System of a Down returns with a new album Mezmerize, or maybe that should read “part of a new album” since this is the first disc in a two-disc set that will be completed when the Hypnotize disc comes out this fall.
The sound of Mezmerize is slightly different from previous albums. It is still immediately recognizable as SOAD, but guitarist/songwriter Daron Malakian takes a more prominent role with the vocals, including lead on a few tracks. The disc packs quite a wallop into 36 minutes with its thought-provoking lyrics and its angry, relentless assault on the injustices of the world.
Mezmerize opens with the slow, acoustic “Soldier Side – Intro” a play on the suffix “cide.” Then the album descends into the sonic madness that is their first single “B.Y.O.B.” This anti-war song is chaotic and schizophrenic, constantly changing tempos and styles, going from speed metal to funky, dance floor groove to a punk rock mosh pit. Daron shrieks at the beginning “Why do they always send the poor?” and this question is repeated maniacally throughout so the war isn’t forgotten when “Everybody’s going to the party”.
Other strong songs include “This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I’m On This Song”, which captures the rush and agitation brought on by the drug, and “Radio/Video”, which brings to the forefront the Armenian roots of the band. It begins hard, fast and loud like most of their others, but after the first chorus, Middle Eastern rhythms play under the second chorus. The first and second choruses along with their musical styles are repeated; then the bridge increases the tempo of the Middle Eastern rhythms. It would be perfect for whirling dervishes.
The quality of the music even makes up for the times when I don’t comprehend the story behind the lyrics. In my defense, a lot of the songs’ lyrics are long, repeated choruses with no verses that could provide extra information. If you don’t know what the song is about, it might be tough to decipher the story unless you read an interview where Daron and Serj explain themselves.
For example, “Violent Pornography” rails against “the kinda of shit you get on your TV”, but the only example of the “shit” is “choking chicks and sodomy”, which is more prevalent on the Internet. The remedy they offer is “Turn off your TV”, but if television is the problem, there other ills they could point to as well.
I don’t need my hand held when it comes to lyrics, but some clues to point me in the right direction are always helpful. It’s not a knock against the band because there’s plenty of rock ‘n’ roll with indecipherable lyrics that I have sung along to because of how good the music was. I only bring up the point because some of their songs have very intriguing lyrics, like the well-written line, “Eloquence belongs to the conqueror” from “Sad Statue,” which make me want to understand a song’s story.
The only major misfire is “Old School Hollywood.” It opens with keyboards, a vocoder and Daron singing about playing in a celebrity baseball game at Dodger Stadium. All I could think about, other than it’s too bad Dr. Demento radio show isn’t around anymore, is who the hell cares? This album is filled with serious political tracks that provide food for thought, making this mocking look at a show business event that Daron took part in completely incongruous. Some old guys didn’t know who he was. Boo freakin’ hoo! You’re a rock star. I don’t know how I’m supposed to connect with this. Besides, the song is not even controversial. Daron calls out Tony Danza who “cuts in line” in front of him by calling him “washed-up.” Ooooh, that’ll show ‘em.
The album closes with an acoustic ballad “Lost in Hollywood,” a song that covers some very familiar subject matter about how tough Hollywood is because a lot of people who come out to realize their dreams get used up and spit out. The music has a nice melody and shows a potential musical direction for the band even though the lyrics are clichéd.
Even though the album ends weakly after starting so strong, Mezmerize has me curious to hear what Hypnotize has to offer this fall, but it better be over 44 minutes or fans might wonder why the need two albums. They might get turned off and see it as being similar to the marketing scam of that split the horrendous Kill Bill into Volumes 1 and 2.