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Playing God: System Of A Down – Mezmerize / Hypnotize

By ; November 18, 2009 at 1:00 AM 

Mezmerize-Hypnotize

In 2005, System Of A Down released Mezmerize and Hypnotize six months apart from each other. Whether a clever marketing ploy or a band truly hard at work, both albums served as companion pieces. They even made it so the packaging could be combined. The double disc album showed the band exploring maturer themes.

However, the albums also showed a deep contrast between their serious and immature side. It’s always been a trademark of SOAD to have really out-there music, and immature lyric content has always been a staple. For some, this kind of gives the band their unique style. At the same time, the experience can be quite jarring; one moment you are listening to a song about the protests at Tiananmen Square followed by a song about being beaten off with someone’s feet. This album showed that the biggest thing holding the band back from being great is the band themselves.

When they focus on making more mature music, they can be quite brilliant. That’s not to say that their immature songs are musically awful, because most of it is not. But it seems that whenever the band is being lyrically immature, the music also takes after it. With all that said, we found that there is more than enough content to make a great album out of both discs – if only you cut away the immature/tongue-in-cheek songs. Gone is the song about comparing one’s cock size, or the song that reminds us that “everyone sucks, everyone fucks.” What you now have is an album that focuses on war and the injustices/atrocities that are caused by man. If that sounds too preachy, the album is much better musically for having been cut down, and it’s a less jarring listening experience.

01. Soldier Side (intro) (Mezmerize, track one)

SOAD did a great job holding the two albums together by the “Soldier Side” songs. The intro version is shorter than the latter, but it does a good job setting the mood for the album. “Welcome, to the soldier side, where there’s no one here but me…”

02. B.Y.O.B. (Mezmerize, track two)

“Why do they always send the poor!” are the first lyrics we hear on this song. “B.Y.O.B.” (or Bring Your Own Bombs) is one of the band’s most political songs to date. Lyrically, it talks about the rich elite sending middle and lower class people to fight their wars. The song has a real sense of urgency as you are barraged by relentless guitar riffs and singing from Serj. “B.Y.O.B.” succeeds in balancing fast-paced rock with a slow-paced chorus/breakdown that is really catchy.

03. Holy Mountains (Hypnotize, track eight)

A contender for best song on the album, this track is haunting. From the eerie way Serj sings “Can you feel their haunting presence…Someone’s blank stare deemed it warfare,” to the beautiful harmonizing, this is easily one of Serj’s best vocal performances to date. The song was written about the Armenian genocide in Turkey, and the band produces a somber hopelessness to the song.

04. Attack (Hypnotize, track one)

Originally the opening track to Hypnotize, the song lives up to its title. It’s an endless barrage of guitar riffs and a chorus that is screamed, “We attack, All the years of propaganda, We shall attack!” Thematically, the song asks the question – what is logical about war? The killing of children, and destruction of villages. The fact that humans continue you to do these things, even when the end result is always the same.

05. Tentative (Hypnotize, track six)

“Tentative” has dual aspects to it. The song starts off in a usual SOAD fashion – chugging guitar riffs and in-your-face singing – but the song soon slows down around 1:48, and it just takes on a new life. Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian create a beautiful harmony, which might be one of the most beautiful things they have ever written. A somber Serj asks, “Where do you expect us to go when the bombs fall?” As you can tell by the lyrics so far, this album deals heavily with the hopelessness and the feelings of being forsaken when living through war and genocide.

06. Revenga (Mezmerize, track three)

This song is pretty straightforward. Lyrically, the song is a bit silly, as it’s just a mishmash of different ways of killing someone. What makes the song interesting is the music. The guitar riffs have a nice chug and the drumming is fantastic. The chorus has a swing to it, and it’s a great back-and-forth song that shows the band just letting loose. Thematically, the song is kind of not up to par with the other tracks, but it’s a great song nonetheless.

07. Lonely Day (Hypnotize, track eleven)

One of the shortest tracks on the album, the song sees the lead vocals go to guitarist Daron Malakian. Lyrically, this song is rather weak. It would be easy to pick apart the simplicity of the lyrics, and really, this song does play out like a stadium anthem. The boisterous chorus/guitar riffs – this certainly isn’t the best SOAD has done. At the same time, it has an incredible sound. It goes from being a moody, depressing cliche song, to a larger than life chorus/sound. If you can’t get past the lyrics or how accessible the song sounds, then skip this one. But there is no denying when a song just sounds good, and this one is just that.

