After a 15 year lapse since their previous release, the nu-metal sensation System of a Down has returned with a double A-sided single voicing their outrage regarding the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Back when I was a freshman in high school, I found myself preoccupied with academics, Future Farmers of America, and anything else besides music. The field of interest seemed colossal and unwelcoming to an Undertale OST lover like myself. However, that all changed one arid day during physical education when my prog-rock loving friend offered me a listen to some tunes. Once I donned those headphones, I was completely captured by the enthralling introductory lick of the seventh song on System’s fourth album “Mesmerize;” needless to say, the sweat beads on my face and inhibitions towards music faded away into obscurity.
System of a Down has a way of mobilizing listeners to a cause. For many, it has been their emphasis on the history of the Armenian People. This quality is what initially brought them into the limelight and is what brought them back a whopping 15 years later. The singles “Protect The Land/Genocidal Humanoids” were released on Nov. 6, 2020 as an explicit cry against the recent Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, in which Azerbaijan has launched an attack on Armenia as a means to “take back” the disputed region. SoaD’s most recent work serves as an apt callback to their glory days and the recent conflict, but doesn’t offer much musical innovation, and thus is not ranked highly within their discography.
The first single commencing their call to attention is “Protect The Land,” a song dedicated to the Republic of Artsakh and its relation to Azerbaijan. Originally written by Daron Malakian in 2018, this song offers the characteristic heavy-guitar riffage and iconic harmonies between Malakian and Serj Tankian, the band’s frontman and lead singer. The harmonies are distinctly reminiscent of “Mr. Jack” from their third album entitled “Steal This Album!” and give the listener everything they could ask for within a comeback. The lyrics also offer powerful interpretations of the driving forces behind violence with lines like “The enemy of man is his own decay” and “The big gun tells you what your life is worth / What do we deserve before we end the earth?” Malakian and the other members of SoaD seem to believe that actions enforced by tyranny will drive humanity into decay, and in order to avoid laying “dead on the sand” we must “protect the land,” both literally and metaphysically. The song was inspiring, but nothing to write home about to me. I can’t rag on the message nor the compositional ability of Tankian, but compared to his previous works and solo projects, (most notably “Elect The Dead,”) “Protect The Land” doesn’t innovate or build upon what I remembered listening to on repeat back in the day.
With that being said, the double A-sided single didn’t leave me feeling unsatisfied thanks to the second song entitled “Genocidal Humanoidz.” If you so much as utter part of this song’s title to an unaccustomed casual, rest assured they wouldn’t dare touch the genre of nu-metal with a 30-foot pole. Regardless, this song exemplifies SoaD giving countries involved and complicit with the Armenian Genocide the finger. I appreciate Malakian paying some homage to “Holy Mountains” with his clever application of some simple music theory. Like the latter, “Genocidal Humanoidz” is in the key of C#m, and you can hear the guitar ascending up the scale to the third degree until jumping to the fifth and falling down to the root. The melody within the verse of “Holy Mountains” is the C#m scale, so the parallels were pretty prominent for me. I loved the high energy provided by Tankian’s vocals and chilling lyrics sticking it to Azerbaijan and Turkey in light of the drone strikes igniting the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict. It is all too obvious that the band views the sterile diplomacy with the aggressors to Armenia as tasteless, with the lines “Guess who’s coming over to dinner / The genocidal humanoids / Teaching warfare to their children /The bastards that will be destroyed” cementing this point. All and all, I love this tune the most out of the two. It’s a thrasher, it’s catchy, and it’s definitely a step in the right direction musically.
The single ends abruptly with the conclusion of the former, leaving the listener invigorated, primed for activism, and craving some more hard rock. This was a well-welcomed listen for me, especially because I’m a huge fan of their work. The only thing withholding me from giving this release a 10/10 rating is the fact that they haven’t really brought anything new besides the message to the table. I am in full support of the activism, but they’ve still got a ways to go before they can adapt to this crazy decade we’re entering into. I have faith that System of a Down will rise again with time and humility (Malakian has to get his ego in check), and look forward to hearing more music that will one day inspire another freshman or listener like myself.
Release Date: Nov 6, 2020
Image courtesy of Rolling Stone.