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If I had been given the opportunity to review System of a Down's most recent release, Steal This Album!, when it was released in November of 2002 I think I would have given the album the same review, but for different reasons. I have been a fan of System since the release of System of a Down in 1998. It is good to see that there is at least one band out there who can make good music, and mix it with intelligent political commentary. That is the exact reason this review is different than the one that I would have written in November of 2002; the music and lyrics wouldn't have fallen on such appreciative ears. This is an album review, and not a venue for me to spout off personal politics, but I do like the fact that a band is willing to speak their mind, especially if it is intellectually, and goes against the supposed "norm."
For those that don't know, Steal This Album! is a collection of rare tracks, and rough cuts that were recorded in previous sessions (some for inclusion on the band's multiplatinum Toxicity), but they made their way to the Internet, and spread like wildfire. The band figured that since everyone already had the songs, why not put them on an album and release it. It was this kind of thinking that also inspired the simple, yet ironic, "cover art," or lack thereof. Steal This Album! is also being used to bridge the gap between Toxicity and the bands yet-to-be-announced next project.
The tracks on Steal scale the bands range, as well as career. Many of the songs resemble tracks from the previous two albums, but only in that they keep with System of a Down's unique vocal and musical style. (The fact that at least five tracks on Steal were intended for one of those albums factors in here.) While the music is performed well, the lyrics are what really deserve credit here, as well as on System's previous albums. True fans will agree with that. Most metal today is about being sad, depressed, alone, melancholy, or having your heart ripped out of your chest (you get the idea), but System of a Down goes that extra mile and bypasses all the crap. They get to the issues that need to be addressed, as well as presented to an audience who, most likely, isn't going to turn on CNN and catch the latest headlines. This audience, mostly kids, should be exposed to the ideas that you have the ability to make choices, and you have a voice - SO USE IT! Write songs about corruption, conspiracies, and bombs, maybe someday it will bring about some kind of change. Hell, informing the audience that there are other voices out there, aside from what is being shoved down their throat by television, school, and their parents is change enough. System does all this and more, using mindpenetratingly catchy riffs and choruses so you don't forget a word of what they played.
The humorous "Chic 'N' Stu" opens up the album, and the message here is "Advertising's got you on the run," but the band uses angry peppers and chives along with alternating vocals to spice up this track. "Inner Vision" falls into the typical System mold: heavy music and Serj Tankian showcasing his singing, as well as almost nonsensical speed talking. The rest of the album follows the same basic model, but each song does have its own lovable aspects. On particular curve ball on this album is the acoustic, percussionless, "Roulette" which, aside from the singing, doesn't sound like it could be a product of this very heavy band. For a metal band, this album is very easy on the ears, as well as extremely catchy.
The main downside to this well-done album is that it might be a little too heavy, and everyone that listens to it might miss the message, and just like it because "it rocks." Frat boys might just think about moshing while the band goes off on the futility of bombs on "Boom!." Your typical metal head might completely miss the extremely important message on "A.D.D. (American Dream Denial)," about American life, and how the American dream is now distorted due to the corporate world's influence. The other downfall of this album is that it isn't really an album, but more like a compilation. System of a Down and Toxicity have an unspoken coherence among the different tracks, but Steal This Album! doesn't, unless that was the band's original intention: to not have a coherence.
Steal This Album! may be just for listeners who are already fans of System of a Down, but, according to the sales of Toxicity there are quite a few of those. People who are in the mood of a good old-fashioned protests song should also give this album a spin, and see if your opinions agree. Even if they aren't, just remember that at least System of a Down have something to say, take a look at the rest of the music scene and see if you can say that about five other bands.
In a personal note to the band: Keep on rocking, and sticking the middle finger up at the fucked up establishment.
Jason Cipriano is the Senior Editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.