I can think of no better example from my personal history of the skewed way in which adolescents perceive time than the six months that passed between System of a Down’s Mezmerieze and Hypnotize. The former was one of those albums for me: a complete shift in not only my musical taste, but in my worldview. The time I spent awaiting part two was an absolute eternity.
When I finally listened on Christmas Day, I was not disappointed. Complete with blistering riffs, gut-punching percussion, and the menagerie of screams, growls, and sudden harmonies of Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian, the first three tracks of Hypnotize, the album, sated every expectation I’d built up during that interminable waiting.
But then came track four — “Hypnotize.” Beginning with a slight, almost docile riff, the song lingers in a gentle state before letting loose with a lyric that still grabs me by the throat: “Why don’t you ask the kids at Tiananmen Square, was fashion the reason why they were there?”
I was twelve. I had no idea what that meant. But Tankian’s voice commanded me, almost challenged me, to accept the weight of what he sang. The song’s refrain (“I’m just sitting in my car and waiting for my girl”) was a revelatory moment for me: here’s a fella waiting for his girlfriend while the horrors of the world occur around him. The horrors do, in fact, affect everyday people.
I can’t say hearing “Hypnotize,” or even listening to System of a Down at an impressionable time — a childhood in the shadows of September 11th, the invasion of Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay — are solely to blame for the bleeding heart politics that define my adult life. But of all the artistic influences, I can think of no other that still affect me like this.
It’s been almost fourteen years since Hypnotize, and System of a Down has not released any new music since. Compared to the six months between albums, I look now on the fourteen years — more than half my life — and wonder how the time passed so quickly. I can’t help but yearn for these familiar voices to come back and share how they’re feeling about the horrors of the world now.
(Song recommendation by D. R. Baker)