System of a Down - Armenia, Conflicts & the Power of Unity
Steven provides a message of awareness, humanity, and musicianship through the lense of metal-group System of a Down and their recent, unexpected release
System of a Down gained peak popularity in the mid 2000s with hits such as Toxicity, Chop Suey, Lost in Hollywood and more. The last albums they released came in 2005 with Mesmerize coupled with its companion (released six months later) in Hypnotize.
After a lengthy hiatus, filled with personal pursuits for all members, the band regrouped for two unexpected singles that released in November 2020 with the harmonic, screeching plea 'Protect The Land' and the bigger, more diverse 'Genocidal Humanoidz'.
Determined to raise awareness of the war and human rights violations happening in their homeland of Armenia, the band did just that as they were able to donate over $600,000 to the Armenia Fund off of the singles. Serj Tankian, whose grandfather survived the 1915 Armenian Genocide, also donated $250,000.
System of a Down has always had provocative, political, heavy lyrical content and their head-banging, classically-trained, rage-metal delivery puts them in a league all their own. In fact, before I had ever dug into their prolific catalog myself, they had already earned my forever intrigue and borderline respect when I first witnessed their impact as an impressionable middle schooler.
Around 2007 I went to a roller skating rink with my sister and cousin where we were basically the only ones there. My cousin wanted to hear 'Chop Suey' so my sister obliged and requested the banging track at the front counter. Within moments we were back on the rink and the seemingly innocent, 'Pinball Wizard'-esque acoustic guitar intro began to power from the skies above us.
By the time the drums first started firing up barely 20 seconds in, the strobe lights and fog machines above us had begun to flicker and short out. Before rink workers scrambled to cut the song altogether, we had reached a full groove with the grungy guitars screaming above the ruckus rumblings of the intensifying drums. At that point, the lights were flashing and shaking above us. Not even 30 seconds into the song and the audio was abruptly snipped and, as if it had never happened, we were brought back to the regularly scheduled, properly-lit '80s-pop-hit-programming.
Astonished and left hanging, I was forever hit with the impression that System of a Down was the shit - and that one day I'd have to dig in a bit more.
Somehow, that day took 14 more years to arrive, but earlier this month my girlfriend played 'Protect The Land' and 'Genocidal Humanoidz' and the man I am today was blown away and deeply riveted by the unannounced - and brief - return of the beloved, respected band from long ago.
After learning about the background behind the lead track, I discovered that 'Protect The Land' was actually going to be used for Daron Malakian's other group, Scars of Broadway, for their next album. Yet, after years of creative differences and internal conflict - while simultaneously maintaining professional friendships and collaborations - John Dolmayan sent a text to the others about the need to come together as SOAD for the people of Armenia above all else.
With everyone echoing those same sentiments, the consensus was clear and Malakian sent over the early version of 'Protect The Land' to get things in motion. Recognizing the need for an additional/heavier track to compliment a new release, the group revisited a stand-out jam that originally began in a session from 3 or 4 years prior that never resulted in a finished project.
Minimally altering the original lyrics to fit the current message, the band recorded 'Genocidal Humanoidz' with relative synchrony and released their first material in over 15 years.
Understanding there probably won't be a full project reunion between the members anytime soon - the respect for their music, their heritage, each other, themselves and basic human decency is what makes System of a Down who they are and what they are - and worthy of the admiration and credit they've rightfully earned.
Shavo Odadjian told Rolling Stone in 2020, "This was something that was bigger than any issue we’ve ever had with System. We had to put everything away and say, ‘We’ve got to get together because, when we speak after 15 years, people will listen.’ People will be like, ‘Whoa, these guys came back? For what?'"
Putting aside any personal differences as professionally and effectively as System has chosen to do is the exact reason that they have been successful in their mission and done their part to raise money - and awareness - to our fellow human brothers and sisters struggling on the other side of this chunk of rock that we all spend our daily lives upon.
Though I am not in a position to donate much financially, my aim in writing this piece is to salute the men that are doing their best to contribute to their people - and to join them in their fight to educate the masses on the injustices beyond our USA-bubble and showcase the ways that we can help.
Malakian expressed it well, saying, "I’m not a soldier, but I feel like I’m a part of this. The way I’m going to contribute is through my songs.”
We may not all be on the front lines but we do all carry great power, we do all play a part in the outcome of our reality and we do always do better united as one than torn as many.
Jam some SOAD, learn about the scene in Armenia (and elsewhere) and have a wonderful weekend, friends!
As always, stay Strong!