Well, after Mezmerize left me with a great, but ultimately far too small taste of the new direction System is now taking, I of course had to wait impatiently for this second half to be released. I loved Mezmerize, and aside from the somewhat mediocre “BYOB,” I thought it could compete face to face with any of System’s other albums. It wasn’t perfect, in my opinion, as it had some of System’s laziest lyrics. But it was still a shocking revelation of how much System has grown and matured. Instead of slowly deteriorating and giving in to the wishes of short-sighted marketing executives like almost every other band from this era of metal, SOAD continues to create art and progress. For a more in depth opinion of Mezmerize, I have written a separate review, but of course this is a review of Hypnotize.
…and to be honest, I was disappointed upon first listen. The songs just wouldn’t gel for me, didn’t grab me emotionally like the best songs on Mezmerize. But this turns out to be a bit of a grower (albeit it a very fast one): three spins and I was hooked. Sure, it doesn’t resemble the self-titled in quite as many ways as Mezmerize did. But it takes those elements that Mezmerize brought back into the equation and develops them even furthur. The frenetic, progressive Mr. Bungle-esque time shifts and dissonances are more seamlessly combined with the melodic sentiments carried over from the Toxicity days to create a new sound of sorts. System is going forward and won’t be looking back anytime soon.
One major difference between Mezmerize and Hypnotize is variety – while Mezmerize had a more interesting variety of different sounds (“Old School Hollywood,” “Cigaro,” and “Question” for example,) Hypnotize shows a more cohesive sense of flow. Many of these songs are the same blend of addictive melody and old school SOAD punk-metal energy. This can work for or against the album, depending on your preferences. Either way, though, it splits this “double album” into two distinct albums. And all for the better… who wants to sit around and listen to the same sound for 80 minutes?
Another major difference is this: Hypnotize is easily the darkest SOAD album since the self-titled. Even my friends who aren’t particularely sentimental or over emotional when it comes to music say that this album does something to them… it hits a nerve somewhere. A lot of the best examples are towards the end, like “Holy Mountains” which I see as being a far more mature successor to “Ariels” and one of the best songs on this album. After the comic relief of “Vicinity of Obscenity” comes the ungodly creepiness of “She’s Like Heroin.” Despite sloppy lyrics, “Lonely Day” is still a haunting melody. And of course there’s the full version of “Soldier Side” which sends chills down my spine still after listening to this album for a week.
Even in many of the other songs, this emotional intensity can be found in assorted choruses and bridges. “U-Fig” seems to have a Dredg-like antsy quality to it and the apocalyptic “Tentative” foreshadows the too-close-for-comfort intensity of the last few songs on the album (and at the same time manages to evoke the meloncholic vibe of Steal This Album’s better songs.)
The title track was the perfect choice for single, and it was the first song to grow on me. In many ways it is the oldest-sounding song and could have been a track off of the self-titled if it were not for Daron’s lead vocalizing. By the way, while I’m on this subject, I would like to share my opinions on Daron’s voice; many people seem to unfairly dismiss new System solely based on his voice. While I will admit that he doesn’t have the “nicest” or most well trained voice, I could cite dozens of worse singers in any form of popular music. He may not have the outright beauty of Serj’s voice, but he has style and energy that I think benefit this new direction System is going in. Besides, Daron isn’t REPLACING Serj, the two voices are simply playing point and counterpoint. If anything, Daron-critics should like Hypnotize more because it has more Serj than Mezmerize did.
People who complain that this album isn’t enough like the “old” System need to stop being nostalgic whiners that are afraid of change. System of a Down have changed as a band, matured, developed – and thank God for that! Had they stayed the same to appease the fanatics, they’d be down the drain with all those other nu metal bands. I couldn’t be happier with the changes System has made. I will always have a place in my heart for the self-titled, it was my favorite album for a long time and I don’t think they’ll be able to top it in my book… but I would rather they change and continue to become a different band that makes more cds that are great in their own unique way than drive the same formula into the ground repeatedly until I stop liking them altogether. In art, change is survival. Learn to embrace that concept, or be left behind – your choice.