System Of A Down : Birmingham Academy

Disorder, disorder, disorder: it’s a song of the times, a sign of the times, the only slogan you need...

Ever since the twin towers fell, the American psyche has been hungry for catharsis. Rock radio has undergone a kind of Orwellian self-censorship, cutting out the dissident voices, and ramming the playlists with bands like[a]Staind[/a], [a]Nickelback[/a], and Creed – dull, pompous, self-indulgent Middle American creeps one and all, given [I]carte blanche[/I] to lick their emotional wounds in public. As the world goes mad, culture goes as soft as a comfort blanket. Sleep tight, America, your government is in control.

There is, of course, one exception. On the morning of September 11th 2001, [a]System Of A Down[/a]

’s second album, ‘Toxicity’, hit Number One on the Billboard Chart. The work of four fearlessly mental LA-based Armenian-American dissidents with a soft spot for the back-to-nature environmental theories of American bogeyman Charles Manson and a healthy contempt for authority, it peeled back the glitzy gloss of Sunset Strip to reveal a blackened vein running all the way back to America’s diseased core. [a]System Of A Down[/a]

rescheduled their European tour in the wake of September 11th, citing ‘political unrest’ (at the time, they firmly believed they were being investigated by the CIA). Tonight, over seven months on from its release, they bring ‘Toxicity’ to British shores for the first time. And it starts like this.

CRASH-CRASH-CRASH-CRASH! A rhythmic burst of death-metal chug that tumbles off the walls like breaking tsunami waves. CRASH-CRASH-CRASH-CRASH-CRASH-CRASH-CRASH-CRASH! [a]System Of A Down[/a]

frontman Serj Tankian – wild-eyed and devilishly-bearded, looking like a demented Cossack mystic – marches to the front of the stage, lifts a microphone to his lips, and hisses “They’re try’na build a prison!” And then the dense slaughterhouse thrash of ‘Prison Song’ grinds into life.

“All research and successful drug policy show that that treatment should be increased!” shrieks Tankian, bounding around the stage like he’s dancing on hot coals, “And law enforcement should be decreased, while abolishing mandatory minimum sentences!” It’s a song about the US government’s draconian zero-tolerance narcotics policy. Yeah, one of [I]those[/I]. And it’d be unbearably pretentious, if it didn’t sound so fucking incredible.

But that’s [a]System Of A Down[/a] all over. Their songs are terrifying visions of sky-rending apocalyptica – grinning kamikaze pilots with horse’s heads (‘Jet Pilot’), roaming militas of gun-toting child soldiers (‘Deer Dance’), coke-ravaged Los Angeles starfuckers (‘Psycho’), and fungus people that suck out your brains (‘Sugar’). But even though they press-gang everything from fiddle-de-dee Armenian folk to skull-crushing [a]Slayer[/a]

-style psychometal to tempo-skipping wonder-prog into their mutating, malleable design, luckily, you only remember the fantastic moments.

Like a building-levelling ‘Suite-Pee’, which unexpectedly segues in and out of a totally serious, and impassioned chorus of[a]John Lennon[/a]’s ‘Give Peace A Chance’. A pious take on their airtime-hogging ‘Chop Suey’, where Tankian turns his eyes to heaven and plays out his crucified Messianic fantasies, part theatrical pantomime posturing, part Christian-baiting blasphemy. Or that adrenaline-filled moment in ‘Toxicity’, where the roar of bassist Shavo Odadjian and guitarist Daron Malakian’s instruments fall away, drummer John Dolmayan rings out a tense military crack on his snare drum, and Tankian bellows “Disorder! Disorder! Disorder!” like the sky is falling in, and devils are dancing around his shoes.

Oh, it’s a faith thing, that’s for sure. It [I]has[/I] to be. Because there is no real logic to the [a]System Of A Down[/a] design – but there is also no faux-meaningful stage banter, and no state-the-fucking-obvious political spoon-feeding, no cloying feel-my-pain bullshit and no simpering pussy-punk fashioneering. Nothing, in fact, but a simple, visceral screech of affirmation. And isn’t that exactly what you want? A band that promise nothing, yet somehow, deliver everything?

Right now, [a]System Of A Down[/a] are the most significant metal act since [a]Slipknot[/a]. In time, they may become the most significant metal act since[a]Metallica[/a]. Disorder, disorder, disorder: it’s a song of the times, a sign of the times, the only slogan you need.

Louis Pattison