Let’s foil the suspense…Every now and then the staff misses an album and two reviewers (user or staff) must battle it out. Word for word…A write off settles who gets published as the editorial review… the loser posts their review lower on the page as a user review. It’s been a while since we’ve done one…so enjoy…
Which review of System of a Down's debut do you want to see published?
- Brandon's (Sinist3r Punk) (40%, 6 Votes)
- Kevin's (SolitaryMan) (33%, 5 Votes)
- Brian's (hstisgod) (27%, 4 Votes)
Total Voters: 15
written by Brian Rutherford (aka hstisgod) review
The first time I was introduced to this album had to be 1998, a friend of mine Aaron gave me that whole ‘bro you have to listen to this’ spiel. I was sucked in from moment one… Sure, they have sort of parted ways after tasting the cheese of Hollywood and Vine, but that does not discount the hard work of this album. Blitzing tracks like the 1:49 seconds of “CUBErt” that seems to be an in-your-face PostHardcore/Punk mincing.
I’m not sure where to go from here, the singles? Yeah, there were a few singles spun on dark night FM radio when this released. The self-titled major label debut features chart successes like “Sugar”, “Spiders”, and “War”, which all had some of the most energetic metal I had heard in years. In ‘98, I hadn’t seen these understandings of rhythm and anger for their government since R. A. T. M. (Rage Against The Machine). “P.L.U.C.K.” is clearly the best choice of all the attempted singles, so extreme with it’s melodies and cool down periods. Daron Malakian (guitar) steps in so nicely with an aggressive vocals that pairs so well with the rest of the song.
“Mind” is brutally moody, staring into your soul. Set there by an eery bass-line, followed up by creepy guitar subtleties and a drum job that’ll singe your hairs. Serj Tankian hops in with casual lyricism, then shows off a bit of his range. “Look at each other”, he repeats often for the intro and quietly for the outro. After an explosion of instrumentation, check out his verse and the simple chorded build up into the chorus that always changes tempo. For the creepiest of tones and tabbing, “Spiders” takes the spotlight. It’s here that Tankian’s musty and dark lyricism is highlighted the most.
“Approaching guiding light, Our shallow years in fright, Dreams are made winding, through my head. Through my head, Before you know, Awake.”
I just have no words for how this very different project means to me and my ultimate desert island collection.
Forget Serj and all his solo fun and fame. Malakian has a mind of hooks that will never be cloned. With the exception of “P.L.U.C.K.” and a song or two, you’ll notice one thing missing from this SOAD release; the lack of Daron’s backing vocals. This was truly the one aspect missing that I would have liked to have heard paired with their most pure edge. Then again, would more of a backing vocals presence have watered down their sound like the SOAD of latter albums? Yes indeed, without a doubt without delay, I hand this recording to the mayor of my unfound desert island.
At 40 minutes spanning 14 tracks, there is a blazing quality to the album that diverts you early on from the depth it spans. Imaging running across a burning bridge, then stopping to see what you missed. Each track is a statement of musical ingenuity and lyrical impact, and while the immediate meaning of not only the lyrics but the overall statement or “point”, if you will, may escape the unfamiliar ear, it truly takes extended visits with the record to dissect the focal points. I will not, however, divulge my personal take on each track, as this is the sort of record that is best taken subjectively, individually.
“Suite-Pee” is one of those introductions to an album, and a band, that you can honestly say sets a tone for what’s to come. Lyrically perverse, violent in nature, a fist around a microphone and a heavy-hand slowly wearing guitar strings down to thread. “Know” is a fantastic display of how drummer John Dolmayan can take over a song. One of the songs that really launched SOAD as a public entity was “Sugar”, still a favorite amongst fans despite the hoard of radio-ravaged singles they would spawn as time went on. The lyrical subject here, however abstract, leaves mental imagery you may not want sticking around. That’s called “impact”, and these guys were great at it once upon a time.
