In the interest of full disclosure — my odd affinity for System Of A Down is a dirty secret that has been plaguing me for a few years now. The good news is that this public airing comes along with a new record that significantly decreases my unusual soft spot for these Armenian nu-metal weirdos.
Along with architecturally stunning, occasionally disquieting facial hair, and a strange musical similarity to some of Faith No More’s heavier efforts, SOAD’s records have actually had their moments over the last few years. 2001’s Toxicity, released just a week before 9/11 was full of eerie hyper-political statements, neck breaking changes, and Serj Tankian’s troll-on-amphetamines vocal wail. Not brain surgery, but in a landscape dominated by Slipknot and similar WWF-minded musicians, it was a welcome alternative in the metal world. Now comes Mezmerize, billed as one half of a double album whose companion piece will hit your local file-sharing hub this fall. It’s possible to look past the occasional oddball moment: an unnecessary ska breakdown in ‘Radio/Video’ or the goofy lyrical bend of the otherwise trashing ‘Cigaro’… but alas, there are further crimes against rock throughout the album. Amidst some occasionally challenging and triumphant musical achievements, there’s a reliance on recycled riffs, which we expect from Metallica, but not from a band with so few records under its belt. There’s also a heady dose of irony in lyrics that will most likely beguile young fans (or simply be found completely off-putting). We’re not talking sly under your breath irony here either, Mezmerize occasionally reeks of the same nasty, failed, tongue-in-cheek style as Weezer’s ‘Beverly Hills’, though Tankian and crew’s tales of Santa Monica Blvd. at least make it sound like they’ve actually been there. Is Mezmerize still better than most of the records it will likely be grouped with? Undoubtedly.