The Angry Scotsman
This is an album I have long avoided reviewing, not because I dislike it...but in fact because it has such a meaning to me I was not sure I could be fair, or do it true justice, (or write anything better than how awesome it is). System of a Down was the first band I truly listened to, they got me into music, and the rest is history. This was the first album I ever heard, (as well the first I ever bought)back as a 14 year old high school freshman. Back then this album was barely a year old and still hot, with "Chop Suey" playing all over the radio, especially in weight room where I and the other lazy kids would avoid doing gym and rocked out to this instead.
Today, almost 10 years later I listen to this album and SoaD, and while unsure how I would feel...I love it more than ever! What was a heavy, angsty, political album that was kind of odd I can now appreciate for its music and composition.
Onto the music itself, while too many hear the real heavy riffing and 3 minute songs and instantly yell "nu metal!" that is far from the case. I mean, have any other nu metal bands cited Frank Zappa as influence? Korn could not even dream of these unorthodox song structures, packed with a variety of instrumentation and vocal styles, often stop and go in nature, with wild, (often abrupt) changes in tempo and style. All jammed into short songs, usually with political/social commentary. Punk ethos meets alt metal.
However, not all the songs are energetic moshes, some are mellow, some melodic and powerful. The lyrics are also some of my favorite, ranging from straight out political like "Prison Song" about the US Prison system and war on drugs... to how "Science has failed our world, science has failed our mother Earth". Now that's a trip. The lyrics aren't always so straightforward and usually are multifaceted or open to interpretation (a la Tool and Deftones) and sometimes make use of humor.
Serj's vocal display really pulls it together. His voice is just amazing, and he covers the whole spectrum. Clean singing, non pitched "thrash metal" screaming, growls, a harsher yelling. They are not excessive or too harsh, generally accessible for a metal audience, and he just fits the music perfectly and can hit so many tiny moments so well. One of the better vocalists in metal.
Serj is the guy, but there are also melodies with Daron, with his unique higher singing style.
Musically, this album is a bit deeper than what appears on the surface. There is tons of no frills, heavy, angry guitar playing and I do mean lots of it. The riffing is drop C, muddy, and bludgeoning. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Often simple, the guitar work is just as often cleaner, melodic and even a lot of the heavy stuff is thrashier than the norm. There are some really sweet melodies and riffs to be found throughout. SoaD also uses acoustic guitars, 12 stringers, sitars, and mandolins.
The drumming is pretty straightforward, but also jazz tinged and with a real sense of groove and feel. Yes, jazz tinged...heard in a lot of John's unorthodox beats and especially at the end of "Shimmy". Just a great feel drummer that can surprise you, with either melodicism or the occasional blast beat! Always fitting.
Shavo's bass is almost always audible, but never too prevalent. Just right and, like John's drumming, is something I never noticed when I was younger. Not mind blowing with virtuoso skill, but always appropriate, with lots of cool moments. Sometimes just "bottom filler" for the heavy parts and sometimes stand alone his bass playing is solid and then some.
I mentioned the variety of styles, with some notable examples being the very thrashy "Jet Pilot" inspired by one of their favorite bands, Slayer, "Science" which has a really awesome middle eastern sounding interlude, "Shimmy" has some prominent jazz influenced rock drumming, "X" is an intense song with a weird second half, and "Psycho" a funny song to the cocaine fueled groupies with a guitar solo! Yes. A melodic, powerful solo backed with sitar and other gentle instruments and a light drum beat. Amazingly moving piece. "Bounce" is another funny, weird song. Very weird.
I'll finish with my 3 favorite songs, starting with its most famous song "Chop Suey!" An acoustic guitar riff starts off, quickly backed by mandolin, clean electric guitar and a scattering drum beat before the heavy kicks in. Alternates between a staccato, distorted riff and a mellow, clean movement filled with strings. A nice thrashing leads to an extremely powerful ending, punctuated with keyboard. The songs famously cryptic lyrics have been attributed to suicide, the bible, child/domestic abuse. Maybe it's none of the above, or a little of it all. Very powerful, moving song.
'ATWA" is another powerful song, switching between quiet, mellow parts and beautiful harmonized singing with heavy, pounding sections and yelling. Moving piece of music, with a title alluding to the philosophy of Charles Manson: Air, Trees, Water, Animals dealing with the unity of all living things and ecosystems of Earth in a spiritual context. Could never figure out what the lyrics mean but I always thought it was either about man ruining the environment, nature watching us go on with our lives, or a different angle on Charles Manson. Still not very sure.
"Aerials" is my favorite on the album. A beautiful song, no other way to put it. Over 6 minutes long but the last half is actually one of those hidden songs, a tribal sounding Armenian folk song.
More varied than the bands debut album, though still unmistakably them, this is not only a classic of alt metal, but in all of metal. Released on the cusp of the scene's transition to metalcore, the album is a breath of fresh air to the dying alt metal scene, and in general. The band's blend of accessibility and experimentation, is a huge success. If you want to rock out to its epic heaviness or chill to its moving beauty, then go ahead. Just realize that musically, while this album is not about technical skill so much, it is a great display. The song writing, texture, melodies and subtlety can easily be lost.
Masterpiece. Five Stars