Inventive Metal to Satisfy Headbangers

* * * SYSTEM OF A DOWN “Toxicity” American Recordings

The renewed interest in heavy music has opened doors for some powerful and expressive new artists, but it’s also spawned hordes of look-alike, sound-alike metal-men whose ferocious (and familiar) formula offers little more than mindless aggression and homogenized angst. Thankfully, there are bands like System of a Down to tweak and twist the genre.

The Los Angeles quartet’s second album (in stores Tuesday) has an eccentric feel and a non-sequitur approach--angry aural assaults one minute, melancholic harmonies the next. Its vigilant, sometimes curious lyrics put the band closer to arty noisemakers such as Tool and At the Drive-In than ranting-rapping rockers Korn or Limp Bizkit.

Still, thanks to the groove-minded production of Rick Rubin, there’s plenty of high-voltage sonic sludge to please the headbanger set. Tunes such as “Prison Song” and “ATWA” are searing, relentless, politically themed metallic scrambles. Most of “Toxicity’s” ragged, manic structures are too distracting to effectively convey the sociological statements behind them, but the inventive presentation is challenging nonetheless, and that’s what sets System apart from this week’s hot testosterone clones.


* * 1/2 SLIPKNOT “IOWA” Roadrunner

The members of this menacing nine-piece from Des Moines wear monstrous masks and refer to themselves by numbers instead of names, trying to make themselves anonymous to let the music alone express their rage. This bludgeoning collection makes it clear, though, that when you take away the freak show, what’s left is angry but not very interesting.

Isolation, degradation, and utter misery seep through every tune on the follow-up to 1999’s self-titled debut. Unlike the first record, which effectively melded melody and mayhem into a bubbling metallic brew, the new one is pure gloom and fury.

Which is probably just what the band had in mind. Screeching attacks such as ‘Disaster Piece’ and ‘I Am Hated’ are just the kind of aggro anthems that speak (or rather scream) to the latchkey generation. For disenfranchised kiddies who want to shock their parents until the next Marilyn Manson or Eminem release comes along, this raucous record, full of satanic imagery and morbid musings, should do the trick.


More sophisticated metal fans may see past the dread-and-destruction shtick and appreciate the complex rhythms on ‘The Heretic Anthem’ and ‘My Plague.’ But like the creepy facades that got Slipknot noticed in the first place, most of “IOWA’s” creativity is ultimately veiled by its own savagery.


Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two (fair), three (good) and four (excellent).