So this is it – the second half of System Of A Down’s Mezmerize/Hypnotize double album (or “two album set” as they call it) – and it’s got a hell of a lot to live up to. Fans of Mezmerize will be wanting more of the same, others will be hoping for music that harkens back to the less eclectic metal assault of Toxicity. Either way, it has to be good enough to justify selling this as two albums, rather than one double – good enough to justify both the cost and the six month wait.
That’s a lot of pressure – and God only knows how they’ve done it, but System have delivered, and in doing so have given us one of the great rock double albums of all time.
It all starts with the ritual of interlocking the two specially designed digi-packs together into one casing, which is hugely satisfying in itself. A minute is spent wondering whether you can still get the Mezmerize lyric book into its pocket (you can) before it’s time to step, with trepidation and excitement into the mad, mad world of Hypnotize.
So – first impressions are that Hypnotize does have more of the classic (read pre-Mezmerize) SOAD sound to it. The machine-gun riff that launches Attack makes way for a suitably epic pattern of melancholy breaks and ferocious speed-metal. Dreaming shifts things up yet another gear with a bonkers ‘if Handel did metal’ vocal arrangement and vintage System sing-a-long chorus.
The furiously infectious punk blast of Kill Rock n’ Roll leads us to the single and title track which is almost like a pause for breath amidst the rest of the insanity on offer. Stealing Society is another insanely catchy punk anthem, surely a future gig favourite -with the second half of the song riding on a surf-punk wave that puts Green Day to shame whilst remaining determinedly SOAD.
Compared to Mezmerize, Hypnotize is certainly a bit more melancholy and less wacky overall, with many more serious moments amidst the madness. The influence of traditional Armenian music plays a stronger part than ever before – if anything it’s now a completely inseparable part of the System sound. I could point at U-Fig, Soldier Side or Holy Mountains as examples but it pervades and enhances the whole album.
If there’s less moments of utter absurdity, then those that remain are easily equal to previous oddities. Serj’s machine-gun “eat-em-eat-em-eat-em-eat-em” on U-Fig and Daron yelling “ass!” throughout She’s like Heroin are inspired moments of silliness, but they don’t even come close to Vicinity of Obscenity, probably System’s daftest song to date. The Gong-play-metal psychedelic goblin yelps of “banana-banana-banana-terracotta-pie!” dance manically into all manner of evil noises before diving into System’s poppiest chorus ever, which comes somewhere between the song from Different Strokes and a Jackson 5 take on the Hill Street Blues theme. Only System could make it work, and it’s brilliant.
The final three songs of the album are all from the pen of guitarist Daron Malakian, the key architect of the Mezmerize/Hypnotize project. The pace gradually eases down, and the album comes full circle – the very end of Lonely Day echoes the build-up to B.Y.O.B., and the beautiful Soldier Side returns to the refrain that opened Mezmerize all those months ago. It’s a familiar trick but when the songs in question are this good it works a treat.
It’s a suitably epic close to twelve fantastic songs, and it’s a fantastic close to an incredible double album. Against all odds, the completed Mezmerize/Hypnotize project is actually greater than the sum of its parts – in fact it quickly becomes impossible to think of it as anything else than one epic piece of work.
As a result, reviewing Hypnotize on its own is pretty much an irrelevance. Mezmerize/Hypnotize is the sound of a band that has shaped its own distinctive sound so well that they could record an album of folk music or seventies funk and it would still just feel like System Of A Down. I’ll go even further – this is perhaps the finest, and most important heavy metal album of the twenty-first century so far. Only history will confirm or deny that but really, what are you waiting for? This is the sound of the past, present and future of rock music, all stuffed into a ballistic missile cruising at 200mph over the Black Sea – and it’s headed right over here. Enjoy.