Discography Review | System of a Down

Continuing on from last year, my new year’s resolution once again is to expand the breadth of my musical knowledge and experience. As with last year, I’m listening to the discography of a different band each month.

This is my entry for March 2017.

My previous entry saw me take a look at Californian alt-metallers Tool.

This time around I’ve gone for another alternativel metal band in Armenian-Americans System of a Down.

Background: As with any self-repsecting metal head, I know around four or five tracks really well from a combination of music channels and club nights over the years. Despite this, I’ve rarely listened to anything beyond their singles.


System of a Down – System of  a Down

Suite-Pee has an interesting, stripped down shred to open, before giving way to quite a catchy riff. Track is quite chaotic; not bad. Know has some tasty drums in the intro, but otherwise a more straightforward tune. Sugar didn’t overly do anything for me. It starts off pretty heavy, before dropping into a relatively minimalistic riff. Last thirty seconds are like an entirely different tune. The quieter intro to Suggestions was a pleasant change. The song reminds me of a less refined take on Devin Townsend’s Vampira in places. Spiders is a bit more mainstream,  and has a more thoughtful tone. There’s also a subtle malice the adds a few layers, and this is the best track so far. Despite the somewhat jazzy intro, DDevil seems little more than filler. Soil has a nice riff, but it otherwise didn’t do anything for me. War? has a better riff, and is a bit better as a song (without being special). Mind has some nice build up over the first few minutes, but it’s a track that’s more interesting than good. Peephole starts with some sci-fi sounding samples before morphing into something like a macabre heavy metal circus / theme park. CUBErt is a short and catchy one. It’s also the much better of the two sub 2 minute tracks. Darts starts off catchy enough, but loses it’s way a bit. P.L.U.C.K. rounds things off. It has a nice bass intro, before a riff (that very, very vaguely reminds me of Gojira) kicks in. Not a bad tune.

Overall [3]

At forty minutes, it somehow seems a little long; it’s almost like this was an EP that was expanded to make LP length (or an 8 or 9 track album forced to be 13). That said, there’s nothing overly wrong with the album, and they certainly have plenty of original ideas. However, there’s a distinct lack of actual killer tunes by this point. There’s some tasty riffs here though.

Best tracks: Spiders, Peephole, CUBErt


ToxicityToxicity

A staggered, sort of minimalist intro kicks off Prison Song. Once it kicks in, the track follows a similar pattern to those of the debut album particularly – sporadic timing changes abound. Unlike on the debut, these changes are handled much more smoothly here, and are less jarring. The song itself is a decent enough protest tune. Needles is more of the same, but a bit better. I quite like the little interlude a couple of minutes in. Deer Dance starts off pretty solid, before becoming more interesting by the softer interlude. Pretty good. Jet Pilot has probably one of the speediest intros to date, whih gives way to a relative slow and malevolently sounding verse. The track jumps between these two styles throughout. It’s decent enough, and I could see it being a decent filler track when placed between two more popular tracks. X is a much more straightforward track, and I really enjoyed it. Chop Suey! is the ultimate SOAD track and a heavy metal classic. Bounce is pure silliness! In a way, it’s sort of a breath of fresh air after the super seriousness that’s mostly been up to this point. Forest has a really good opening riff. Another of their more traditionally laid out tracks, and one of their better efforts. I really dug the main, driving riff. Atwa is similar to Jet Pilot in the sense that it flits between two distinct tunes, but this does it much better. Science has a tasty, crisp guitar sound and a cool, driving riff to open up. The rest of the track sounds like a ‘standard’ SOAD track, but with much more memorable guitar work throughout. Shimmy seems to b a collection of short, catchy riffs with a few lyrics thrown over the top. Catchy. Toxicity is another SOAD classic, and one of the better examples of Serj’s more melodic vocal work. Psycho is mostly pretty good, before an excellent thirty second instrumental closes things out nicely. Aerials Arto provides an excellent denoument to their bst album.

