Look into my eyes, not around the eyes!
As someone totally new to Armenian band SOAD (believe it or not!) I admit I had them pigeonholed as a nu-metal outfit, first impressions and all that, you know how it is. So I am somewhat surprised by the first few minutes of their latest album 'Mezmerize', firstly by the acoustic melody of 'Soldier Side (intro)' and then by the tunefulness of current single B.Y.O.B (Bring Your Own Bombs). It's certainly not nu-metal and for that at least I am thankful! If you check out any metal or rock orientated message board or forum I guarantee that somewhere amongst the threads will be one about SOAD and what style of music they are, opinions vary wildly between 'nu metal rubbish' and 'progressive rock pioneers'.
SOAD score points because, whilst there are hard metal edges to most of the songs, they are more often than not blended with tight harmonies and either quieter, or quite frankly weird interludes. In terms of sound the nearest you could get would be to blend the vocal harmonies of Tenacious D, the quirkiness of Devo, mix in the off beat song writing style of Frank Zappa and stir it all up with a dose of Metallica.
The first thought that springs to mind when listening to 'Mesmerize' is 'interesting', the many parts to each song don't always produce a winning formula, they become interesting instead of catchy. That said, after three or four plays it does begin to grow on you and the moments on songs like 'Radio/Video' that first time around make you cringe, all of a sudden start to make sense. It's hard to believe that this album is only a shade over thirty six minutes long, there are so many things going on in it it feels much longer.
There are a few songs that don't quite hit the mark, 'Violent Pornography' being one, this one really wouldn't sound out of place on the Tenacious D album! 'Old School Hollywood' is not an instant favourite either and seems a little weak compared to some of the stronger tracks on the album, it features some strange electronic effects that sound as if they were just tacked on as an afterthought, which detract from the song as a whole.
Musically it's tight throughout with an impressive driving rhythm running through much of the album, which is nicely illustrated on 'Question!' and 'Sad Statue' in particular. There isn't a single track that sounds like the one that preceded it and that of course makes for great variety, and maintains interest throughout. It's not instantly accessible but it does enough on the first listen to make you want to play it again and the more you do, the more it grows on you. For the first timer this is a good album that should see many delving into SOAD's back catalogue. For the older fans the consensus seems to be acceptance that SOAD continually progress and keep moving their musical boundaries; whilst some may hanker after the old days, when a new direction produces an album of this quality there's little to worry about.
'Mezmerize' is part one of a two cd set, the other part being 'Hypnotize' due out later this year. 'Mezmerize' has already shifted somewhere in the region of a million copies worldwide and with a Download headline slot as part of their current European tour, I'd expect 'Hypnotize' to (at the very least) replicate this success.