The second half of System of a Down’s 2005 double-album, “Hypnotize”, was released on November 22nd, completing the “Hypnotize/Mezmerize” package. Interestingly, one can say that the two records were released in reverse order; “Hypnotize” almost feels more like a prequel to May’s “Mezmerize” than a sequel.
System’s often been conveniently pigeon-holed into the category of “new metal”, apparently due to their heavy abrasiveness that most people associate with the idea of metal music. However, this is only one of the facets of this incredibly dynamic band, which I would describe as sort of a cross between Pink Floyd, Slayer, Zappa, Faith No More, and the Beatles, with subtle hip-hop influences and melodic/harmonic sensibilities that seems to come from a mythical place where carpets fly. Like any great original band, there are certain familiarities and influences sensed in the music without sounding like things are being blatantly copied. It’s all System.
True to the “new metal” category in which they’ve been not necessarily inappropriately placed, System kicks off “Hypnotize” with “Attack”, a ball-splitting riff ripped out at a blazing 340 b.pm. (Yep, I counted it on my metronome.) It’s arguably the heaviest, fastest riff they’ve ever recorded, which will delight the metal heads and scare off the timid. Just as the last fragment of our skull is about to hit the floor, they bring us into the first verse which releases the tension with a soft side-stick groove. It’s this type of merging of extremes that’s System’s signature. They effectively leverage the universal principle of relativity, where their uncompromising heaviness punctuates their lighter side, and the lighter fattens up the heavy. Beneath all these dynamics is the undeniable beauty found in the melodies themselves, which is the best part. It all adds up to an emotional musical experience.
I’ve had the record for less than 24 hours, and the two tracks that I’ve got stuck in my head would be Track 2’s “Dreaming” and Track 6’s “Tentative”. Especially the latter. The track from “Mezmerize” that really kills me is “Sad Statue”, and at this point, “Tentative” is its Hypnotic counterpart. With a penetrating chorus that is almost tear-jerking, “Tentative” is an emotional narrative told from the perspective of the doomed.
We’re going down
In a spiral to the ground
Noone’s gonna save us now
Not even God
Where do you expect us to go when the bombs fall?
Another element of System, especially in these 2005 releases, is the thought-provoking poignancy of their lyrics. Particularly in light of the situation our planet finds itself in today. I’m not a political person, but it’s become obvious to me in the last couple years that System is the most politically significant (important?) band we’ve seen in decades. While bands like U2 or Rage Against the Machine have had their respective says in world affairs over the last couple decades or so, it’s System of a Down that find themselves peaking at precisely the perfect moment in history.
Never a band to be one-sided with anything, “Hypnotize” includes tracks that range from the universal to the artistically bizarre. “Lonely Day” is a no-frills waltzing tune unashamedly expressing a theme everyone can relate to, while “Viscinity of Obscenity” explores a rhythmic scatting thing with lyrics that few other than Serj himself understands.
Banana banana banana terracotta
Banana terracotta terracotta pie!
–“Viscinity of Obscenity”
The joint “Hypnotize” and “Mezmerize” releases together comprise a single creation all the way down to the packaging. Like the second and final piece of a puzzle that’s been left unfinished for half a year, the “Hypnotize” CD jacket neatly fits into the jacket of “Mezmerize” so that both CDs are essentially contained in a single elaborate package. Also, “Hypnotize”‘s final track is a beautiful rendition of “Soldier Side”, which fans know as the opening intro track to “Mezmerize”. Listening to “Hypnotize” all the way through brings us full circle, where we’ve ended back at the beginning. A loop of sorts. It gives us a sense of completion, and is a tremendously satisfying work of art.