Hypnotize is the Siamese twin of Mesmerize, the second part of an audacious double album that was severed at birth in the recording studio. If Mesmerize had critics and fans dropping their jaws at System Of A Down's virtuosity back in May, then Hypnotize is the musical equivalent of lock jaw. It's the perfect foil to its twin - equally meticulous, equally vicious and equally insane.
The American-Armenian metallers kick off with Attack, the album exploding into being at such a blistering pace that the guitars almost struggle to keep up with drummer John Dolmayan (undoubtedly the best sticksman in the genre). It's a vociferous, no-holds-barred rally call to the enslaved:
Attack, attack our feudal servitude,
Attack, attack, attack with pesticide,
We attack all the years of propaganda.
We shall attack!
To hostile ears, SOAD's approach will no doubt sound over-eccentric, almost farcical in its complexity. Given a chance, however, their inventive formula proves itself to be infectious and infinitely rewarding. Just as The Mars Volta have fused jazz with metal to their advantage, System's use of Eastern influences and stilted, unorthodox melodies give them a unique, instantly recognisable edge. If you need further proof of their collective technical genius, look no further than Dreaming. Somehow, over a raging backdrop of precision riffs and striking tempo changes, Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian lock swords in an operatic vocal duel that's so convoluted, they'll surely need a conductor to perform it live.
Allied to their breathtaking musical proficiency - co-ordinated largely by Malakian, the band's mastermind - is Tankian's ability to switch unblinkingly from the sublime to the ridiculous. Vicinity Of Obsenity goes something like this:
Banana, banana terracotta,
Nonsense though it may seem, one still gets the impression that somebody, somewhere is the target of Tankian's scorn, such is the power of the man's lyricism (showcased in 2002's Cool Gardens). Elsewhere, he's less cryptic. His venomous tongue gets unleashed on Holy Mountains ("LIAR! KILLER! DEMON!...ORDER! MURDERER! SODOMISER!"), while his ongoing empathy for asylum seekers is conveyed on Tentative ("No-one's gonna save us now, not even God...where do you expect us to go when the bombs fall?").
If, to continue the analogy, System's breathtaking brace of albums are indeed Siamese twins, they were once joined at the hip by Soldier Side. Mesmerize opened with Soldier Side (Intro), a poised prelude that softened the blow of single B.Y.O.B. Now, twenty one tracks later, it resurfaces in full as Hypnotize's poignant finale - an ode to young men forced into war. On the whole, Hypnotize's bitter, anti-war polemic is slightly more concentrated than that of its brother. Consequently, Mesmerize is the more accessible listen of the two halves, while Hypnotize should enjoy a longer shelf-life.
That said, these are two albums that belong side by side. Reunited, they form a truly awe-inspiring volume.