Why System of a Down’s Comeback Album Will Make Rock Great Again

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Political unrest, social injustices and a clear line in the sand on a fundamental level: it’s possible the gap between the disenfranchised and the blindly optimistic has never been greater. This is the current state of America right now. In times like these, the voiceless need a voice. Someone to speak to the issues and be a representative for the unrepresented. Throughout the years, this is a stance that has often been taken by musicians; using their music as a weapon to serve as a voice for the people.

Fewer bands have raised awareness to a plethora of issues over the past twenty years than System of a Down has. None have been able to put such a humorous spin on these topics while being so fierce in their stance. This is why we need System of a Down: to make rock great again.

Last month System of a Down made headlines as they announced a string of European dates scheduled for the summer of 2017. Their upcoming shows, which will be their first since 2015, continue the trend of their on-again-off-again status since officially reforming in 2010. This news was followed shortly by drummer John Dolmayan announcing the band has recorded fifteen new tracks and is putting together a new album. While lead vocalist Serj Tankian wouldn’t confirm, this news has no doubt brought about a lot of excitement in fans of the band.

If you can believe it, it’s been eleven years since the alternative-rock-metal hybrid released their double dose of sonic anarchy; Mezmerize and Hypnotize. These two albums of the same recording session were released six months apart to mass critical and commercial success. Then they vanished, all going off to work on various solo albums and side projects. But we need them. Here’s why.

In 2001, System of a Down released what is now widely considered their finest hour, Toxcity. For an album that had three songs reach the Top Ten of the Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart, including the number 1 smash, “Aerials”, the album opener, “Prison Song”, is where the band truly shine on their multi-platinum sophomore album. The song is a fine example of System’s ability to mix humor into their brand of socially conscious lyrics. They say laughter is the best medicine. And in rock music… and in our country today, no one is laughing.

Guitarist Daron Malakian exclaims, “I buy my crack, I smack my bitch, right here in Hollywood.” The main point of this song is to reveal how corrupt and hypocritical the judicial system can be. Prisons are overloaded with non-violent, minor drug offenders. And it is the middle-class and the lower-middle-class who are on the hook by way of their sky high taxes to foot the bill. Yet in Hollywood, being a junkie is not only tolerable, it is glamorized. Almost as if it’s something to aspire to. It’s so ridiculous yet so hooky and rich in context. Can you imagine what they can draw upon in today’s world to remark on?

The concept of adding a humorous twist is a running theme throughout their discography. As is the interweaving vocal play of Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian. From their 2002 album, Steal This Album!, the band wasted no time going for the throat with the album opener.  Driven by bassist Shavo Odadjian’s punchy, throbbing bassline, “Chic ‘N’ Stu” attacks the indecent in your face advertising system we’ve come to know all too well. Whether television commercials, radio ads or anything of the like, someone is always trying to sell you something. And where it gets ugly, is people buy into believing that if they do not keep up with the trends, or be part on the “in-crowd” they will be stigmatized for it.

“Need therapy, therapy, advertising causes,” Tankian and Malakian exclaim during the chorus. They chose to use a “splendid pizza pie” as their source for their metaphor but again, because it’s such a ridiculous over-the-top (Stallone Style) example, you laugh at it. It’s a deep thought and a darker concept, but in this presentation it works! Throughout this election season, advertising was out of control; pushing you at every turn for one candidate or another. And not just for the presidency; local and state wide positions as well. You could not watch a single video on Youtube without having to sit through at least 5 seconds (more if the lovely skip ad option wasn’t afforded to you) of political ongoings. “This message is from Hillary Clinton” or “I support Donald Trump.”

It may not be a product being pushed but….wait. It actually is a product being pushed. See. This is another reason we need System of a Down. They can help us make sense of it all!

 

Everybody’s going to the party, have a real good time.

In 2005, America was in the midst of the Iraq War. In a way, it was like history was repeating itself, providing a Vietnam-like situation for the 21st century. The decision to go to the Middle East was the polarizing decision I have experienced in America thus far in my life. Likening war to a party, System released “B.Y.O.B” as the first single from their 2005 album, Mezmerize.

Commonly understood as “bring your own beer,” System replaced beer with bombs. A striking lyrical attack on the social inequalities that come with war, they called out the growing opinion that politicians merely sit on their ivory towers while sending working middle-class citizens and even the poor off to fight their battles. Regardless that it may be a way that most people did not ask for and certainly did not want, it now becomes the responsibility of the American people to be the ones on the ground, in the midst of battle. While those in power sit and watch from a far.

Malakian and Tankian scream, “Why don’t presidents fight the war? Why do they always send the poor?” It’s a valid question. The age-old tale of elitists versus the everyman. On the surface, this is an in your face, hard-hitting lead single from an upcoming album. But it’s layered. And upon repeated listens, the message becomes clearer and clearer. The cynicism, sarcasm and humor may drench the message, but do not make it any less valid. That is what System of a Down are capable of. They do it better than almost anyone. By comparing war to a party, they don’t water down the horrors of war. In fact what they do is raise legitimate concerns about the seriousness of which it is taken by those calling the shots.

 

The social climate in which we live is almost like a “Batsignal” shining into the night sky; proclaiming our need to be rescued. Recent events have certainly given the impression that System has seen the signal and are answering the call. Rock music right now needs an edge. It needs to stand for something. There isn’t a strong happy-go-lucky feeling surrounding it. Nor does our political climate feel representative of the mass majority.  If the world we’re living in right now to be more of a party, we need to get System of a Down on the guest list ASAP.

  • Trovoid

    Can’t wait to hear a new album from SOAD, I was obsessed with these guys when I was younger. I can’t believe Mezmerize and Hypnotize came out over 10 years ago..

  • JSawyer80

    I just hope Daron doesn’t sing anymore than backup vocals.

    • Corndog

      Daron singing must be stopped, no matter the cost.

    • dakotablue

      I’m fully aware I’m in the minority here, but I like Daron’s singing–in small doses. Good contrast with Serj, too.

      • Dave Id

        It took some getting used to Daron’s voice, but I like it now. I loved “Scars On Broadway” where Daron is the lead vocalist on all of the tracks.

  • Eddie Yarler

    Ughhh. I’m fully aware I’m in the minority here, and I get why people like them, but I fucking hate this band so much.

  • Trovoid

    I’m not a fan of his vocals either but they’re appropriate for harmonies and certain parts/bridges of songs. “Lonely Day” is probably my least favorite SOAD song. Still, there are some excellent songs on both Mezmerize and Hypnotize. Let’s hope Serj still has that power left in his voice.

    • JSawyer80

      Harmonies, he’s ok. Especially with Serj’s unique voice. And Lonely Day was simply dreadful. I just hope his ego subsides and lets him go back to how it was on SOAD and Toxicity.

  • James

    Alternative Nation please stop rejecting my post just because I am being critical of the band and disagreeing with the author. What happened to free of speech?

    • Corndog

      Your posts were automatically sent for moderation; this happens to everyone not on the whitelist. I have just released them, with the exception of the first one in which you were unnecessarily rude to the author at the end. I presume you must have realised this though as you re-posted it with that part edited.

      Far as SOAD is concerned, i don’t really care if they are derivative or not. What music isn’t to some degree? Personally, i really liked them.

  • Corndog

    Yeah he’s ok doing backing vocals but i don’t want him in the forefront.

    Serj’s unusual vocals are the main signature of the band.

  • dakotablue

    The Prophets of Rage are here for political commentary, too. As far as humor in political songs, many have done it–going all the way back to the Beatles and “Tax Man” as well as the Clash’s “Rock the Casbah.”