System of a Down

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System of a Down members.
System of a Down is a heavy metal band from Los Angeles, California, USA consisting of Serj Tankian (vocals, keyboards), John Dolmayan (drums), Daron Malakian (guitar, vocals) and Shavo Odadjian (bass). All four members are of Armenian ancestry, and some of their songs are about Armenian history and politics. Throughout 2008 there have been rumours that the band may be appearing for Armenia in the 2009 Eurovision song contest, which will be held Moscow, Russia. The general reaction from Armenians and fans was of approval. Note, this is still a rumour and the band hasn't confirmed, or denied this rumour.

Contents

History, style and influences

Their diverse instrumentals range from baritone electric guitars, electric mandolins, sitars, 12-string classical guitars to many other East Asian instruments. Their main influence is noticeably the heavy metal veterans Black Sabbath and Slayer, but they have many other musical influences such as jazz, fusion, Armenian folk music, classic rock, blues and industrial metal. They also sometimes play short Armenian songs live such as 'Julieta' by Harout Pamboukjian which was played at London Astoria 2005 by the guitarist whilst singing to it and 'Im Nazelis', which was played by the guitarist at Souls 2004. The vocalist Serj Tankian always sings 'Yes im anoush hayasdani, arevabar' in between the Armenian sounding song from the Toxicity album, 'Science' whilst performing it live.

The band enjoyed moderate success with their first singles, Sugar and Spiders, off their debut album System of a Down. However, their big break came from their sophomore effort, Toxicity, which debuted at #1 on the American and Canadian charts, eventually going multi-platnium. The album also has the dubious distinction of being the #1 album in America on the week of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Their first big hit was the controversial "Chop Suey!", released in the late summer of 2001. The title comes from a poem of Father Armeni, who wrote about Armenia after the genocide of 1915. He asked God why have you forsaken me in your eyes. Father Armeni also said that in Armenia a self righteous suicide has taken place. System of a Down received constant airplay in the United States throughout late 2001 and 2002 with their hits, Chop Suey!, Toxicity, Aerials, off their second album, Toxicity, and Innervision off their third album, Steal This Album!.

Their third album, containing songs from the Toxicity recording session, was released as "Steal This Album!" because early recordings of most of the songs had leaked out onto the Internet. There are five different designs of the album available. One version of the CD resembles a CD Recordable that was labeled with a felt-tip marker, and the other four featured designs by individual band members.

In 2004, the band recorded two brand new albums for release in 2005, to be released 6 months apart from each other. They are Mesmerize and Hypnotize. Mesmerize was released in April whilst Hypnotize will be released approximately six months after. In early January, 2005, a new track called "Cigaro" was leaked onto the Internet (some say it was leaked by the band itself, considering it was leaked onto a web page which featured a "mesmerizing" spiral and was performed by the band at their Big Day Out appearances several days after the leak) to praise from fans.

Members

Previous members

  • Andy Khachaturian (Former Vocalist of 'The Apex Theory') - Drums

Discography

  1. System of a Down (30 June 1998)
  2. Toxicity (4 September 2001)
  3. Steal This Album! (26 November 2002)
  4. Mesmerize (17 May 2005)
  5. Hypnotize (22 November 2005)

Music videos

  • "Sugar" from System of a Down (1998)
  • "Spiders" from System of a Down (1999)
  • "War" from System of a Down (2000)
  • "Chop Suey!" from Toxicity (2001)
  • "Aerials" from Toxicity (2002)
  • "Toxicity" from Toxicity (2002)
  • "Boom!" from Steal This Album! (2003)
  • "B.Y.O.B." from Mesmerize (2005)
  • "Question!" from Mezmerize (2005)
  • "Hypnotize" from Hypnotize (2005)

Singles

  • "Sugar" from System of a Down (1998)
  • "Spiders" from System of a Down (1999)
  • "Johnny" (released as a 1-track single) (2001)
  • "Chop Suey!" from Toxicity (2001)
  • "Toxicity" from Toxicity (2002)
  • "Aerials" from Toxicity (2002)
  • "B.Y.O.B." from Mezmerize (2005)
  • "Question!" from Mezmerize (2005)
  • "Hypnotize" from Hypnotize (2005)

Reviews

Critics’ Forum

Let the Hostilities Begin By Sam Ekizian

Balancing commercial success with substance and vitality is a difficult feat. The band System of a Down seems to have achieved this equilibrium.

