Sound — 9
Alright, SOAD always had a very original and individual sound to them, but I think that it really peaked on this album. The sound varies from raging guitars and pounding drums to almost calming music (the latter of course being the lesser of the two sounds). While most of the material on the album is very intense, some of the best moments come when SOAD let their calmer side come out, especially on the album opener "Soldier Side - Intro" and the closer "Lost in Hollywood". This doesn't discount the aggressive music, which is actually some of the best they have ever put out. The big single "B.Y.O.B" is an instant classic, and the overlooked "This Cocaine Make Me Feel Like I'm On This Song" is a gem. This doesn't mean that the album is totally flawless of course. "Sad Statue" is a decent song but it doesn't really live up to the other songs on the album. And "Old School Hollywood" is mostly throwaway filler. Still, the sound on this album is brilliant thanks to the legendary Rick Rubin. His production is very up front, but it still feels like he let the band take the lead. While the guitars and drums are really the focus of the record, the bass is still a huge presence of some songs.
Lyrics — 8
Lyrically, this record is much like previous SOAD albums, except with a lot more depth and focus. While a lot of the lyrics are vague, they still are able to express a point and make a statement. The album starts out with the anti-war balled "Soldier Side", which is extremely emotion with both Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian harmonizing. This then leads into the powerful "B.Y.O.B.", which poses much of the same point as its predecessor except in a much more violent way. Of course there are the occasional lyrical missteps, such as "This Cocaine Make Me Feel Like I'm On This Song", which is just pure fun, and "Old School Hollywood", which, again, is mostly throwaway filler. "Question!" and "Lost in Hollywood" both show huge leaps forward lyrically, with a huge amount of depth and subject matter. The former posses thoughts on the after-life in much the same fashion of "Ariels" The latter shows how the greedy and power-hungry culture of L.A. can corrupt a person. As far as the vocals go, they range from brilliant to sometimes annoying. Both Serj and Daron take turns at lead vocals. Daron makes his star turns on "Cigaro" and "Lost in Hollywood". Serj of course is still in command vocally, with "B.Y.O.B." and "Question!" being two of his greatest performances. On the other hand, "Radio/Video" and "Old School Hollywood" sound irritating after a while. Overall, both the vocals and lyrics are satisfying overall, but not completely flawless.
Overall Impression — 9
Mostly, I find this album to be my personal favorite out of the SOAD catalog. The music and sound is great, and the vocals are much more mature than on previous SOAD albums. All the musicians are on top of their game, with Daron shooting out riff after riff, and the rhythm section of Shavo Odadjian (bass) and John Dolmayan (drums) giving Serj and Daron room to run, as well as taking the spotlight on some songs. Personally, the best part of this album is the interplay between all the members. I love how both Serj and Daron sing and harmonize, and how all the musicians seem to make each other better. What I find the worst part of this album to be is how the lyrics sometimes get a little silly, and how the vocals get irritating at some points. My personal favorite songs are "B.Y.O.B.", "Cigaro", "This Cocaine Make Me Feel Like I'm On This Song" and "Lost in Hollywood". All of these songs show all the good parts of the band, and how amazing their song writing can be. My least favorite songs are "Sad Statue" and "Old School Hollywood". Of course, these show all the weaknesses of the band. Frustrating vocals, half-baked ideas, and repetitive vocals. I do love this record mostly because all the high points seem to out number and out shine the low points, which are mostly few and far in between. Great musicianship, good songwriting, and (for the most part) good lyrics and singing make this the best part of the SOAD collection.