Overall [4]

Without counting the trio of heavy metal classics that Toxicity contains – the title track, Chop Seuy!, Aerials – SOAD’s second album was already a step up on their debut. The more manic tracks have smoother timing changes, and there are some pretty flipping catchy tracks.

Best Tracks: Chop Suey!, Aerials, Toxicity, Atwa, Forest


Steal This Album!– Steal This Album!

Chic ‘N’ Stu is a silly, yet catchy opener. Innervision and Bubbles are both easy on the ear and somewhat catchy. Decent. Boom! and Nüguns are a little better, without being anything special. A.D.D.  is the first track on the album to really show some of their trademark aggression more prevelant on earlier work. Mr. Jack is the only track on the album over four minutes, and it uses the time fairly well to give some build up. Unfortunately, the lyrics are forgettable. I-E-A-I-A-I-O is the only track off this album they’ve been playing of late, after as an opener. It’s a little nonesensical, but it’s an entertaining tongue-twister. 36 is short (46 seconds) track. Pointless. Pictures has a nice bass intro, and is otherwise fine. Highway Song is a track I enjoyed as something to listen to in the background whilst doing other things. Fuck the System is somewhat catchy, but otherwise nothing special. Ego Brain has a nice acoustic intro (and maybe a melotron?). It theatens to be a great tune, but never really nails it. Thetawaves is forgettable, but Roulette is a really good, simple acoustic track. Streamline has a tasty riff or two and a decent closer.

Overall [3]

Apparently there is some conjecture as to whether this should be included, due to it being considered something of a polished up outtakes and b-sides collection. However, most official reviews/record sites list is as official, so I’m counting it. As for the album itself, take away the best three or so songs, and it’d struggle to be more than above average. I think there’s enough here to just call this a good album, but it’s far from a great one.

Best tracks: I-E-A-I-A-I-O, Highway Song, Roulette


MezmerizeMezmerize

Solider Side (Intro) is a one minute long moody and melancholy acoustic piece. It’s a scene setter, and runs into the start of B.Y.O.B. The latter is a modern classic that blends heavy shredding with an almost pop-like chorus. It’s their best post-Toxicity era song. Revenga has a tasty galloping riff that dips in and out of the duration. Song itself is not bad, enhhanced by said riffage. Cigaro is a bit odd. Radio/Video is a quite enjoyable example of SOAD’s passion of juxtaposing heavy and soft verses/choruses. This Cocaine Makes Me Like I’m On This Song is decent enough, but doesn’t stand out. Violent Pornography is a cracking tune, and a favourite in nightclubs around the time of it’s release. Question! was one of the singles. It’s not on a par with the ‘big’ tunes, but it’s good enough. Sad Statue‘s opening riff is a sweet callback to the main B.Y.O.B. riff. A good album track. Old School Hollywood is a little different, employing some synthy keyboards and vocal distortions. Kind of sounds a bit cheesy. Lost in Hollywood is a quiet, more refelctive tune and I quite enjoyed it.

Overall [3.5]

A very easy to listen to album, with a handful of cracking tracks peppered across its 36 minute run time. Not quite up to the sustained quality of Toxicity, but certainly their second best album up to this point.

Best tracks: B.Y.O.B., Violent Pornography, Revenga


Hypnotize– Hypnotize

Attack has a heavy, intense opening. As per SOAD, it gives way to a softer verse that they keep coming back to. It’s fine. Dreaming is mostly chaotic, but is actually at it’s most appealing in during is calmer middle section. Kill Rock ‘n’ Roll is somewhat forgettable. Hypnotize, for some reason, to me sounds like a twisted heavy metal lullaby. I enjoyed it, and I think it’s comfortably the best track on the album by this point. I don’t think much of the next couple of tracks, though Stealing Society is better than TentativeU-Fig is a bit more interesting than the two of them. Holy Mountains is one of their moodier and more reflective tracks. It’s also, comfortably, one of the better tracks on this album (though that isn’t saying much). Vicinity of Obscenity is silly filler, and She’s Like Heroin is worse. Lonely Mountain isn’t bad, and Solider Side is fine.

