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
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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
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 Tentative. U-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.
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.