08. Hypnotize (Hypnotize, track four)

The lead single off of Hypnotize , the song is about the protests at Tiananmen Square. What the song does well is it allows both Serj and Daron to trade off vocal parts. Both have powerful singing voices, so it’s nice to see them both play off each other, and it really works well. Without a doubt one of the best tracks on the album vocally. The song has a nice breakdown at the end, and it almost has swing-style drums as the song builds up to one final reprise of the chorus.

09. Sad Statue (Mezmerize, track nine)

Written during the Bush administration, this is perhaps the most upfront political song. At least, from an American political standpoint. Most of the songs have dealt with past wars or the genocides that have occurred in other countries. As the title suggests, the song is about modern American politics. “You and me will all go down in history, With a sad Statue of Liberty, And a Generation that didn’t agree.” Musically, it is also one of the best tracks on the album. The chorus is very emotional, and this song will resonate with a lot of people who felt bitter about the last eight years.

10. Question! (Mezmerize, track eight)

The song starts off with a Spanish-influenced guitar, and this sound is seen again when the vocals come in. By far it is one of the most interesting songs in terms of arrangement and influences. It also has one of the best choruses on the album by far. The singing is just fantastic, and the chorus is larger then life. This shows the band at their best – when they really go for something and try to bring an interesting sound to it. The outro to the song has a kick ass guitar riff breakdown, a great way to end a great song.

11. Radio/Video (Mezmerize, track five)

Perhaps one of the best intros on the album, “Radio/Video” has an incredible guitar intro that rolls back and forth. The song is also one of the oddest songs on the album. The song itself is actually from the perspective of Daron, and how he hasn’t seen some of his childhood friends since he has made it big. Lyrically, it’s rather simplistic and might come across as being a tongue-in-cheek song. But in all its weirdness, the song is catchy.

12. Kill Rock ‘n Roll (Hypnotize, track three)

If you thought the last song was bizarre, this whole song is about Daron running over a rabbit with his car – and feeling like an asshole about it. Yes, you heard right, the whole song is about a rabbit – and not about the state of rock music. Unlike their other tongue-in-cheek songs, though, this song is actually really well done. The lyrics never really let on what it is about (most of it is metaphors), and the music speaks for itself. It has a really great chorus and a hilarious breakdown at the end that chants, “Eat all the grass that you want.” But at the end of the day, this is one of the better tracks on both discs, ridiculous themes aside.

13. Lost in Hollywood (Mezmerize, track eleven)

When breaking up the themes of the album, there were two clear ones that stood out on both discs. The first one being war and a soldier’s/civilian’s perspective of living through it. And the second being about the rich upper class and the fake lifestyles in Hollywood (glitz and glamor). This is my personal favorite song of the album. The harmonies on this song remind me of “Street Spirit” by Radiohead – and it really is a beautiful track. Lyrically, the song is about someone going out to Hollywood to fulfill their dreams but instead end up falling flat on their face as the city rejects them. “You should have never trusted Hollywood.”

14. Soldier Side (Hypnotize, track twelve)

“Soldier Side” concludes the albums, and it does a nice job bringing the listener back to where the album started. It’s a reprise of the intro track, but this time it has full lyrics and is three minutes longer. The song explores the hopelessness and despair that a soldier in war goes through. With grim lyrics, it paints a picture of people being in pain and agony as they face the atrocities of war. “Young men standing on the top of their own graves. Wondering when Jesus comes, are they gonna be saved. Cruelty to the winner, bishop tells the king his lies. Maybe you’re a mourner, maybe you deserve to die.” Both Mezermize and Hypnotize have dark themes. More so than any of the band’s past works, the album explores the darker side of the human experience. However, scattered throughout the albums are songs that are not only immature in lyrical content, but also immature in sound. As a whole, these songs themselves are fine, but they only serve as distractions to what the overall album should have been.

Total Time: 49:33

Special thanks to Todd Burns of Stylus Magazine for granting us permission to use the ‘Playing God’ name





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