Overall [2.5]

A handful of pretty good tunes can’t help disguise that this is their weakest album to date. There’s too much filler (or worse) to be able to recommend it. Play the recommended tracks and leave it at that.

Best tracks: Hypnotize, Holy Mountains, Lonely Mountain



 

That rounds up my tour through System of a Down’s discography. For the most part, things are fine to good, with the much better Toxicity an obvious standout.

Metal 2 the Masses Sheffield | Heat 6


Originally posted on the Bloodstock forums here.


One band had to drop out due to an emergency, meaning we have five bands for this sixth and final heat.

Elecorn

First up is an interesting quintet. They play a sort of post-metal, with aspects of more mainstread prog rock and a touch of math/tech about them too. Vocalist divided his time between clean and growling vox about 50/50. The lead guitarist was the standout of the bunch – pretty damned tight, and was particularly swish at finger-tapping solos.

Ba’al

The only band I’d seen from this heat before, and one I was looking forward to seeing again. They are a Doom/Sludge/Post-Metal act. And they are heavy. They start off well, and are tight throughout the set. I didn’t catch the name of the track, but they finished with a 12+ minute epic that nearly destroyed my neck.

Outta Peak

Describe themselves as ‘pop mosh’. Basically, they are pop punk but with heavier bits and some flourishes of tech thrown in every now and then. I can take pop punk in smallish doses or if I’m in the right mood, otherwise it’s no usually my bag. Trying to be objective, these guys did what they did well and – despite fearing my overuse of the word so far – they were another fantastically tight act. They got the crowd going a bit too.

Suffer in Anguish

Describe themselves as Deathcore/Metal. To me, in the live mix, this basically meant that at times they sounded deathcore and at another times death metal. Deathcore isn’t really my thing, but these guys were really good at what they did and totally won me over. They finished with a brilliant cover of Sepultura’s ‘Roots’ that sounded crushingly heavy. They also might have the most polite frontman I’ve come across in a long while – he was the first in the entire tournament that I recall thanked not just the booker of the tournament, but the sound guy, bar staff etc. It might sound like a small thing, but it went a long way.

Cain

Mancunian sort of trad / heavy metal. These guys seemed to divide opinion, but I quite enjoyed them. Front man reminded me of a sort of punkier Blaze Bayley, and he had an air of showmanship about him (at one point, he got the crowd to kneel down to take a ‘Viking prayer’ with him). There were some nice riffs, though I’m not sure exactly how memorable the actual songs are (I got a free CD, so I guess I’ll find that out when I play it).

Results: Ba’al won, Outta Peak came second and Suffer in Anguish came third.

I agree with Ba’al and SiA going through – I had them as the two best, in that order, ahead of the others by a decent chunk. Outta Peak were good at what they did, and they might do it better than Cain/Elecorn do their own genres, so I guess I can’t argue too much.

News:
It turns out we won’t have a 7th heat after all – the logistics of fitting it in before the semis just doesn’t work out.

The official semi-final line-up is yet to be announced, but I spoke to the event organiser and the tentative line-up (pending band availability) is:

Semi final 1 – Sat 8th April : Sobriquet, Gorgeous Morgue, Gorilla Warfare, One Year Dead, Arkdown, Outta Peak

Semi final 2 – Fri 14th April: Bovidae, Horizontal Faults, Delirium, Mothcob, Normaliser, Ba’al

Semi final 3 – Sat 15th April: Aonia, Crucifixiation, Grandmother Suplex, In My Restless Dreams, Archelon, Suffer in Anguish

The venue are also looking into getting guest headliners for all three semi finals too.

Metal 2 the Masses Sheffield | Heat 5

Here’s my thoughts on the latest Heat from the Metal 2 the Masses competition, being hosted by Mulberry Underground at the Mulberry Tavern.


Originally posted on the Bloodstock forums here.


 

Sheffield
Heat 5

A couple of late cancellations mean that this was a four band heat. On another day, that might be a poorer quality band going through, but not tonight.

