Daron Malakian: 21st Century Schizoid Man
Orginally printed in Guitar World, July 2005.
Visionary songwriter. Mad lyricist. Genius guitarist. Obsessive shut-in. There are so many sides to System of a Down's prolific guitarist Daron Malakian that it took two albums to contain them.
It's never been easy to describe System of a Down’s music. Its contradictory mix of styles is by turns abrasive and dissonant, gentle and melodic, often within the same song. For those who ponder such things, Daron Malakian, the group’s guitarist, has a candid explanation. “People sometimes say our music is kind of ‘schizophrenic,’ ” says Malakian. “And, yeah, it is kind of schizophrenic. That’s because we live in a crazy fucking society.” The notion could be extended to Malakian and his presence in an extreme metal band like System of a Down. Slightly built, with thinning long brown hair and large searching eyes, Malakian has a quietly friendly manner and a highpitched laugh that would suit a cartoon chipmunk. These aren’t the qualities one would assume of a guitarist whose band was responsible for Toxicity, the multi-Platinum 2001 album whose psycho-dramatic metal and militant political stance left a nasty scar on the slick surface of U.S. popular culture. In fact, Malakian contributed heavily to the album’s vitriolic music and message, serving as the principal composer of the songs performed by him and his bandmates, singer Serj Tankian, bassist Shavo Odadjian and drummer John Dolmayan.
On System’s newest album, Mezmerize/Hypnotize (Sony), Malakian plays an even greater role as a lyricist, singer and multiinstrumentalist, and the result is an album that surpasses its ambitious predecessor. For one thing, Mezmerize/Hypnotize is a double album, albeit one whose two discs will be released half a year apart: Mezmerize drops first, to be followed by Hypnotize in late fall of this year. “People’s attention spans don’t run too long these days,” Malakian says, explaining the unusual release schedule. “I want to release this in a way that will do each song justice. You put too many songs on your record and it ends up like a family with too many kids: some of them get neglected.”
In addition, the double-album format gives the band ample room to push every conceivable envelope. Mezmerize alone contains some of the most aggressive, gloriously ugly bursts of pure-black bitter bile System have ever generated, as well as their most melodic and vulnerable music.
The album opens with “Soldiercide,” an achingly sad song that brings war’s insanity unnervingly close to home. From there, the listener is sucked into the centrifugal slipstream of “B.Y.O.B. (Bring Your Own Bombs),” a full-scale emotional meltdown. Tempos shift and lurch with seismographic unpredictability, and shards of crazy Greek wedding music fly by. Malakian’s dry, tortured guitar tones slice through the mix, while Tankian spews rapid-fire streams of eloquent anger, like a man suffering a Tourette’s seizure. The net result is scary, theatrical, funny, weird and cathartic—an ominous, ironic bash: “Everybody’s goin’ to the party, have a real good time,” goes the song’s chorus. “Dancin’ in the desert. Blowin’ up the sunshine.”