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System Of A Down

Yahoo Music (May 2005)

You couldn't make them up. An American-Armenian four piece based in LA who feed eye-bulging political fury through Dead Kennedys-style anarcho punk, crunching riff-heavy thrash metal and celebratory Romany folk, System Of A Down carved out a league of their own with 2001's spectacular "Toxicity" album. Metal fads have come and gone since then, nu-metal being the most obvious casualty, but SOAD couldn't care less. Judging by this, the first in a two album set (part two coming in the autumn - think "Kid A" released a few months before "Amnesiac"), they've been too busy pushing their righteous melee of sound to its logical, ultimate limit.

Possibly the most crucial trick they've picked up in the past four years is the ability to write a flag-waving chorus. The single "B.Y.O.B" ("Bring Your Own Bombs" rather than a paean to corkage and the like), spews anti-war protest with a familiar barrage of storming hardcore noise and eastern European folk melodrama, but then slows down for a wry, R&B tinged chorus that really puts the boot in. "Sad Statue" pulls a similar trick, raging for the verses, then paring down to make the point with the chorus: "You and me/We'll all go down in history/With a sad Statue Of Liberty/and a generation that didn't agree." Elsewhere, the fury remains paramount, but the melodies feel more accessible, the songs more recognisable as...well, songs.

In amongst the astute blurring of genres (there are even touches of Radiohead to go alongside the metal-folk-art rock-R&B-punk hybrid), that sense of outrage is really what gives SOAD their purpose. "This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I'm On This Song" (title of the year, surely?) is a rabid rush of paranoia, with the protagonist spying "upholstery loving men all dwelling in the walls" before yelling "there's nothing wrong with me/there's something wrong with you" over and over. "Cigaro" see the band rail against censors with the cry "My cock is much bigger than yours/My cock can walk right through the door", all the while keeping the pitch at rampant indignation. "Violent Pornography" decimates TV programming in much the same fashion.

Quite what they've saved back for part two remains uncertain. The second album, written and recorded alongside the first, is called "Hypnotize", which suggests that now they've got our attention with part one they're going to try and change the way we think. But then there's plenty of polemic on this record - it's what gives it its rampaging momentum. Interestingly, "Mesmerize" starts with the words "Welcome to the soldier side", suggesting that if this were a double album, part two would be another (more thoughtful?) side entirely. We shall see. But even if "Hypnotize" is simply more of the same, with SOAD operating at such astonishing creative and emotional heights, it'll still leave every other metal band on the planet scrabbling in the dust.

Ian Watson
Music, film, comedy and travel journalist based in London

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