A month ago, SYSTEM OF A DOWN released "Protect The Land" and "Genocidal Humanoidz", the band's first new songs in 15 years. The tracks were motivated by the recently erupted conflict between Artsakh and Azerbaijan, the latter aided by Turkey and accountable for the greatest violence the region has endured in 26 years. Produced by guitarist/vocalist Daron Malakian, who also wrote the music and lyrics, both songs are streaming now on all DSPs and are available for purchase on Bandcamp with band royalties earmarked for the Armenia Fund.
In a new interview with Dave Lawrence of Hawaii Public Radio, SYSTEM OF A DOWN singer Serj Tankian spoke about how the two tracks came about. He said (hear audio below): "I was [at home] in New Zealand and already dealing with activism having to do with the war effort in terms of awareness and fundraising. And we [the four members of SYSTEM OF A DOWN] were connecting about having SYSTEM about helping disseminate that information, which we did. And then John [Dolmayan, drums] hit us up and said, 'Listen, guys, I know we haven't been in the studio and put out music in so many years. I think it would be vital to do something for our people. What do you guys think?' And we all agreed immediately. And it turned out Daron had a song that he had written about the soldiers who defend the land, who defend their families in Artsakh specifically. And so he played it for us, he sent us the song, and we listened to it, and it made total sense; the lyrics were on the nose. And so I started working on some harmonies and stuff in my studio in New Zealand and sending it him. And then he also had another song that he had written earlier on that he wanted SYSTEM to do that we had never done. At first, I was just thinking that we were doing one song, but then it turned into two, which is fine. But it got all done in, like, three days in the studio."
According to Serj, recording two full tracks in a matter of just a couple of days is "not our normal pattern" of working. "[Under normal circumstances] we would have sat down, reviewed the music, tried different parts, tried different things and whatnot," he said. "It was more about expediting it. It was more about, 'Listen, we need to get this out next week. We need to do this for our people.' And so not only our guard was down personally, because we were doing it for a cause outside of ourselves, but we were also not very critical. We just said, 'Let's do this. Let's make it the best we can.' And I think we did. And I think it's resonating because of that. I think it has nothing to do with SYSTEM OF A DOWN and more to do with our passion for justice and helping our people."
Asked if he completed his recordings for the new SYSTEM songs in Los Angeles or New Zealand, Serj said: "I could have done the recordings [in New Zealand] for vocals, 'cause I have a little studio, but we were flying back anyway to see family, 'cause we were in New Zealand for about nine months. So I was coming here anyway, so we did it literally… I got into the studio two days after I landed. We just got in and did it and then started doing the program to get all of this out and just try to fundraise… And we just wanna keep the momentum going. And we appreciate how people have resonated with the songs and the excitement around them.
"It's great to see art open minds," Tankian said about the reaction to the new SYSTEM material. "And it's something that I've always believed in through what I've done for years with music, but it's great to see it in a very kind of non-ambiguous way and a very direct way, talking about the issues. The band has a message that you can see online about what these songs mean to us and what's going on in Armenia and Artsakh and how it's important to us. So all of that awareness is really crucial and it's really made a difference. And we're still working — we have a lot of work to do — and we won't stop until we get some justice."
The music video for "Protect The Land" incorporates recent footage of the protests and on-the-ground fighting in Artsakh, but in a very personal and aesthetic way. As he did for all previous SYSTEM OF A DOWN releases, bassist Shavo Odadjian executive-produced the music video and curated the cover and brand art for the project.
"Protect The Land" a was originally written by Malakian for the next album by his other group, SCARS ON BROADWAY, while "Genocidal Humanoidz" was penned three or four years ago when Odadjian, Malakian and Dolmayan convened for a jam session that produced several songs, only to abandon them when Tankian wouldn't commit to an album.
Within a week of their release, "Protect The Land" and "Genocidal Humanoidz" landed at positions No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, on Billboard's Hot Hard Rock Songs chart. "Land" topped the chart with 2.7 million U.S. streams and 5,000 downloads sold in the week ending November 12, while "Humanoidz" garnered 1.8 million streams and 5,000 downloads.
As a result of renewed interest in SYSTEM OF A DOWN's music, the band's 2001 album "Toxicity" re-entered the Hard Rock Albums chart at No. 10 (5,000 equivalent album units; up 32%) while 1998's "System Of A Down" has shot back up to No. 11 (5,000 units; up 308%).
SYSTEM OF A DOWN is planning to film a music video for "Genocidal Humanoidz" in December. "I've written out the storyline, and I've got a couple of surprises that I'm gonna be putting [in there]," Odadjian told geopolitical analyst Richard Èlmoyan in a recent interview.
Photo credit: Clemente Ruiz