The Mechanist

These guys brought their own lighting rig and smoke machine. Sound wise, they were very close to Killswitch style metalcore, with an ever so slight tech metal flourish every now and then. Musically, they were very tight. Frontman did mostly growls, and one of the guitarists did the clean vox. I’m not sure if the lead singer was ill or tired but, by the last track or so, his voice was going a bit when talking to the crowd (didn’t seem to affect his singing much). Basically, if you wanted a slightly techy Killswitch, these guys are your band.

Arkdown

Their frontman was purely a growler, with no clean vox in site, and they reminded me a bit of October File’s heavier side. Whilst they described themselves as metalcore, if you removed the breakdowns from their set they would sound much closer to (contemporary or straight up) heavy metal, just with some outside influences that can’t quite be pigeon holed. As a band, they were probably a step below the openers for ‘tightness’, but above them on originality and sound.

Archelon

Oh my word. These guys instantly go into my top three. A sort of post-metal/doom/sludge hybrid, kind of like if you mixed Conan with someone like SubRosa. One of the guitarists doubles up as a sort of secondary drummer (single drum brought out onto the dancefloor area for a couple of tracks). They managed to squeeze four tracks into their 30 minute slot, including a hypnotic 10 minute opener. These guys also brought a smoke machine, and it worked so well with their style/sound. This was just straight up excellent.

Normaliser

Prog band. Sounded a bit like if you stripped back the combined sound of Dream Theater, Fates Warning and Threshold, and made it a bit heavier about half the time. I thought they were solid, but not mindblowing, though my opinion could have suffered a little from them playing after Archelon’s amazing set. On another night, I’d have probably had them in contention to win a heat.

Results:
Arkdown won the evening, partially down to the great support they brought (3/5 of tickets went to their fans). Archelon were second and Normaliser third. I’m fine with the result, though I agreed with the judges scoring more (they had the top two the other way around) and I wasn’t fussed/thought it was very close between Normaliser and The Mechanist.

Other news:
Apparently we are 90%+ likely to be having a 7th heat, formed of bands that came 4th (it sound like one band will go through and they will extended one of the semi-finals by a band as a sort of wildcard). I’m happy with this, as there’s been some heats where the gap between 2nd and 4th was tiny.

Also, I’ve been informed that the 50/50 fan and judge split ends with the heat stage an that the semi-finals will be a 75/25 split in favour of the judges. I’m fine with this, as I’ve tended to agree with the judge vote, plus it stops bands simply getting through because they brought a lot of people.

Metal 2 the Masses Sheffield | Heats 1-4

As anyone who knows me will be aware, I’m a regular attendee at Bloodstock Open Air festival.

Each year, the festival runs a competition called Metal 2 the Masses. In it, venues around the country host regional battles, with the winners being offered spots on eithrer Hobgoblin or Jagermeister stages at the festival.

Sheffield has only occasionally played host to such qualifiers, though not since 2014 when Goat Leaf won the tournament hosted by the South Sea at Broomhill.

From 2017, the event is being hosted by The Mulberry Tavern, under their Mulberry Unerground moniker. Prior to the tournament, I’d visited once or twice for the Metalsammlung evenings.

I started posting general thoughts over on the Bloodstock forums (and I’ll continue to do so), but I thought it made sense to use this blog in the first instance.

There is a week off this week, but there have been heats in the previous four Wednesdays, which I will summarise below.

Just before the summary, I’ll briefly go over the qualifying system. There are six heats of six bands. Attendees vote for their favourites and these votes make up 50% of the score (the other 50% made up by the voting panel). The top three bands from each heat progress to one of the three semi-finals. The same principle applies for the semis, except only the top two from each qualify for the final. The final will be judged solely by a representative from Bloodstock thmeselves.


