...insane, ridiculous, a brain-pan pizza with extra mushrooms...
Considering their obsessions include war, power and death, it should be easier to take System Of A Down seriously. Some might argue that’s the fault of the cynical listener, embarrassed by the band’s uninhibited passion and political commitment. Or maybe it’s just because this is a band who, on a song called ‘Chic’N’Stu’, believe a pizza recipe serves as a searing condemnation of consumerism. “Pepperoni and green peppers/mushrooms, olives, chives!” trills Serj Tankian operatically, before yelping “Therapy! Therapy! Advertising causes me!”
System Of A Down‘s concerns may be no laughing matter, but unfortunately, their music often is. This is a band of true hysterics, each song beginning at the point where most people would be hospitalised for hyperventilation. Just as you succumb to their fiery polemic they do something so outlandish – a bouzouki-style flourish, a choral attack – that your suspended disbelief crashes on your head like a not-so-smart bomb. As they might say, “boom!”. Yet as with ‘Toxicity’, it quickly becomes clear that Tankian and his compadres aren’t just men who haven’t managed to calibrate their mental dials properly.
Named after ‘Steal This Book!’, the countercultural manual by ’60s radical Abbie Hoffman that offers a handy guide to Molotov cocktails, ‘Steal This Album!’ is another incendiary device. A collection of unreleased tracks, the oldest song here (the atypically moody ballad ‘Roulette’) was written eight years ago, while the newest stuff is culled from the ‘Toxicity’ sessions. Guitarist Daron Malakian describes this record as “a bridge between ‘Toxicity’ and our next record,” which only indicates troubled waters ahead.
‘Boom!’ is a pop-eyed anti-globalization rant; the guitar delusions of ‘Pictures’ and ‘Innervisions’ are the stuff of psychiatry textbooks; the padded-cell bounce of ‘Fuck The System’ sees Tankian gibbering and capering like a Bedlam superstar. The singer’s curious persona is mirrored by the musical pyrotechnics, Queen meets Rage Against The Machine in a metal production of Godspell!, an inventiveness and fury that makes their MTV contemporaries look as dynamic as lard models of Linkin Park.
This hypersensitivity and mania is guided by an entirely sane control, this chattering extremity offered as the only sensible reaction to a world gone even madder than they are. Yes, System Of A Down are insane, ridiculous, a brain-pan pizza with extra mushrooms. But how can something this righteous ever be wrong?