If System of a Down had existed 20 years ago, when metal was simply heavy, hair, or speed—not alt- or nü—they probably would’ve been an Alternative Tentacles band. They could’ve cheered Jello Biafra on during his Frankenchrist obscenity lawsuit and toured with nomeansno while the Dead Kennedys spent more time in court than in clubs. Maybe, in that world, Metallica would’ve considered replacing Cliff Burton with Les Claypool when he auditioned, instead of Jason Newsted.
As things are, Claypool gave us Primus, Newsted provided justice for all, Metallica’s talent was attached to hair length, and guitarist Daron Malakian, lead vocalist Serj Tankian, bassist Shavo Odadjian, and drummer John Dolmayan waited until 1995 to get together. They hailed from L.A., not San Fran. And given their third release, Mezmerize, we should be glad things happened this way. Especially since it’s only the first installment of a two-disc set. The second, Hypnotize, drops in November.
Meanwhile, this 11-track, 36-minute Use Your Disillusionment I packs a lot in. Lyrically, it’s rife with cutting social commentary. U.S. policy takes many hits—”You and me we’ll all go down in history with a sad statue of liberty and a generation that didn’t agree.” But TV banality, drug binges, and celebrity baseball games are also skewered. Mocking easy marks like pop stars backlashes on “Radio/Video”: “Hey man, look at me rockin’ out/I’m on the radio.” As are SOAD; how about that?
Musically? Well, System are the sonic equivalent of Sybil being told she can be anything when she grows up. Dark, dense, and arty? Yup. Warp-speed riffs and double kicks? Check. Moshable? Oi! Zappa-like rock opera? You betcha. Sample of Jacko’s “Beat It?” Got it. Oddly poppy interludes and something that, with a nudge, has equal opportunity to be a ska groove or Eastern European folk song? Of course. All freckled with catchy choruses and connected by the gorgeously jarring transitionlessness SOAD are known for. With all this, Mezmerize should be enough to keep A.D.D.-ers occupied for six months.