Following a nearly four-year absence since its critically acclaimed Toxicity album, System of a Down released Mezmerize, the first installment of a two-album set—Hypnotize will follow sometime this fall. Despite this long absence, the band—which features lead vocalist Serj Tankian, guitarist Daron Malakian, bassist Shavo Odadjian, and drummer John Dolmayan—shows no signs of slowing down. Indeed, Mezmerize showcases the band’s uncanny ability to effortlessly blend diverging styles and influences to achieve its emblematic sound.

Mezmerize is also a vehicle for System’s razor-sharp commentary. It is an unflinching indictment of the sociopolitical landscape—a diatribe of anti-war, anti-corporate and anti-celebrity sentiment. This is readily evident in such songs as “B.Y.O.B.,” “Sad Statue,” “Cigaro,” and “Radio/Video.” However, it is the fierce musical content that ultimately dominates Mezmerize. Other than the brevity of the new album (a mere 36 minutes long), its only shortcoming is that it suppresses the band’s previously ever-present frontman, Serj Tankian. Tankian’s iconic voice has lent much to the band’s unique sound. But it drifts to the background on Mezmerize. Guitarist/co-songwriter Malakian takes added lead-vocal time on this album, which compensates only somewhat for the noticeably diminished vocal role of Tankian.

Mezmerize is not as melodic as System’s previous release, Toxicity. As a result, passively listening to the album can lead to the conclusion that the guitar riffs are redundant and the sound formulaic. However, a more conscious effort reveals the album’s nuances and intricacies.

Mezmerize is at once a savage and frenzied sonic outpouring and a delicately crafted totem. Grinding and vicious guitar rushes interspaced with deliberately poppy interludes somehow seamlessly hold together, despite the obvious tension. The songs are equal parts discord and harmony. The album’s tracks are also peppered with System’s operatic and Middle Eastern flourishes. All of this combines to create an album that is both an organic whole as well an assemblage of individually viable songs.

With the final song, the album shifts gears, closing with the melancholic “Lost in Hollywood,” depicting the seedy underbelly of a city that consumes the unwary. This somewhat jarring transition from the previous onslaught provides the opportunity to reflect and take in the true depth and forceful delicacy of Mezmerize. But we realize that, in the end, this is merely a temporary cessation of hostilities.

Hypnotize is due to be released in November.


All Rights Reserved: Critics Forum, 2005

Sam Ekizian has been involved with the Armenian cultural and music scene for over two decades and has helped introduce artists to West Coast audiences.

This and all other articles published in this series are available online at www.criticsforum.org[1]. To sign up for a weekly electronic version of new articles, go to www.criticsforum.org/join[2]. Critics’ Forum is a group created to discuss issues relating to Armenian art and culture in the Diaspora.


Separate but Equal By Sam Ekizian

Six months after the hostilities opened with the long awaited release of Mezmerize, Armenian rockers System of a Down have launched a second and equally powerful salvo with Hypnotize. Produced by Rick Rubin and the album’s chief songwriter, singer-guitarist Daron Malakian, Hypnotize is not a sequel. Instead, it is a counterpart and extension of its predecessor. “Soldier Side Intro,” which opens the Mezmerize album is completed by “Soldier Side,” the final track on Hypnotize. This connecting effect is further reinforced by the discs, which are designed to interlock, forming a double album.

Hypnotize maintains the ferocious yet elegant pace of its counterpart while carving out its own distinct identity. The twelve-song album features System’s characteristic use of diverging musical styles and influences to create a unique vehicle for roaring rebellion. The band concocts its menacing brew by blending its sociopolitical message with “nu” and alternative metal, classic rock, tight Middle Eastern arrangements, as well as the band’s surprising pop sensibility.

