System of a Down: Mezmerize
As Serj Tankian sang “I cry when angels deserve to die”, an entire generation of music listeners sat up and took notice of System of a Down — a four-piece Armenian-American band, who’s music could loosely be termed as “hyper” and “aggressive”. But it wasn’t just about the aggression. There was something different about them. The music was genuinely passionate. The raw emotion was underlined by understanding; the anger was accompanied by genuine concern. And there was more. Tankian sang about the prison system of the US, throwing cold facts in your face (“Drug money is used to rig elections, and train brutal corporate-sponsored dictators around the world”), while telling those who’d care to listen, that “they’re trying to build a prison for you and me”. He sighed, “We fought your wars with all our hearts; you sent us back in body parts”, as he emphatically announced that “we don’t give a damn about your world with all your global profits and jeweled pearls”.
The manic music and Tankian’s prophetic voice surrounded and amplified that passion, and suddenly, everyone was mesmerized by System of a Down. They felt that they could understand the message that they were trying to get across — and hey, even if they didn’t, the music’s great, right?
‘Mezmerize’ is one half of System of a Down’s latest double album, ‘Mesmerize/Hypnotize’. And even at first listen, you know that System of a Down have outdone themselves here. Just when one thought it couldn’t get any better, it has. ‘Mesmerize’ contains 11 songs, and there isn’t a single dull moment on this CD.
Starting off with a brief intro (“Soldier Side”), the listener is assaulted with the lead single “B.Y.O.B” (Bring Your Own Bombs). The vocal harmonies between Tankian and guitarist Daron Malakian on this album can be described as nothing less than beautiful, as they sing “Everybody’s going to the party, have a good time; dancing in the desert, blowing up the sunshine”, while suddenly breaking into screams of “Blast off, it’s party time, and where the fuck are you? … Why don’t Presidents fight the war, why do they always send the poor?”.
“Revenga” stands out for the sheer speed at which Serj Tankian sings the verses, which are quite a mouthful, even if you speak them — and then he declares, “My sweet revenge is yours for the taking, it’s in the making, baby”. “This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I’m on This Song” is a psycho, manic song about how paranoid drugs can make you — “There’s nothing wrong with me, there’s something wrong with you … I hope your stepson doesn’t eat the fish when we’re crying for our next fix”.
Album closer “Lost In Hollywood” is, in my opinion, a song writing breakthrough for System, as Tankian’s heartfelt, sweeping background vocals provide the perfect accompaniment to Malakian’s bitter rants — “They find you / Two-time you / Say you’re the best they’ve ever seen”. He decides that Hollywood is a place where “phony people come to pray” as he tells you to “look at all of them beg to stay”. He eventually resigns to the conclusion that “you should have never trusted Hollywood”.
System of a Down alternate between spitfire, rabid vocals and lush vocal harmonies — all set to “hyper” music that alternates accordingly — as they sing about government lies and hypocrisy, and the mass cultural ignorance that plagues the United States. To be continued. [American Records; 2005]