Surrealist Rene Magritte had a famous painting of a pipe and a caption that read in French, "This is not a pipe." Art critics have scratched their chins and determined that, indeed, it isn't a pipe — it's a picture of a pipe.
System of a Down had no such pretensions when frontman Serj Tankian scrawled, "This is not the system album" across the back of their new disc Steal This Album, which comes out November 26.
"We don't lie to the public," explained guitarist Daron Malakian. "This isn't our new album. It isn't recent music, but we don't see these as being the songs that weren't as good, because these songs kick ass."
The record will feature 16 songs, mostly from the Toxicity sessions. Rough versions of all of the tracks were leaked over the Net earlier this year (see "System Of A Down Frazzled Over Leaked Outtakes"), which is why System of a Down decided to release the tracks themselves (see "System Of A Down To Release Toxicity Outtakes").
"If the Internet didn't exist, no one would have heard them, and we would have saved them to release them later on," Malakian said. "But they sounded so bad the way they came out over the Internet. There was a really bad mix and no guitar over-tracking and none of my [background] vocals. So we wanted people to hear them the right way."
The tracks from the Toxicity sessions didn't make the cut for that album solely because they didn't fit in with the overall flow of the disc.
"We already had a couple songs that were melodic, and I didn't want to overdo melodic-ness on the second record," Malakian said. "I think that would have been a bit too overbearing all on one record."
Not that System of a Down want to downplay melody. In fact, Malakian said the types of hooks on Steal This Record might be indicative of where System are headed in the future.
"It's weird because it's our past work, but it links to our next record because it's more of where we're going," Malakian said. "It's just as schizophrenic as any System record. It's got heavy moments and wacky moments — things that will make you laugh and things that can make you cry. And it's still intense, but it's not intense because we're screaming all the time. It's intense with emotion. It's intense the way we're intense."
Some songs like "Boom!" are more blatantly political than anything System have done in the past. The bandmembers have never been quiet about their beliefs, especially those concerning the Armenian genocide of 1915, but they've downplayed them on record.
"We're just singing about what we think is right and true this time,"
Malakian said. "There aren't enough bands out there that are being honest with the public — especially since September 11. We have the right to agree and disagree. In the '60s, a lot of bands sang against the Vietnam War, whether it was popular or not. In a weird way, that's what we're doing right now."
On the chaotic "F--- the System," System make it even clearer than ever that they're not down with those in power. The song consists of Tankian screaming gibberish, then shouting the title of the track over and over.
"The point behind it is you can't really sing about f---ing the system," Malakian said. "You just have to do it."
While most of Steal this Album was originally conceived when the band was recording Toxicity, some songs date back much farther. The group has messed around with elements of "Chick 'N' Stew," and "Innervision" for five years, parts of "Mr. Jack" were written even before the band performed its first ever gig and "Roulette" was penned before System went into the studio to record their eponymous 1998 debut.
"It's just me and Serj and a Mellotron, and we all sing it together,"
Malakian said. There's no insane screaming or ripping guitar, but that's just another part of what we do and we like to look at all sides."
The tracklist for Steal this Record, according to a spokesperson for Sony Music:
- "Chic 'N' Stew"
- "Mr. Jack"
- "36 Album"
- "Highway Song"
- "F--- The System"
- "Ego Brain"