And so here it is. The most eagerly anticipated heavy metal album of the year. Or, to be more precise, the first instalment of the two planned 2005 releases by System Of A Down. So does it Mezmerize (sic) or even Hypnotize for that matter? Reasonably often, although it’s fair to say that it proselytizes and traumatises a bit too much for its own good too.
First the good news. Recent single BYOB is playful, poppy yet utterly scathing in its message and utterly metal when it chooses to be. Revenga ups the operatic ante still further, with riffs pulled from the Anthrax textbook yet with bold vocal harmonies that lend a strange immediacy to proceedings. The overall effect is a bit like speed metal gone ABBA. Only camper.
This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I’m On This Song is a fast, heavy number whose hyperactivity suits the subject number; Question! is an anthemic rocker featuring some cool guitar lines; and Sad Statue is another track where old skool metal verses collide with ridiculously radio-friendly choruses as The Down seek to get their message across with no ambiguity (“You and me / We’ll go down in history / With a sad Statue Of Liberty / And a generation that didn’t agree”).
So what’s the bad news? Well, System Of A Down seem to be on some kind of mission to prove their goofiness and whilst it’s funny for two songs (BYOB and Revenga), it quickly becomes irksome.
Perhaps the best way to expound on this criticism is to say that a few of the tracks become so ridiculous and crude that you can almost imagine them forming the soundtrack to Team America: World Police II, should Messrs Parker and Stone choose to make such a puppet film sequel.
Cigaro, for instance, is heavy, fast and then plain silly and, whatever the message, it does itself no favours with a refrain of: “My cock is much bigger than yours!” Similarly Radio/Video, which switches into “hey, we’re soooo wacky!” verses featuring some naff, bobbing, faux Eastern European folk. And it would far too easy to make a pun that Violent Pornography sucks, with its South Park-on-Broadway air and quickfire vocal of: “Everybody, everybody, everybody f**ks”. Yeah, cheers for that.
Nowhere is System Of A Down’s musical dichotomy better illustrated than with the closing duo, the closely linked Old School Hollywood and Lost In Hollywood. The former is a perfectly good, rampant metal track that is tarnished by some random, high-pitched warbling during the verses. In contrast, the latter is more reflective (mournful even), musically strait-laced and all the better for it, as long as you can ignore the (doubtless ironic) chants of: “All you bitches put your hands in the air / And wave them like you just don’t care!”
There is much to like in Mezmerize yet almost an equal amount that irritates. In this reviewer’s humble opinion, System Of A Down might wish to reflect that being Armenian, having silly beards, blending outrageous pop with stomping metal and shoving two fingers up at the US Government is probably enough to mark them out as “different” without them actually trying to be quirky. They even quote Charles Manson, the muppets. Alas, unlike said jailbird, Mezmerize is only partially a killer.