System of a Down - System Of A Down
American Recordings
Avant-Garde Hardcore, Alt Metal
13 songs (40:36)
Release year: 1998
System of a Down, American Recordings
Reviewed by Goat
Archive review

System Of A Down is one of the few bands that are guaranteed to annoy the hell out of the majority of any group of 'proper' Metalheads you care to examine. “System Of A Down? Huh! Syndrome Of A Down, more like!” they snort. “And the politics! Can’t they just get over the Armenian Genocide?” – because having a large part of your nation slaughtered is nothing compared to having to walk through a mall and tolerate groupings of kids by the Hot Topic stores...

Let’s face it: System Of A Down is a good band. It has worked together as a unit to make some of the most original and interesting music released in the late 90s and since. Hardcore at heart (with heavy Dead Kennedys influence) the plethora of experimental touches from screeched vocals to Eastern European Folk is what makes this band, and it’s a shame that all it takes for Metalheads to be put off is the mainstream focus that Serj and co. get.

For those that can accept their music being popular, then System Of A Down’s debut album is as worthy of attention as its later, generally more popular material. Back in the day, as someone starting his first steps on the road to Metallic superiority, it was a chance hearing of Chop Suey! from the band’s second album Toxicity on the radio that helped prove the heavy side’s dominance over the light. Snapping up both that and the band’s self-titled album soon after, I was slightly disappointed at first to discover the latter was less polished, less catchy, and more experimental than Toxicity. With time, however, giving it a chance to sink in, I found that it’s definitely the superior of the two, perhaps even the band’s best.

Those used to fifty riffs a song may well find the songs on System Of A Down a disappointment, and if you’ve heard the hype about how there’s a mixture of everything from Jazz to pure Black Metal in each song, you’ve no chance. Understand, however, that the band uses the wall-of-noise guitars as an integral part of the songwriting, and you’ve unlocked it. Although there are moments that border on Thrash here and there (Pluck especially) for the most part this is Hardcore-influenced, with short, sharp songs built around sudden stylistic changes and the effect that they’ll have on the listener.

Suite-Pee starts the album off excellently; catchy riffing and distinctly odd (practically anti-Christian) lyrics letting you know that this isn’t your regular band. A breakdown is followed by growls and languorous, almost sensual singing from Serj, who is vastly underrated as a vocalist. He sings, he wails, he growls, he screams, seemingly moving between them flawlessly, and with some wild backing screams from guitarist Daron (who on later albums would nearly take over vocals completely, spoiling things somewhat in my view) there’s very little to criticise. Daron is a more than decent guitarist, underpinning the songs wonderfully with his heavy riffs and odd little noodles, and John and Shavo provide a skilful rhythm section.

Pretty much every song on show is more than good, from the Eastern-sounding melodies of Know, to the Alt-Metal ballad that is Spiders. Special mention must go to the maddeningly catchy Sugar, which is possibly my favourite ever song, fitting a simple yet memorable riff with some typically deep lyrics to perfect effect, building up to a (relatively) crushing finale - and all in two and a half minutes!

It’s always been a slight disappointment to me that the longest track on offer – the six-minute Mind – is the worst, its slow build-up being too slow, the following section too strange. Once you’ve listened to the album as many times as I have you accept it, but it remains ‘that weird track in the middle’ rather than a vital part of the album, and although you can see some of the band’s more Progressive elements being given an outlet here, ultimately it doesn’t flow as perfectly as the other songs.

If you can criticise System Of A Down, then it’s because you’ve heard the band’s latest material and are upset that it isn’t as polished, as zany. Even if you’re not a fan of the band, it’s impossible to deny that this is a great set of tunes, with some obviously forward-thinking songwriting. Ultimately, if you have the albums afterwards and like them, there’s no reason to ignore this. And if not, why not give it a try? You never know, it might just bring you around…

Killing Songs :
Suite-Pee, Know, Sugar, Spiders, Ddevil, Soil, War?, Peephole, Darts, Pluck
Goat quoted 87 / 100
Other albums by System of a Down that we have reviewed:
System of a Down - Hypnotize reviewed by Aleksie and quoted 80 / 100
System of a Down - Mezmerize reviewed by Aleksie and quoted 85 / 100
System of a Down - Toxicity reviewed by Jay and quoted 73 / 100
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