System Of A Down
For a Goth-Metal group there is probably no better home than L.A. It reeks of impending destruction and willful annihilation. And that's just the Chamber of Commerce's take. There's a pervasive feeling that everyone is just waiting for the place to fall into the ocean. The ultimate edge.
System Of A Down formed in the mid '90s mixing Trash Metal, Alt. Rock and a lot more, including Rap, Jazz and Middle-Eastern influences. All part of the American melting pot - from an Armenian perspective.
A three-song demo designed to reach beyond the narrow confines of their fanatic local following did exactly that. It connected with Metal fans throughout the U.S., Europe and even New Zealand. Like a message in a bottle, you never know where a demo will wash up.
In '97, System Of A Down signed with American Records. Big guns, Rick Rubin and Dave Sardy produced SOAD's self-titled debut. Their hard-core yet unpredictable nature won them an opening slot on Slayer's tour and a ride on Ozzfest. "Toxicity" was released in '01. A year later, "Steal This Album," a collection of outtakes and previously unreleased material arrived in stores. In early '05 word came out that System Of A Down was going to release two CDs (rather than a double album). The first was "Mezmerize." Like "Toxicity," "Mezmerize" claimed the #1 spot on the album chart. So the public was still onboard. "Hypnotize" arrived six months later.
Tankian issued his debut solo album, "Elect The Dead," in '07. "With System, it's a process where four people have to agree on what songs to use," said Tankian. "When you're doing it by yourself, all the decisions come and go with you."
"There are political songs, funny songs, love songs, songs about painful experiences, vanity and the environment. It has a deep melancholy that runs from the personal to the global, with a glimmer of hope in the solidarity of spirit."
The set contained "The Unthinking Majority." "(It) is a song that I needed to release... to make a statement about the current catastrophe of our failing democracy," explained Tankian.
The disc's first single was "Empty Walls." Album videos, with a different director working on each, were screened in select theaters prior to the set's release.
Continuing his solo endeavors, Tankian and former Faith No More frontman Mike Patton collaborated on the song "Bird's Eye" which was heard during the closing credits of the '08 Leonardo DiCaprio/Russell Crowe action thriller Body Of Lies.
As Tankian was about to release his second album, "Imperfect Harmonies," he discussed System Of A Down's future, especially since, at the time, it had been four years since the band's last release.
"We're friends, nothing's changed, and we get offers to play shows, tours, whatever, and we discuss them once in a while," offered Tankian. "We have not made any decisions as of yet as to what we're gonna do. But when we do, it'll be quite obvious."
"We won a Grammy and we had two #1 records," added Shavo in a later Hustler magazine interview. "We were making a lot of loot [money]. Then some people within the group of four brothers started seeing things differently . . . and their actions made the reactions of others pretty unbrotherly-like."
Well, it took five years - since Ozzfest in '06 - for SOAD to tour again.
1998 System Of A Down
2002 Steal This Album!
System Of A Down's self-titled debut has shrill guitar breaks amongst the thrash. The Rockers "Suite-Pee," "Know" and "Sugar" standout. The latter even employs the ancient "Radar Love" rhythm in the verses. The follow up "Toxicity," with "Prison Song," "X" and "Jet Pilot," topped the Billboard Album Chart. Not bad for a sophomore effort. It was worthy.
While tempting to dismiss "Steal This Album" as little more than a bobble for dedicated fans it does have "Innervision," "Highway Song" and the explosive "Boom," and that's enough.
"Mezmerize" is a theatrical album and all the histrionics gives it a quirky feeling. "B.Y.O.B. (Bring Your Own Bombs)" has a popish gloss while traveling down the road to ruin. "Revenga" and "Radio/Video" are more intense. The set ends with a couple bitter takes on Hollywood life and times - "Lost In Hollywood" and "Old School Hollywood," which charts a bygone era and its inherent phoniness.
The question surrounding "Hypnotize" is how it compares to its predecessor. If "Mezmerize" is dramatic then "Hypnotize" is over the top. But then, "over the top" is a relative term. It all depends on where you start. And SOAD are well down the road by the opening track.
"Attack" is a violent song that collapses into brutal speed Rock. "Dreaming" takes an almost surreal turn as the tempo ramps up. The turbulent and highly emotional vocal interplay between Malakian's tenor and Tankian's fierce growl on this song, and others, are powerful. They keep up the din on "Kill Rock 'N' Roll." Great track. "Stealing Society" rides a solid driving rhythm to the hilt. "Hypnotize" effectively changes tact with the down tempo "Lonely Day" and the moving "Solider Side." But the album's masterpiece is "Vicinity Of Obscenity." With speed Rap vocals that mimic a Metal guitar, the song traverses tempo, rhythm and textural changes. Amazingly, they pull it off.
While "Hypnotize" is the second half of a double album masquerading as a single set, it stands on its own as an intensely compelling effort.
From a band's perspective, only bad things can happen when the lead singer produces a solo album. If it's a replica of the band's sound it shortens the group's commercial lifespan without having anything to show for it. Or if the set sells the vocalist may feel he doesn't need the group or their input. There is a third possibility. The solo effort is so bad it becomes a detriment/embarrassment to the group. Tankian's "Elect The Dead" isn't that but there are points where it comes close. Nor is it a System Of A Down clone though elements surface here and there (how could they not?). However, based on this album, Tankian will probably not want to pursue a solo career unless he genuinely can't get along with the other SOAD members.
Tankian applies an affected delivery meant to convey some dark drama but only sounds comically strange. "The Unthinking Majority," Tankian's political statement is largely lost, as are most of the songs. Not surprising, "Sky Is Over" comes closest to the SOAD sound and works. So does the ballad "Saving Us." The rest is a mish-mash of ideas and sounds. The title track is a dreary piano ballad. C'mon! Tankian is clearly one of those performers who needs to be reeled in on occasion. This being a self-produced solo effort, there was no one around to do it. Too bad.