing most of the music and lyrics since Toxicity, and has since decided to remove those excellent musical quirks and replace them with mindless political drivel aimed at 16-year olds. If I didnt know any better, Id swear Daron was trying to execute a coup de tat with an army of teenagers. Hes a good guitarist, and hes not a bad singer, but technical proficiency doesnt always equate to good song-writing (and in his case, it doesnt).
Mark my words, Daron Malakian will be the death of this band.
And Now For Something Completely Different. . .
P.S: I need to clarify something: My disgust for Systems more recent political music does not come from my reservations against liberals. In fact, I myself am a crazy, godless, freedom hating liberal. Im just sick of rock bands trying to speak on behalf of my political ideologies, because they usually dont know what the f*ck theyre talking about. All they end up doing is giving us liberals a bad name, and giving conservatives easy points to knock over with a small dose of applied logic. Bad Religion and Rage Against the Machine are the only two bands in my book that have/had the right to get political with their music. Everyone else should keep their mouth shut - theyre only hurting the cause.
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