System of A Down
"System of A Down"
1001 Recordings to Hear Before You Die
Music critics are limited. It's a fact. There are simply too many albums in existence for them to consider every one. The unfortunate side effect of this is that many acts are often tied to one album and the rest of their catalogue is ignored. Metallica is such an act. Critics point to "Master of Puppets" without hesitation, although the group released three comparably good albums during the same decade. Therefore I have to give kudos to "1001 Albums" for choosing System of A Down's debut album over its blockbuster follow-up "Toxicity." The latter is a superb metal album, but I agree that the former is the best display of the band's quirky tendencies.
Quirky is an understatement. Sure, there are the jumps between time signatures, but the group's bizarre vocals were its original calling card. Lead vocalist Serj Tankian has, at the core of the matter, an excellent high-baritone voice. Which he avoids using during this album. Instead, he employs death growls, high-pitched shrieks (as does guitarist Daron Malakian) and uncomfortable whispers to add to the trippy ambiance generated by the changing tones and bizarre lyrics. "Suite-Pee" kicks off album aggressively with a combination of disconcerting vocal styles, and the strategy continues in tracks like "Know," "Ddevil" and "Mind."
Tankian and Malakian are both talented guitarists (both emphasizing "rhythm" over "lead" style) but their knack for weaving melodies would emerge on "Toxicity." Malakian does equip Tankian's lyrics with a variety of music styles here however. From the thrashing riff on "War?" to the haunting, more mainstream riff on "Spiders" (the one song that hints at the band's future pop-friendliness). The best combination of the band's best attributes is the single "Sugar," which combines a bizarre narrative with riffs that alternate between bop and heavy metal.
The band has always been less than subtle about its political causes. In recent years, it has opted more and more for bluntness, often featuring spoken word bridges outlying societal issues. It is much more understated here. Based on the liner notes, "Mind" is about CIA mind control programs and "Spiders" is about 1984 surveillance but you wouldn't know it from one listen. The band is a tad more forward on "P.L.U.C.K" (Politically Lying Unholy, Cowardly Killers), which comments on the group's favorite cause, the Armenian Genocide of 1915 (the band are all of Armenian decscent).
As I mentioned several times, this album tends toward weird. The radio-friendly singles that poured forth from "Toxicity" aren't there, and as a result, this album is tough for fans of "Toxicity" to embrace. I'd recommend that newer metal fans to check out the band's acclaimed second album, but for those who have already enjoyed that album, don't ignore its splendid predecessor.
INTERESTING FACT: The genocide committed against the Armenians by Turkey is still a hot political issue. Turkey denies the classification of "genocide," even though the word genocide was conceived by experts specifically to describe these events. The United States has avoided officially recognizing it as genocide in order to maintain good relations with Turkey, which holds U.S. military bases. So, they made it a state issue, because apparently the recognition of genocide is a state issue. Every state aside from Alabama, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming have officially recognized the events as genocide.