Without a support act in a night devoted only to the main event, there is an air of anticipation and confusion over what fans amongst a sold out SSE Arena should expect. It’s a scorching atmosphere already, as a packed in crowd waste precious breath of every variant of the bands name that they can conjure up. They are “System of a Down”, they are “System”, they are “S-O-A-D”, they are “Soad”, and they are finally here at their first UK headlining show in ten years, after a teetering hiatus.
The house lights plummeting to darkness, a massive projector screen lowered from the ceiling, bathing the stage in an ominous red glow, and a sub-bass rumble, as a story is recited. After all, System of a Down are here today to bring what drummer John Dolmayan had called “justice, recognition, support and resolve” for the 1.5 million Armenians killed during the Armenian Genocide, one-hundred years ago, in 1915.
While animated, the short film (played in three segments throughout the night, functioning as much needed interludes) clearly seeks to lower the mood to a deeper, solemn, absorbed aura as System of a Down take to the stage, opening without a word into ‘Holy Mountains’, beginning on “Can you hear that haunting presence?”. As it turns out, everyone can, but fists are fully loaded for the blunt and screaming chorus: “Liar! Killer! Demon!”. Only then was the switch flicked for the terrifying amount of strobe lights strewn across the stage.
“Are you ready to wake up the souls?” Daron Malakian hollers from behind a fedora, in the most joyously spirited way of referring back to the memories of war, especially before moving on to audience squeezer ‘B.Y.O.B.’. It is just as well that everyone is ready, as the thousands on the floor are exactly the same wavelength – in spite of the ballad, then brutal thrash metal opening for the first two minutes, do not run against everyone else until Malakian’s first screaming vocals: “WHY DO THEY ALWAYS SEND THE POOR?”. It’s a beautiful union, so long as nobody present has any regard for their nose.
This union is represented further by Serj Tankian’s machine-gun tongue-twister rapping of ‘I-E-A-I-A-I-O’, impossible to sing along to (however casual the jeans and T-shirt-clad Tankian seems to spit it out with ease, in fact shrugging off the task of thirty-five songs over two hours), but Wembley certainly won’t give up without trying. Later comes rarity ‘Marmalade’, unplayed in almost thirteen years, but the energy refuses to fall away. Malakian celebrates: “It always makes us happy that you know that song.”. Perhaps the only track to of any form of break is the slow lament of ‘Lost In Hollywood’, and even that contains the irresistible demand to “wave your hands in the air and wave them that you just don’t care”. It’s unusually symbolic of how the night has unfolded with the awkward collision of deadly seriousness with plain ridiculous.
The band sadly aren’t very talkative tonight. Once Tankian gives a speech aimed at world leaders (barely audible beneath the outrageously loud guitar feedback), Malakian has little more to add to the matter than ‘Cigaro’ lyric “my cock is much bigger than yours!”. The show is so animated with eccentricity that all is completely forgiven – this chaos, is of course aided by sheer nostalgia from twenty-and-thirty-somethings, right up until closer ‘Sugar’, by which point, shattered bodies clearly were forced to reject orders to jump from the warped, liquified and rocked out minds of the fans.
It does pose the question of whether without a big political agenda that they want to mark with monster setlists at least ten songs longer than before, whether System of a Down will dare try it again. Guys, if you do happen to stop by the UK again on your temperamental schedule: yes please.