System of a Down: Steal This Album
Mike Hess
12/17/2002 2:43:54 AM

"When eclecticism meets anger, it’s a beautiful thing."

“The remainder is an unjustifiable, egotistical power struggle at the expense of the American dream.” Ahhh, it’s great to have System of a Down back.

Their latest release, Steal This Album [American Recordings] doesn’t make a whole lot of sense at first listen, as the supreme direction of Toxicity is lacking. But, when you think about it, they never intended for that guidance to be there, as Steal is an album comprised of tracks that never made their 2 previous albums. Once you get past the hip-check pace/theme changes, this really is a great album.

The key to it: the heart-touching harmonizing between the voices of Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian. Daron could easily hold his own as a lead vocalist elsewhere, but he knows damn well the dynamic he has with Tankian is something you don’t walk away from.

SOAD is most likely the only band that can grab at least 5 quality singles out of songs that didn’t even make other albums. Who the hell else in rock can savagely attack governmental policies in one song, and then name the toppings of a supreme pizza in another? “Matador corporations puppeting your frustrations with a blinded flag” rips Tankian in “Boom!”, a chanty anti-war, pro-brains coup. This song, and an album as a whole are best described as this: It’s what the Wizard of Oz soundtrack would be if Rick Rubin produced it. Feel-good ditties like “Chick ‘N’ Stu” rock out with a vengeance, and softie acoustic tracks like “Ego Brain” remind you that System is the thinking-man’s metal. Aside from a horrid opening lyric (“life is but a dream/drifting on a stream”… what the hell got scratched, “merrily, merrily, merrily?”), “Ego Brain” has a chorus that would melt the lip-rings of any so called ‘nu-metal’ bands.

“Mr. Jack” is as much Pink Floyd’s “Run, Rabbit Run” as it is Body Count’s “Cop Killer”, and then the dual-voiced perfection comes shows it’s face in “Pictures”. The chorus features Serj caterwauling while Daron torches the mic with screams that’ll push your cheek skin back to your ears. It’s very similar to “ATWA” from Toxicity, but it never gets old. When eclecticism meets anger, it’s a beautiful thing.

The most notable song of the album is Daron’s brainchild “Roulette”, and it damn well should be. He’s been sitting on it for 8 years, and over time has tweaked it to perfection. It’s him, Serj and a plucky acoustic guitar, reciting every love letter ever written wrapped up in one song, but read to a cello backing. “I lack the reason why I should be so confused” easily takes the prize for the album’s best lyric, and it’s official, my favorite singer in music today isn’t even a lead singer. It’s guitarist Daron Malakian.

The misguided tracks, “36” (a boring rant about television’s corruptive power) and “Thetawaves”, are easily forgotten when you listen to tracks like “Innervision” and “Pictures”. And even a track with a clichéd title like “Fuck the System” avoids mediocrity with Tankian’s percussive scat-chat.

Again, it’s not as massive as Toxicity, but an average System album beats the piss out of Saliva, Taproot, Chevelle… I could go on forever. Go buy Steal This Album


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