Heat 1

Bands competing:
Biophony (the radio friendly end of contemporary prog metal)
Aonia (NWOBHM sounding guitars with operatic vocals)
Gorgeous Morgue (Horror Punk)
Sour Tusk (two man stoner metal)
Bovidae (three piece instrumental metal / classical / jazz hybrid)
Path of Subjugation (Slam / Death Metal)

Aonia, Gorgeous Morgue and Bovidae progressed. I agreed with two out of the three. Bovidae were head and shoulders above the others – they sounded like pros and I’m amazed they aren’t signed already. I had Sour Tusk second and Aonia third. GM brought a lot of people with them, and the popular vote seemed to swing them over Sour Tusk, though the latter were definitely better / tighter.


Heat 2

This was a crazier one, with three bands dropping out and one stepping in at the last minute. Still three to go through, which was slightly surprising (thought they might reduce it to two and give a band a wildcard to make up the final semi final spot).

Bands competing:
Horizontal Faults (Metalcore / Hardcore)
– Had a fair few problems with the sound, with all the microphones playing up. Musically they sounded fine, though nothing special. They all seemed quite young, so hopefully they should get better with time.

Shoul Shredder (female fronted Melodic Metal)
– I saw these guys for the first time around ten years ago, and they’ve come along way in that time. Listening to them you can hear bits of Iron Maiden, Helloween, Battle Beast, Unleash the Archers and others (if a little more mid-paced than those). The only potentially negative thing I foundabout them was that the frontwoman didn’t really interact with the crowd at all, but that could just have been an off night in that respect.

Crucifixiation (Death Metal)
– Brilliant name. Quick and heavy band. They had loads of timing changes, that mostly worked well (the drummer seemed to sacrifice precision for speed a bit, but it sort of worked for them). Front man was very chatty and amiable, giving off a good vibe. These were another band that seemed quite young. These guys could be really good down the line.

Sobriquet (sort of Heavy Alternative)
– Fair play to them for stepping in at the last minute. I’m still struggling to describe them, but ‘heavy alternative’ was the best I could come up with. I could hear bits of Placebo, Incubus and others floating around, tohugh Sobriquet are significantly heavier/pacier, and around 1/3 of vocals are growled. Frontman was pretty good.

Sobriquet won on the evening, Crucifixiation came second and Soul Shredder third. I agreed with the three that went through, but had Shredder and Cruci the other way around. Later it would transpire that Soul Shredder have had to pull out, and Horizontal Faults have been put through in their place.


Heat 3

Another five band heat.

2×4 (Hardcore/Beatdown)

Not my thing really, though they were pretty good musicians (drummer was really good). Vocals did nothing for me, and I didn’t find them overly interesting.

Gorilla Warfare (Dirty Rock / Punk / Funk)

Interesting band that had a nice vibe. I actually think that the ‘dirty rock’ description really means ‘stoner’. They were basically the upbeatness (is that a word?) that drew from pop-punk a bit, if overlaid on stoner rock riffs. The funk aspect was sort of the accents to the riffs (I’m making this sound way more pretentious than it was). Without being mindblowing or anything, they were very good at what they did and their style would suitably mesh with a wider selection of bands than most.

Soulphernus (Blackened Death Metal)

Aspects of Immortal and Behemoth here (closer to the latter than the former on most tracks, but their final song was definitely more ‘Immortal with death metal vox’). They had a few sound problems on vocals early on, but nothing too serious. I enjoyed them for what they were. Drummer was exceptional (good drumming was a theme to the evening) and the rest were fine to good. I liked the frontman, even if he was rooted to the spot a bit.

Grandmother Suplex  (Punk Metal)

Winner of the best band name of the evening, these guys were very professional. I enjoy punk / pukn metal without being overly enamoured, and these guys were very good at their flavour of it. At times they reminded me a bit of Rise Against, though that’d probably be an unfair style comparison on the whole. They rotated the vocals through three guys (two guitars and the bass), and that also worked quite well – particularly on tracks where all three sung verses each. Very enjoyable.

Delirium (Classic Rock / Heavy Blues)

Wow.

I’d seen these guys twice before (last year) and had been shilling them to my mates for a while. Last night was the best I’ve seen them. They heavy blues description is sort of in the way that some of Zeppelin’s sound came from rocking up blues numbers, as opposed to just taking standard 4/4 blues numbers and making them heavier.

