Album Reviews: Hypnotize by System of a DownSystem of a Down are an aural wet dream for sufferers of short attention spans. Almost every song goes through several major shifts, so if a listener doesn’t like how a song starts, it won’t take long for the band to be burning off in a new direction. The rare metal band that’s bursting with fresh ideas and sharp angles, they’ve had an extremely high-profile 2005 with the individually released but cohesively recorded and envisioned Mezmerize and Hypnotize. The albums evolve naturally from their self-titled debut and the breakthrough Toxicity, still packing plenty of straight-ahead metal punch, but also pushing both the accessible and outlandish elements to new heights.
The most significant and hotly contested development has been the emergence of central songwriter Daron Malakian as a co-frontman alongside wild-voiced social activist Serj Tankian. Malakian has more of a traditional hardcore sound, but, to his credit, he is also a gambler. Sometimes he loses, as on the mawkish, flatly arranged “Lonely Day.” Usually he wins. He pushes his voice to campy heights on “She’s Like Heroin,” and, as on Mezmerize, plays off Tankian’s hyper-dramatic bellow to compelling effect throughout the album. One thing is for certain: this is a band without a straight man.
Recorded at the same time and conceived (even in packaging) to fit right into its previously released other half, Hypnotize is obviously similar in spirit and sound. The band’s Armenian heritage continues to be a vital source for both music and lyrics; one of the more emotional tracks is the classic metal fury of “Holy Mountains,” which clenches its fist against genocides waged for gods (“Back to the river Aras / Someone’s blank stare deemed it warfare”).
This is followed by the madcap “Vicinity of Obscenity,” which features Tourette’s-like semi-verses about bananas (what’s the deal with bananas in music this year?), a smooth-funk breakdown and a refrain of “Terracotta pie – hey!” that is impossible to cleanse from the subconscious. On a similar token, the album begins with a scorching call to arms in the face of societal apathy (“Attack”). A couple songs later (“Kill Rock ‘N Roll”), Tankian has found a more specific target for his awakened legion: “Mow down the sexy people!” he hollers, brilliantly unhinged. That the band is able to make serious music without taking themselves too seriously has long been one of their added charms. --Adam McKibbin
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