System of a Down: Right Here in Hollywood
by Ben Myers
Heirs apparent to Rage Against the Machine’s abdicated rap-metal throne, fellow Los Angelinos System of a Down exploded onto the national scene right around the time (a) those willfully monotonous agit-proppers parted ways and (b) terrorists crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center, lending the lyrics “self-righteous suicide” an eerie prescience. System radiate a political, social, and cultural disgust as intense as that of their forebears, but there are a few key differences: System’s conception of metal is both dizzyingly psychotic and pan-global, reflecting the activism-friendly quartet’s varied musical interests, shared Armenian-American heritage, and appreciation of the value of rock spectacle through a cracked prism. With hit singles like pop-thrash, mock anthem “B.Y.O.B.” (from 2005’s Mesmerize) or the alternately lush and abrasive “Chop Suey!” (from 2001’s Toxicity), System had their cake and scarfed it, too, on a level most artists pray to hit—delivering surreally subversive steaks under dazzling sizzle and making the charts. While Right Here in Hollywood certainly won’t be the last word on the group, it serves as a handy repository of media reports to date, many of which U.K. author Ben Myers penned for Kerrang!. Scholarly, this ain’t: there’s an unnecessarily nasty, partisan edge to the walls of cultural exposition Myers builds while relating System to the general cultural climate of the late 1990s that leaves a bad aftertaste; a shame, since the windows opened into band members’ individual lives reveal a lot. Who would have thought that pre-System, inventively histrionic lead singer Serj Tankian founded and ran a business customizing “accounting software systems for the jewelry industry in California”? Or that System, early on, were known as Soil? Or that these four go cuckoo the chronic? Answer: anybody with a day to kill and access to Google. But Myers’ deserves credit for compiling all these separate strands and interview pieces into a compelling narrative—and this is important—really exploring the nuts, bolts, emotions, influences, and impacts of System recordings and related side-project output, something super-fan’s biogs like this one usually can’t be bothered with.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times.