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System of a Down

Hypnotize (Sony)

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One of the most original bands ever to gain a bankable following is beginning to sound a little too comfortable in its own self-invented genre. Not that any other band has duplicated the formula: metalcore mosh with auctioneer-gone-mad vocals, incantatory harmonies and exotic-stringed acoustic breaks. And few other bands with such Zappaesque contempt for pop culture have landed on MTV. But more than half the tracks on Hypnotize follow the tried and true with professional polish — not a good thing for the band whose punky spontaneity is its hidden ace. When a jabbering, balls-out-obnoxious incitement to eat patriots sounds too familiar and downright casual, there's a problem. Unlike May's sister release, Mezmerize — which was both more fun and more clearly political — Hypnotize's best features are on the less frenetic tracks: the title song's meditative, midtempo heaviness, the unclassifiable textures of "She's Like Heroin," the nearly Queen-ish "Kill Rock 'N Roll." It's time for System of a Down to shock its own system.

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