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System of a Down - Mezmerize Print E-mail
Tuesday, 17 May 2005

System of a Down

album: Mezmerize
format: 16-bit stereo CD
label: Columbia
release year: 2005
performance: 8
sound: 9
reviewed by: Bryan Dailey

Image The commercial success of System of a Down still to this day blows my mind. Millions of album sales later, I never imagined that this progressive, ultra-heavy Armenian metal band could have achieved such a lofty place in mainstream alternative rock radio. For those of you who have not heard a SOAD single on the radio or seen a video on MTV, allow me to explain their sound in a nutshell. They play such incredibly heavy, hard-hitting, syncopated progressive metal music with intricate drum patterns and guitar riffs that you would need to have an internal metronome from God to be able to reproduce it. Singer Serj Tankian puts his Armenian roots into their music with an uncanny knack for singing notes that most Western singers would never think to even go for. Backup singer and guitarist Daron Malakian has a very distinct voice that is a little bit creepy and creates a startling blend when he sings along in harmony (or dissonance) with Tankian.

On the 11-track musical juggernaut Mezmerize, SOAD rips through the songs in a style that is unique, yet ultimately has very conventional pop-based arrangements. At first listen, I was floored as the riffs and rapid-fire vocal parts whizzed by. The songwriting is their finest to date and even though none of the songs feel like they were written with radio play in mind, Mezmerize features at least five songs that I’m confident will be hit singles.

On the track “Revega,” I could hardly follow along with the lyrics in the verse, even with the lyrics book. But when they hit the chorus, a strangely pop feeling comes over the song as Serj and Daron sing “My sweet revenge/Will be yours for the taking/It’s in the making, baby” in a very melodic and flowing style that is so different from the rest of the verses, but the transition is somehow perfect. On this mostly politically-charged album, there is a hint of tongue in cheek comedy on “Radio/Video,” as Tankian sings, “Hey man look at me/I'm rocking out on the radiooooo/Hey man look at me/I’m rocking out, I'm on the videooooo/With Danny and Lisa.” He and Malakian then trade vocal lines as music that sounds like the video game “The Legend of Zelda” rolls along. It then segues into a very ethnic, almost Middle Eastern feel, mixed with a very slow, almost polka-like riff that rapidly builds to the outro as they sing “La, la, la, la, la, la, la la …” One listen tells me there wasn’t a click track involved with the recording of this song, or else drummer John Dolmayan has an incredible ability to follow along with a drifting tempo while keeping it locked in a groove.

SOAD are so confident in their ability to rock at insane levels that they named one of their songs “This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I'm on This Song.” This 2:08 musical blast features double bass drum work that puts Slayer to shame, and some vocal performances that sound like Frank Zappa on speed.

What would have made Mezmerize a truly great album would have been if the band had taken more risks in terms of arrangements and the epic scope of the songs. No song on Mezmerize has any more than about four parts (verse, chorus, bridge, solo) and most of them are in the three-minute range, so the lifespan of the disc in my player ended up being shorter than it should have by about 10 listens. When it comes to this kind of music, it should challenge you, much like a Tool album can always reveal hidden layers with each listening. Mezmerize did just that for five or six spins, but was so catchy and hook-laden that I had the whole album figured out in a few days. Perhaps their next release (a part two, if you will), to be called Hypnotize, will take those extra chances that give it a shot at being a perfect album. Mezmerize is a nice step in that direction.

The album was produced by Rick Rubin, but the sounds on Mezmerize are the brainchild of guitarist and co-producer Daron Malakian. The guitars sound absolutely spectacular. They crush and rip, yet when you really listen to their tonal quality, they are not nearly as distorted as you would guess from a band like this. The underdriven guitar tone that he uses allows the rest of the instruments and vocals to beam through with amazing clarity for such a sonically complex album.

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