Sunday, July 17, 2011

System of a Down: Toxicity

     Thanks to Yates for requesting this album review for a start. System of a Down, or SOAD, are an alternative metal, hard-rock quartet from Southern California, but considering names like Tankian and Malakian, their Armenian roots are apparent. Formed in 1994 after the splitting of previous group Soil, 'Toxicity' is their sophomore record after 1998's eponymous debut. After a bit of research, I gather that that debut was overlooked by many hard-rockers, with mainstream recognition only really presented with the release of this fourteen track album. Their sound is remarkably original, carrying the label: 'nu-metal', a very interesting sub-genre from a musical viewpoint. It's a fusion of metal and other styles, from hip hop to, in this case, hard-rock. I'm not going to lie though. When I first heard this record I was put off by it's complexity and chaotic nature. After repeated listens however, it grew on me. The experimental structures and sounds. The varied vocals, angular guitar and razor-sharp rhythms. They all infuse with each other to create a feeling both aggressive and in parts, thought-provoking. Sonically, it eventually falls into place amazingly well, due in my mind to the more pronounced melodies than were present in the band's previous effort. This is a hardcore journey, brutal and adrenaline-pumping!
      This isn't the best nu-metal record ever recorded though, let's be honest. The lyrics are funny in places, sure, but that most definitely doesn't mean they work. First and second listen-throughs they strike you as creative and slightly humorous, but beyond that they grate and annoy. They pose the question, what were these guys taking when they wrote this album? Really, I don't know. Even my own label can be disputed, with many classing the band as more alternative metal than a fusion of metal and rock. Overall though, this is a fun record whatever it contains and whatever label it carries. Yes, there are bad tracks, but then there are fantastically good ones. You just have to accept it for what it is and not look into it that much. It's catchy. It's original. It's a distinct release from a distinct bunch of guys that's become, even if you don't agree with it, a bona fide classic.
     The opener, 'Prison Song' pounds and thunders with a classic metal sound, whispers filling the silence until the vocals kick in. This is a stupidly varied track, from the sampled voice to the singing to the high pitch verse to the slowed down section half way through. A political message kind of carries this though, furious in it's chaotic demonstration for freedom. The more pronounced melodies I mentioned before are noticeable in the first single 'Chop Suey', which received more radio airtime than usual, despite it's subtle suicide-related lyricism. System of a Down manage to keep their aggression and style while maturing with a commercial sensibility that in the end brought them a great deal of success. The next track however, 'Bounce', is one of the most annoying things I've heard in a while, with the repetitive nature of 'pogo pogo pogo' matched with the ridiculous story. It's incredible in it's ugliness, but it doesn't really take away from the album as a whole.
     'Atwa', 'Toxicity' and 'Psycho' are all slower, with toned down vocals that still retain a dark attitude. 'Atwa' in particular feels in part very 'classic rock', an element that surprised me, in a good way. 'Aerials' finishes the album exceptionally well though. Just after half way, experimental wind-instruments float above tribal drums and ritualistic voices. It's a fascinatingly mellow ending to an album that was for the most part, loud and aggressive. Political undertones highlight the agitated passion here in a way both gripping and rebellious. It softens the blow with humour and heightens the pain with vocal power. It's not the best record out there, but it's certainly a unique one. Hold 'Toxicity' aloft and let it's accomplished light refresh the faces of worn out rockers. Let it thunder and let it roar.