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Arts and Culture News

System of a Down: 'Hypnotize'

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

The hard rock group System of a Down released the first half of a two-CD set six months ago. That CD, called "Mesmerize," debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. Now the band is back with the second CD, "Hypnotize," and again they've debuted on top. Independent music critic Christian Bordal has this review.

(Soundbite of "Attack")

SYSTEM OF A DOWN: (Singing) Breathing each other's lives...

CHRISTIAN BORDAL reporting:

How many hyphens can you squeeze into one band and one album even if it is a double-CD set? How about Armenian-American-progressive-hard-rock-musical theater-punk-metal? What do you think that'll sound like? Well, brace yourselves.

(Soundbite of "Attack")

SYSTEM OF A DOWN: (Singing) The cold insincerity of steel machines have consumed our euphoria, transforming us into muted dreams, dreaming of the day that we attack, attack, attack your fetal servitude, we attack, attack, attack, attack with pesticide...

BORDAL: System of a Down gets classified as a hard-rock/metal hybrid, but on their new CDs, "Mesmerize" and "Hypnotize," they owe as much to the operatic silliness of Gilbert and Sullivan and Queen as they do to Black Sabbath and Motorhead. For those serious metal fans out there who don't much like a comic element in their hard rock, System of a Down can play hard and fast with the best of them. But for those of us who appreciate a little tongue in our cheek, the band is self-confident enough to have a little fun, too. And whatever musical direction they're taking, you can always be sure that they'll go there with gusto.

(Soundbite of "Dreaming")

SYSTEM OF A DOWN: (Singing) Dreaming of screaming. Someone kick me out of my mind. I hate these thoughts I can't deny. (Overlapping) We are the (unintelligible). For treated indigenously, digenously, human right is...

BORDAL: All right, some facts about System of a Down.

(Soundbite of song)

SYSTEM OF A DOWN: (Singing) Banana, banana, banana, terra cotta, banana, terra cotta, terra cotta pie.

BORDAL: The band is based in Los Angeles. All four members are of Armenian descent.

(Soundbite of song)

SYSTEM OF A DOWN: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible).

BORDAL: And somehow they've sold millions of records of this pretty oddball music.

(Soundbite of song)

SYSTEM OF A DOWN: (Singing) Terra cotta pie. Hey. Terra cotta pie. Hey. Terra cotta...

BORDAL: They're politically active on Armenian and other issues. Their lyrics often include some angry political content, and since that's unusual for rock and roll, the band gets labeled as edgy and political. The fact is that if you read the lyrics, there's not a whole lot of `there' there, but they sound good and they're sung really well. Guitarist and songwriter Daron Malakian has been singing more lately, but it's still the intense shovel-bearded front man, Serj Tankian, that steals the show.

(Soundbite of "Revenga")

SYSTEM OF A DOWN: (Singing) Poisoning a drink, bleeding in a sink, choking on a link, killing with a stink, just your mother's ho. Bleeding in a sink, poisoning a drink, burning up my sweet Clementine. Trampling a shrink, bleeding in a sink, hallelujah wink, getting on the brink, just your mother's ho, hallelujah wink, murdering a shrink, burning up on my sweet revenge will be yours for the taking. It's in the making, baby. Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, my sweet revenge...

BORDAL: So where does all this leave us? Well, System of a Down have put out nearly 80 minutes of tracks on two pretty rockin' CDs. They could have boiled it down to maybe 40 or 50 minutes of one consistently excellent record, but if you can sell millions of copies of two CDs, I guess that's better than one. In any case, these guys are definitely one of a kind. Their constant turn-on-a-dime shifts in style and tempo from thrash to reggae to funk to ballad pop will make your head spin, and their zaniness will put a smile on your face. So why not join the party and have a real good time?

BRAND: Christian Bordal is a radio producer living in Santa Monica, California.

(Soundbite of song)

SYSTEM OF A DOWN: (Singing) Everybody's going to the party, have a real good time.

BRAND: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Madeleine Brand. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.