These unexpected twists and shifts in style are not relegated to different tracks on the album but are ever-present within the individual cuts. System does not concern itself with traditional musical boundaries but reaches further with each release while managing to retain a unique and unbridled sonic signature. The Lyrics share the music’s chaotic nature, ranging from the solemn—“They were crying when their sons left/God is wearing black/They've gone so far to find no hope/They're never coming back”—to the irreverent—“Banana Banana Banana Banana Terra Cotta/Banana Terra Cotta Terra Cotta Pie.”

“Attack,” the blistering opening track immediately reassures that this is vintage System. Setting the tone for Hypnotize, it is layered with corrosive and menacing guitar riffs and intense percussions. The track also features effective vocal harmonizing between lead vocalist Serj Tankian and Malakian. “Attack’s” deliberate tempo changes merely allow for a momentary glimpse of its scorched musical landscape. “Dreaming” maintains this caustic formula, incorporating strafing guitars, shifty rhythms, layered vocals and harmonies all anchored by trudging drums, as Tankian and Malakian croon: “Dreaming not screaming/Someone kick me out of my mind/I hate these thoughts I can't deny.”

“Hypnotize,” the title track, has an Eastern-influenced, almost Doors-like feel. The song includes a classic rock foundation on which system builds its characteristic nu-metal sound, supported by accelerated Middle-Eastern beats. In stark contrast, “U-Fig” is a sonically and lyrically schizophrenic track featuring jarring shifts in rhythm and precise staccato guitars. Mockingly suggesting the consumption of conformists, Malakian and Tankian together blare, in almost biblical fashion: “You and me/Should go outside and beat 'em beat 'em beat 'em beat 'em beat 'em beat 'em/All pathetic flag-waving ignorant geeks/And we'll eat 'em eat 'em eat 'em eat 'em eat 'em eat 'em.”

The album’s emotional apex is reached with “Holy Mountains,” System’s latest monument to Armenian victims of Turkish atrocities. Fittingly, this is the most polished and synchronized track. “Holy Mountains” includes undulating, jangly guitar chords that eerily echo church bells. Tankian’s personal and heartfelt vocals further elevate the song’s poignant grief and deep contempt.

The rampage that is Hypnotize comes to a fitting end with “Soldier Side,” which slides effortlessly into its counterpart, “Soldier Side Intro,” which opens Mezmerize. The funeral procession that is “Soldier Side” finds pole bearers Tankian and Malakian exchanging: “They were crying when their sons left/All your men must go/He's come so far to find no truth/He's never going home.”

System of a Down has been graced with credibility, given their past commercial and critical success. Much of this is well-deserved, and the band remains one of the most original and compelling of their generation. This lofty status is for the most part reaffirmed by Hypnotize. The album does feature some less memorable tracks such as the all too deliberate “She's Like Heroin” and the lyrically shallow “Lonely Day.” And in some places, although to a lesser extent than on Mezmerize, Malakian’s vocals are too high-pitched and lack the presence necessary to complement System’s robust and complex sound. However, Hypnotize ultimately succeeds, because it blends the visceral power of previous albums with the taut and densely layered style of “Mesmerize.” It is at once ordered and chaotic, ambling and ferocious. The record evokes the primal simplicity of the barefoot shaman, carefully and rhythmically performing a healing dance, alongside the frenzied mania of a meth-crazed whirling dervish. System of a Down has produced an album that's undeniably its own, yet one that adds layers of texture, subtlety, and meaning that continue to push its sound forward.


All Rights Reserved: Critics Forum, 2005

Sam Ekizian has been involved with the Armenian cultural and music scene for over two decades and has helped introduce artists to West Coast audiences.

This and all other articles published in this series are available online at www.criticsforum.org[3]. To sign up for a weekly electronic version of new articles, go to www.criticsforum.org/join[4]. Critics’ Forum is a group created to discuss issues relating to Armenian art and culture in the Diaspora.

See also

External links




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