System of a Down – [Self-Titled]

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The fact that this album seems to be reaching out to you is no accident, the cover art for System of a Down’s debut album is from a poster (the Hand has Five Fingers by John Heartfield) used by Germany’s communist party around World War 2 and compliments the themes the music is based around. System of a Down was released in 1998 however, to a very different world, it poetically reflects on religion and genocide, drugs and media, and war and death. By the mid-to-late 2000s System had cemented their name as revolutionary rockers, outspoken against the Bush wars and unhappy with the ongoing denial of the Armenian genocide by Turkey, and the United States’ unwillingness to even comment on the matter, but in 1998 there was really only one name attached to this album that mattered: Rick Rubin. His influence on modern rock music cannot be understated, and without him this album would not have sounded the same, and this album sounds pretty damn good. Suite-Pee opens with a catchy riff and criticisms of Christianity, unfortunately there isn’t much weight to the words, but the heavy guitars work well. The drums on Know stand out a bit, Serj Tankian’s singing reflects a middle-eastern influence at times as he warns “don’t ever try to fly unless you leave your body on the other side.” Sugar is short and sweet, the bass really leads the verses which begin with “I’m not there all the time you know,” a line anyone who’s been around drugs long enough will understand, the following line “some people call it insane” is delivered with an appropriate angry confusion. Spiders is a dizzying progressive song (and along with Sugar makes up the two singles from the album), the guitar work here is as hypnotizing as the media Serj sings about, and his vocals here are powerfully delivered. System of a Down is at their best commenting on issues they’re passionate about, and in this new era of fake news and a troubling denial of global warming and evolution, the message in Spiders is as relevant as ever. On Soil, Serj agonizes over the death of a friend, it’s crude at times but to the point, there’s no room for metaphors or ambiguous lyrics, he sings “friends for years images in red, blew off his own motherfucking head.” I love the raw energy and emotion, the delivery and guitar solo alone is worth listening to again and again, along with the furious closing line “why the fuck did you take him away from us you motherfucker?” that leads into a downward spiral – the anger is real and palpable. Later on the album Peephole departs from the general flow and opts instead for an almost heavy polka sound, there’s another great solo here too. CUBErt is another short song, but sounds more like System during the Toxicity era and beyond, even down to the chorus “humans everywhere canned, cliche people organs rare,” which seems to say CUBErt is boring, people are canned and gutless. The album ends with P.L.U.C.K. (Politically Lying, Unholy, Cowardly Killers), the band’s contemplation on the Armenian genocide. Daron Malakian joins Serj on the bridge for some harmonized vocals “never want to see you around” as the music collapses almost abruptly and silence follows, considering the theme I can’t help but see the unspoken poetry in that. There’s a lot more than music to System of a Down, the themes of propaganda, war, religion, are ideas that all of us have considered and invested a lot of time into, they hang over the album and influence nearly every word and note, and though the lyrics are sometimes veiled behind metaphor and ambiguity, they leave no doubt about their true feelings on any of the issues brought up.

3.5/5

1998 / 40:36

Replay: Yes.

Added to Playlist:
Know: Heavy / Fast
Sugar: High Times
CUBErt: Heavy / Fast

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