US - California - Full Moon 114 - 01/14/06
System of A Down
As Star Wars proved, sagas and chronological two-part releases are a risky business and that even with such attention to technics, are still very, very easy to fuck up, and make it look like an intentional self-ass-fucking in the process. In the case of System of A Down's modern metal double-album, master-suite, Hypnotize/Mezmerize one can't help think of the similar marketing of Guns N' Roses equally ambitious (but ten times more cheesy) double-disc experience, Use Your Illusion parts I and II, released separately this time in a six month period.
Obviously, I'm making a broad, decently obscure comparison: the greatest sci-fi series in cinema, the glam metal gem of the eighties, and the best part of the post-Johnny Cash American records label, but bare with me. Yet, something like Hypnotize/Mezmerize, in all it's tongue in cheek, head-banging-to-head-bobbing dynamics (in entire contrast to the ridiculous contemporaries I've created) seems ultimately necessary. This is especially true when their last great album, 2001's Toxcity, still left them so much room to maneuver, almost inviting H/M's boisterous showmanship. Legacies like Appetite for Destruction and Harrison Ford are things so bad-ass that they absorb and dominate any possible future potential where the artist abandon their identity - Axl never wanted Appetite's trashy glory to be GnR's hall mark and Lucas cut Han Solo's back story (and any other source of humanity) from the new prequels. Similarly, both age in infamy and pop culture enjoys the most rediculous parts of both: the Dylan rip-off turned into an arena jam, "Civil War", from Illusion part II and Jar Jar 'Meesa is Annoying as Fuck' Binx.
System seems perfectly aware with this - its fluff seems so well placed, but it's still fluff. On Mezmerize, the synthesizer-metal, dance hall bonanza of "Old School Hollywood", and the cliché breaks in "Sad Statue" do well to keep H/M fluent but do nothing to impress. That's left for radio ready anthems ("B.Y.O.B.", "Violent Pornography") and ethnic operas from ("Cigaro", "Revenga") - the very gold of part I.
Part II almost naturally lacks the latter, replacing it with a more violent, consistent thrash being it's catch rather than pint-sized, epic, napalm jingles. System on Hypnotize don't seem like frustrated melodists, instead they concentrate on putting more concrete in the foundation, and this manic journey becomes legitimately a heavier and heavier institution. I say legitimately, and legitimacy being something that a lot of modern metal lacks. "No one, no one's gonna save us now / Not even God, no one saved us / No one's gonna save us" cries the psycho choir of singer Serj Tankian and resident riff-meister Daran Malakain on "Tentative". Suddenly one is completely numb to ever referenced biblical cliché in being forsaken by the almighty. It's threatening and equally unsetteling to the listener, who, against any prejudice of post-Bizkit metal, can believe this fateful cry and be frightened by its levity.
Hypnotize is pure unadulterated violence - even it's leading single ("Kill Rock N' Roll") caters to no sense of pop by Mezmerize. In their relationship, the former is the butch, the latter, the bitch. Expect no more Armenian dance circles and bohemian operas of old, expect an apocalypse of the new. Metal albums like this don't come often enough, engaging so much intimate anger that do more than stimulate, but overwhelm. The humor is diffused by a steady and consistent assault, and never has melodic hard rock heralded such abuse without divulging into full fletched noise and hardcore. In System's prime form, this band delivers on all it's promises of a primal destructive piece by not trying out-do any expectations of it's May 2005 release. If you expect anything of this record after hearing Mezmerize, I beg you, reconsider and expect nothing. One can only hope hard rock can keep making good on promises layed out by these Armenian hell-raisers. George Lucas, this is how dark and intimidating we wanted the prequels to be; and Axl, this is how bad ass we wanted Chinese Democracy to sound.
Copyright © 2006 Matthew DeMello