Pop: System of a Down: Brixton Academy, London

Pop: System of a Down: Brixton Academy, London + + + – –

The Guardian – United Kingdom
Jun 07, 2005

It has taken 10 years, but the Armenian-American four-piece, System of
a Down, finally entered the metal super-league a couple of weeks ago,
when their new album, Mezmerize, sold 800,000 copies in its first
seven days. On the first of three nights at Brixton, old-school
metallistas rubbed tattoos in the crowd with the new breed of teenage
fans who welcome diversity in metal as long as it’s loud.

System of a Down are right on the money, underpinning the horrendous
volume with a hybrid sound that incorporates hip-hop’s focus on social
issues along with the usual caterwauling guitars. But dozens of others
do the same thing these days – what sets them apart from other
rap/metal outfits are the Middle-Eastern overtones that flavour the

Despite being American-born, the Down are mournfully Armenian in their
rock hearts, and this adds a redeeming frisson to an otherwise stolid
show. Serj, Daron, Shavo and, uh, John see nothing contradictory about
slamming together an ululating devotional chant and a head-drilling
guitar solo – and that’s just the first song. (The first, BYOB, also
turns out to be the best, but that doesn’t dawn until about 15 tracks
of much-the-same have rumbled past.)

Singer Serj Tankian, nu-metal’s best Billy Connolly lookalike, is
certainly the right man for the job. There are other metal frontmen
who would look equally ridiculous in a frock coat, but few who could
match Tankian’s ability to veer between the hysteria of heavy rock and
the passion of Armenian folk music. His biggest challenge is Aerials,
which demands perfect pitch on guttural choruses that sound like a
madrigal. Tankian’s resonant voice and a preponderance of minor chords
produce a sense of gloomy foreboding.

Nudging the mood even further down, some of the band chip in sombre
harmonies on Lost in Hollywood, a ballad whose advantage is that you
can hear the words. “Weird” is too strong a word, but System of a
Down’s unusual mix does create an impression – mostly positive.

Caroline Sullivan

At the Download Festival, Donington Park, on June 12. Details: 0870
154 4040.

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