Review: System of a Down

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System of a Down
“Steal This Album!”
(American Recordings / Columbia Records)

This particular release was planned for the future, in part to get previously recorded material going back as far as 1995 out to the public, along with songs that missed the cut on “Toxicity,” but a leak to the internet of those “Toxicity” songs pushed the group into changing the timetable. “We don’t consider any of these songs B-sides or outtakes,” says vocalist Serj Tankian. “The songs that didn’t make it onto ‘Toxicity’ are as good as, if not better than, the songs that did. They weren’t originally included because they didn’t fit the overall continuity of the album and we’re happy that our fans will be able to hear them in their completed form.”

Five tracks originally recorded for “Toxicity,” but never completed, mixed or mastered, are prominently featured here, including the already smash single, “Innervision.” An acoustic track, “Roulette,” featuring only Tankian (vocals) and Malakian (vocals/guitar) and written by Malakian 7 or 8 years. ago is an interesting interlude on the album. “This record is like a bridge between ‘Toxicity’ and our next studio record,” says Malakian. “It may give our fans a clue at the direction we’re headed in musically.” If this is the case, the tracks on “Steal This Album!” indicate tremendous maturity, creativity and talent to look forward to in the years to come.

Even the packaging of this album is totally different than what record buyers are used to. “Steal This Album!” will resemble a home-made CD, since it’s in a clear jewel case with no cover art, no booklet and no standard J-card. The band name and title are written on the actual CD and the complete credits and other information can be accessed by putting the CD in a computer and logging on to a special Internet Site. In addition, as collector’s items for fans, there will be four limited runs of the CD with art work by each of the band members replacing the “plain vanilla” hand-written name CD, although they will still be released without any cover, booklet, etc.

The music on this album is seriously like taking a walk, well run is more like it, down memory lane and back to the future with SYSTEM OF A DOWN. The first track, “Chic ‘n’ Stu” is an all out metal assault about a “. . . pizza pie . . .” It’s so incongruous listening to the music and varying vocals (sometimes the vocals are soft and thoughtful, sometimes almost sounding like Queen, and of course there are the ones you expect from a full on SOAD ¬†attack), which are excellent I might add, and the actual lyrics about pizza ingredients and advertising. I found myself going “Say what??” the first time I heard it. Now I think it’s totally cool, but it hasn’t lost the initial “Huh?” value after multiple listens.

“Innervision,” the first single climbing the charts and one of the tracks left off “Toxicity,” is an excellent song. The use of various beat timing, great harmonies, mixed vocals (from melodic singing to shouted lyrics) and a rather odd but catchy melody, gets it’s hooks into you immediately. I have no idea if this is the ” . . .direction we’re headed in musically. . .” mentioned above, but if it is, it’s all good! “Bubbles” is another SOAD metal attack with socially conscious lyrics, which is what people have come to expect from this band, with a major hook that’s short and to the point. Originally intended for the previous album, “Boom!” carries a message about bombs and “. . . killing our own kind . . .” The instrumental portion emphasizes the vocal, much of which is spoken word, pushing the lyrics to the forefront where they should be.

“A.D.D. (American Dream Denial)” once again moves into full on metal. The vocals, melody and most of the lyrics to this song make an intense political statement. As another carry-over from “Toxicity,” it actually fits much better on this album, where it gets the attention it deserves. “I-E-A-I-A-I-O” has a super speedy verse in spoken word followed by everyone melodically singing the aforementioned title letters. There’s a lot of styling going on here, both in the spoken and sung lyrics, along with the major metal instrumental. It’s a short song, but cool.

“Pictures” and “Fuck The System” are the last two songs that missed “Toxicity.” A full on metal intro in the former leads into “. . . I got pictures on my mind . . .” with a lot of different style things happening in the music and vocals in a short song.. FTS opens with some weird guitar notes and even weirder human sounds before heading down the path of the title. It’s basically an anti-war song and musically it’s major metal and angry.

With “Ego Brain,” the whole sound of the band goes off in a totally different direction. Melodic metal with excellent vocals put out with little accompaniment during the verse, but heavy instrumentals backing the chorus makes this song one that grabs your attention – which says a lot when you’re listening to SOAD! The acoustic “Roulette,” performed by Tankian and Malakian, is quiet, intense and a complete turn around compared to any other song on the album. Great harmonies, great melody line and great atmosphere make this one a must listen.

The final track, “Streamline,” is just a major league song! It’s got thrash metal, melodic metal, various vocal styles, various instruments featured and a beautiful lyrics. If this is the direction SYSTEM OF A DOWN is headed I’ll be first in line to buy the next album. Tankian takes you on an emotional roller coaster with the lyrics and how they’re delivered, while the band is all over the place. I found this particular track so compelling it’s the one I constantly hit the repeat button for. It’s also a fitting end to an absolutely fabulous album!

There are a few other tracks not discussed in detail – not because they aren’t as good, but mostly they’re short interludes of great metal music (“Nuguns” and “36”), or emphatic socio-political statements done in everything from melodic metal (“Highway Song”) to thrash metal (“Thetawaves”) to a combination of all of the above (“Mr. Jack”). I wouldn’t advise literally using the name of the album to get it, but “Steal This Album!” is worth every cent you pay for it and more!!