Deep Album Cuts Vol. 113: System Of A Down

In the last few weeks, System Of A Down guitarist and principal songwriter Daron Malakian released his second Scars On Broadway album, which I wrote about the other day. And that release led to some public back-and-forth between members of SOAD, summarized in this Rolling Stone piece, about the fact that the band continues to sporadically play together live but haven't made a new album in 2005, and probably won't get one together anytime very soon. It got me thinking about what a fantastic catalog System has, and how there are worse things to do than became purely a lively act after making a handful of great records.

System Of A Down deep album cuts (Spotify playlist):

1. Soil
2. Prison Song
3. Sad Statue
4. Bounce
5. Kill Rock'n Roll
6. Suite-Pee
7. Mr. Jack
8. Forest
9. Soldier Side - Intro
10. Soldier Side
11. War?
12. Shimmy
13. 36
14. Vicinity Of Obscenity
15. DDevil
16. Psycho
17. This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I'm On This Song
18. Suggestions
19. Cigaro
20. Deer Dance
21. CUBErt
22. Violent Pornography
23. Chic 'N' Stu
24. Tentative
25. Arto
26. Revenga
27. Know
28. Holy Mountains

Tracks 1, 6, 11, 18, 21 and 27  from System Of A Down (1998)
Tracks 2, 4, 8, 12, 16, 20 and 25 from Toxicity (2001)
Tracks 7, 13 and 23 from Steal This Album! (2002)
Tracks 3, 9, 17, 19, 22 and 26 from Mezmerize (2005)
Tracks 5, 10, 14, 24 and 28 from Hypnotize (2005)

System Of A Down's discography is pretty small at 5 albums, but it's sort of even smaller than that since it's really three batches of material. Their two 2005 albums were recorded together and released six months apart, and they recorded two albums' worth of material for Toxicity, and after the outtakes were bootlegged on filesharing sites under the name Toxicity II, they decided to go into the studio and finish up the material for official release as Steal This Album! But the band is just frighteningly consistent across those records, even Steal is pretty solid. Creating this playlist was mostly about trying not to lose any favorites rather than cutting weak material -- I think only "She's Like Heroin" was the only track that actively annoys me enough that I made a conscious decision to exclude it for reasons other than making room for other songs.

But more than the size of their discography, I found myself thinking about how compact System's records are. The longest one is 44 minutes long, and on every album the songs average about 3 minutes, which is some incredibly brevity and restraint by metal standards. I think the band realizes on some level that the hit-and-run dynamic works well for their music, and they don't wear out their welcome. It almost feels wrong to make my compulsory 80-minute playlist, you could probably listen to half and then come back to it later to not get too overwhelmed, 28 songs of this stuff is a lot.

Of course, System Of A Down's relatively short songs are a bit longer than the Minutemen's, but that's one of the bands that SOAD reminds me of the most, the rapid twists and turns of their arrangements and the way the lyrics get this unusual power from putting bold and sometimes impressively specific political statements up against more absurd and whimsical ideas. "Prison Song" is still just incredible to me every time I hear it, and though George W. Bush-era protest music has developed a bit of a reputation for not aging well, it still means a lot to me that during the Iraq war one of the biggest bands in the world was releasing singles like "Boom!" and "B.Y.O.B." and not mincing words at all.

"Bounce" pops up a couple times in one of my kid's favorite movies, The Secret Life Of Pets, as the humorously scary metal music that a fluffy poodle listens to. But it's probably funnier than even the filmmakers intended, since the song is basically about an orgy. There's a lot of fun and funny moments in the System catalog, from "Cigaro" to "Shimmy," but the music that explores the band's shared Armenian heritage, from "Holy Mountains" to the traditional instrumentation of "Arto," really puts a lot of beauty and passion into a band that's own just brutally loud and silly. I don't know if there's any deep cut that shows both sides of the band as perfectly as "Chop Suey!" but there's a lot of songs that showcase each side wonderfully. I still have fond memories of the first album being this odd cult thing that high school friends turned me onto as the record made it's slow journey to going platinum almost 4 years after its release. And the Baltimore Arena show on the Mezmerize tour was probably one of the best rock shows of that size I've ever seen.
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