“Suggestions” is one of my favorites, a more fleshed-out and progressive number, with some fantastic guitar work and a closing pasage that feels a step beyond out of control. As time would show, songs like “Spiders” would be repeated on every album; mellow, melodic, with Serj stretching his chops as a true vocalist should. Frankly, no other similar track matches up, this is really something special. “Ddevil” is perhaps the most fun you’ll have on the album, a bouncy number that gets the head banging proper. “Soil” revolves around snappy percussion and the “Don’t you realize that evil lives in the motherfucking skin” sections are, simply put, awesome. This is another favorite. “War?” is a political statement on rival of the best bands like Rage Against The Machine had to offer, an inspired view of the banality and pointlessness of war, and the means in which it is often justified.
The combination of tracks “Mind” and “Peephole” are a stoner’s delight, extremely psychedelic and mellow, centered around grooves and moods. The latter in particular is almost a circus put to music, a strange trip in a strange land. To narrow down a section of the album I have trouble really embracing as much as the rest, “CUBErt” and “Darts” don’t connect as well, but are both enjoyable tracks that in their own way make the closing anthem “P.L.U.C.K.” hit with much more strength. This song is probably the ultimate sumnation of what System of a Down are, or should be seen as despite their popularity. Regarding the Armenian genocide which the band has taken to heart and used as a major source of inspiration, the song is about as angry and bitter as music can get while retaining a sense of catchiness and melody. It is a statement to wrap all others up around, the middle finger on the closed fist.
It is regrettable that the band could never reach this level of potent aggression, honest expression and musical ingenuity again. While the future remains open to contemplation, it was this pre-Toxicity, pre-popular System of a Down that delivered the goods. Each album afterwards had it’s strong points, and some songs are better than anything on this album, but frankly, none of the albums are this comprehensive, this complete. This is one of the best debut albums a band has ever concocted, a testament to what happens when like-minded and talented individuals narrow their focus to a needlepoint, aim it with precision, and fire with confidence.
- Written by Brandon Thompson aka Sinist3r Punk
What do people think when they hear System of a Down? Is it their international fame caused by constant radio play and promotions on channels like MTV? Or do people think back to their 2001 release, Toxicity and their quirky songs aimed towards the fractured United States government? Sadly, most people begin their history of System of a Down here, right when the band got recognition. For the purpose of this review, we must go back, to the true beginning.
The beginning for SOAD was their s/t album. The year was 1998 and I was just a lad, at the age of 7. I never expressed any interest in System of a Down until much later in my life, and the reason for this was simple. Hype. When Toxicity rolled around, it was like the second coming of Christ. From then, until the time the band went on “hiatus”, all I heard was how great SOAD was. It quickly grated on my nerves and I got to the point where I never wanted to hear another song from them ever again. But listening to all this hype, I noticed that people were leaving something out. Why wasn’t there any talk of their debut album? I wondered if this was perhaps a poor effort that everyone was hoping to scoot under the rug, un-noticed and forgotten. As I listened to the album, my mood quickly changed from skepticism and hatred to amazement and wonder. This must have been some kind of massive conspiracy. Toxicity paled in comparison to their s/t album. Yet, Toxicity sold over 12 million copies, while their debut barely sold a million, and half of those sales were spurred on by the hype surrounding Toxicity.
The debut album is everything you want from a band with potential. It carved out a fan base that understood what makes music worth the frustrations, and it brought millions of people into the waiting arms of System, or rather, it should have. For all the intensity and raw, un-polished nature of the s/t, it didn’t equal the success and attention that undeservedly went to the band after their later albums. This presented an almost perfect contradiction in the music world. How could something that carried worldwide critical praise barely make a dent in terms of sales? While selling 500,000 copies is no small feat, albums with less praise have gone on to become multi-platinum powerhouses. It baffles me to this day, and I don’t think this mystery will ever be solved.
It’s been nearly 13 years since System of a Down put out their s/t album, and I still hear people talk about Toxicity like it is the holy grail of metal, without a single mention of the album that started the illustrious career of a great band, and that’s truly disappointing. Yes, SOAD got their recognition, but it was for all the wrong reasons. I genuinely believe that System’s s/t is their best, and one of the most underrated albums ever. Is this album ever going to receive the respect from fans that it deserves? Probably not. But I find comfort in the fact that I, along with my peers, can see this masterpiece for what it is. A fantastic, trend-setting album that never got the chance it deserved.