A friend of mine was witnessing these for the first time last night. He’d heard both my shilling, as well as praise from others bands that we mutually know. Still, halfway through Delirium’s first track, he turned to me and said “Fuck”.

Some of this was probably the booze talking, but I recall saying that Delirium are the closest thing this generation has to a Zeppelin, T. Rex or any other iconic ‘classic’ band. They were that good. And they are all only 18 years old.

Anywho, onto the results. Delirium annihilated everyone, finishing first on both the judges cards and the public vote – apparently by some way. Grandmother Suplex were second and Gorilla Warfare third. Apparently it was very close between 2nd and 4th (Soulphernus).


Heat 4

Another five band heat.

Amnesia (Thrash)

Apparently these guys had an album out in 1991 and they toured with the likes on Xentrix back in the day. I think the opening track was a newer one (based on how they introduced the tracks after), and was not that thrashy. In fact, it resembles Queensryche, or maybe a stripped down Dream Theater. That said, from the second track onwards, they were most definitely thrash. They were pretty tight, and I enjoyed most of the tracks. Would be more than happy to see them again, maybe as a local opener on a thrash tour.

IMRD (In My Restless Dreams) (Hardcore/Hard Rock/Nu Metal)

Given the above self description on facebook, I wasn’t sure what to expect. What we got was sort of a halfway house between middle of the road / radio friendly metal and the melodic end of Killswitch Engage’s catalogue. They were quite professional looking and sounding, brought a heap of people and got a good reaction.

One Year Dead (Post-Hardcore)

It was like being in the early to mid 00s all over again. Reminded me of earlier Funeral For A Friend. OYD utilise two vocalists – one for clean vocals and one for growls. The growler was front of stage (well, on the dancefloor because they have too many members for the stage). I thought these guys weren’t that original, but did get a solid reaction. There was an interesting bit where they played a ballad, and the entire band sat down for it, and they encouraged the crowd to do it too (front few rows obliged).

Mothcob (Punk / Grind / Heavy Noise)

Grind really isn’t my bag (seriously, I don’t get why you have lyrics if there is a nearly 0% chance of being able to make the vocals out – just seems a bit redundant), but the band were tight (particularly the guitarist). From my limited exposure to Grind, these were (musically) towards the more ‘melodic’ end of the spectrum.

Inertia (Hardcore / Metal)

Apparently they recently changed their name from something else (was chatting to the booker of the event), but don’t recall what they were known by. Apparently they’ve tweaked their sound and made a small line-up change and this was ‘Inertia”s debut gig. Frontman was quite passionate, and the band were fairly tight. Not my usual cup of tea, but would have been fine with them going through.

After Inertia finished, controversy struck! One or two of the staff members became convinced there had been some vote tampering on the public vote side (I can certainly say that one band seemed to have less by the time I cast my vote vs. when I’d looked earlier at how the votes were going).

The resolution to this was that the entire public vote was rendered null/void, and they simply went on the judges votes (which seems fair, all things considered). The judges announces they’d be changing up the voting system so this issue couldn’t happen again.

IMRD, Mothcob and One Year Dead went through (I *think* IMRD were the winners, and Mothcob were definitely second). For me, IMRD should definitely have gone through, as I had them and Amnesia vying for first place. I had Mothcob and Inertia vying for 3rd, though OYD weren’t poor or anything. I’ll be interested to see how these three do against some of the others.



And that brings us up to date! There’s been some cracking bands so far in the comptition, and the semi-finals are already looking too close to call.

In related news, there were rumblings that a 7th heat / reperchage round might be added, potentially with the 4th placed bands being given another shot (the semi-finals being at weekends allows the events to run longer). I’ll keep an eye out for more news, but I would welcome it.

The dates for the remaining shows are as follows:

15th March  – Heat 5
22nd March – Heat 6
8th April – Semi-Final 1
14th April – Semi-Final 2
15th April – Semi-Final 3
29th April – Final