Thursday, August 25, 2005
You’d be mistaken to discount System of a Down as bedfellows of fallen nu-metalers Korn and Limp Bizkit. Both conceptually and technically superior, SOAD marries the in-your-face moxie of Chuck D, embraces its Middle Eastern cultural legacy like Frank Zappa, and fancies itself a musical wannabe junta similar to Rage Against the Machine. In fact, lead singer Serj Tankian and former Rage guitarist/commie sympathizer Tom Morello formed the Axis of Justice, an organization dedicated to uniting artists, musicians and grassroots coalitions to fight social injustice.
Songwriting duo Tankian and guitarist/vocalist Daron Malakian carry the banner for all manner of world scrutiny, careening from police brutality to cocaine abuse to the hollow streets of their hometown, Hollywood, Calif. While his bandmates mix ear-catching melodies and polyrhythms, Tankian tests the range and variability of his voice by spitting, bellowing, screaming, declaring, stammering, yodeling and rapping his dissent. From the 1998 self-titled album to this year’s Mesmerize, the band traffics artful metal. Tracks are built on thrashing, crunchy riffs that shatter into lilting melodies. They often recall Armenian folk epiphanies culled from the country of all four members’ ancestry.
Often, it seems as though the band flashes its steroid-fueled muscle prior to revealing its bleeding heart. Lyrically, Tankian frequently uses seemingly obtuse and ridiculous images as catchphrases while subtly (sometimes unsubtly) banging home his takeaway message. He appeals to primitive senses and invokes the intellect, letting fans anticipate what he’ll do on this fall’s Hypnotize.
Revolution, the only solution/The armed response of an entire nation/Revolution, the only solution/We’ve taken all your shit, now it’s time for restitution
—from “P.L.U.C.K.,” Hypnotize
Metalheads love it when bands make a call to destroy, but the purpose of this song is hardly unfocused rage, a la Limp Bizkit’s Neanderthal theme “Break Stuff.” The title’s acronym stands for “politically lying, unholy, cowardly killers,” and the song is a screed against the early 20th-century Ottoman Turk-attempted genocide of the band’s Armenian ancestors, killing 1.5 million people. The Turkish government does not recognize the ethnic cleansing, but Tankian clearly hopes some of his fans do.
Cause you/My tapeworm tells me what to do/You/My tapeworm tells me where to go/Pull the tapeworm out…
—from “Needles,” Toxicity
In this case, the parasite is heroin, as Tankian wails against being a slave to the hypodermic master. The “kick the habit” message is delivered in “Hava Nagila,” or Greek celebratory song style, as the refrain “Pull the tapeworm out of your…” is repeated ad nauseum.
What a splendid pie?/Pizza-pizza pie/Every minute, every second/Buy, buy, buy, buy, buy/Pepperoni and green peppers/Mushrooms, olive, chives.
—from “Chic ‘N’ Stu,” Steal This Album!
The first time this hits the stereo speakers, it makes you think, “Huh? I think I get why they didn’t want to release these songs in the first place.” (The tracks leaked, so the band released them with no cover art and an antagonistic title.) But after a few listens, the ridiculousness gets stuck in your head, just like all the advertisements that Tankian’s bitching about. Mission accomplished.
My c__k is much bigger than yours/My c__k can walk right through the door
—from “Cigaro,” Mesmerize
Sounds like the locker room right after the big football game on campus, right? It’s really a metaphor on the amassing of arms, on the burning of resources, on America gone power-hungry, materials-hungry, superiority-hungry. Can’t you just see Bush whispering this in the ear of Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin?
Gonorrhea gorgonzola/Gonorrhea gorgonzola/Single files of clean feedings.
—from “The Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I’m on This Song,” Mesmerize
This short-but-sweet ditty says it all in the song title: Cocaine is bad. But it also raises the questions: “Gonorrhea gorgonzola?” And has alliteration ever conjured a worse image? We’ll leave you to marinate on that.