System of A Down CD review [American/Columbia]

Music Reviews
System of A Down CD review [American/Columbia]
Nov 26, 2002, 23:13


The role of the judicious artistic gatekeeper seems a dying one in this era of expanded CD reissues and “Director's Cut” DVDs. And yet, it was fine editing that helped make System of a Down's Toxicity a rich, idiosyncratic feast of politics, pathos and pratfalls. Unlike most nu-metal bands, the band had real songwriting chops, drawing from Zappa, Armenian folk motifs, Black Flag and Slayer with grace and power. Pair this with vividly imagistic lyrics brought to life by Serg Tankian's vivid palette of croons, yodels, and skin-peeling screams, and you have a quadruple-platinum release you're not ashamed to have on your CD rack. Two years ago, I saw them in front of a sun-burned, shell-shocked Ozzfest audience and was impressed how they managed to channel the crowd's energy without pandering—you just don't see big name bands connecting with their audiences on a non-bullshit, visceral level much anymore. So yeah, call me more than a bit of a fan. But after having to force myself to listen to Steal This Record more than once, my enthusiasm is far more muted. The band swears that these songs outtakes from the Toxicity sessions are top-notch material, only excluded from the record because of thematic considerations. I have to disagree. As well-executed as the material is, it's clear Steal This Album is System of a Down's B-grade material. The songs don't swerve as smoothly from delicate to frantic, the Zappa-isms are markedly grating, and Tankian's politics are ham-handed and hectoring. I'm not going to lapse into the old saw that “second rate System of a Down is better than most band's best days” because so what? Mediocrity from a good band can be just as annoying as outright shitty material from an also-ran. You'd be better off replaying Toxicity and waiting for a new album than wasting your time on these retreads. Unless, of course, you thought The Stooge's Funhouse Box was too short... [American Recordings/Columbia]

-Cecile Cloutier

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