In a year which refuses to stop pulling the rug from under us and against the backdrop of an increasingly drawn out and toxic US election, perhaps it makes some kind of perverted sense that, against all odds, System Of A Down would suddenly return with their first new songs in 15 years.
One of metal’s most beloved and fiercely political bands have spent the decade and a half since Mezmerize/Hypnotize doing their legacy few favours, with festival sets of varying quality and bizarrely ‘off-brand’, pro-Trump posturing from drummer John Dolmayan painting the picture of a band in a combustible state.
And yet, in the early hours of this morning, two brand new System songs, Protect The Land and Genocidal Humanoidz, were dropped onto an unsuspecting public, designed to raise awareness of an ongoing, gruesome conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia that was initiated in September.
For many, the prospect of new System Of A Down music was becoming increasingly unpalatable, the artistic and ideological splits within the fold surely too insurmountable to produce anything worthy of their back catalogue. Perhaps, then, it is the biggest surprise of all that not only have System released new music – but that it’s actually really good.
The ‘lead single’ of the two new songs and first to get a proper video, Protect The Land, is built around a massive, groovy, swaying Daron Malakian riff that recalls a little of Steal This Album! banger Mr Jack. It sounds huge – a reminder of the guitarist’s impeccable knack for a big hook – but really it’s the vocals that steal the show here. Daron and lead vocalist Serj Tankian remain metal’s greatest singing duo, and hearing their voices wrapped around each other in perfect harmony again doesn’t so much pull on the heartstrings as slap them like a double bass. When they go full throttle in the song’s climactic moments, it sounds like they haven’t missed a beat, let alone not sung on record together since George W. Bush was still President. Plus, it all packs the kind of big, fat, simplistic, singalong chorus just tailor-made for festival crowds.
Genocidal Humanoidz is a different beast altogether, clocking in at half of Protect The Land’s running time and diving into System’s heavier and more scatty, frenetic side. Razor-sharp riffs peel off frantic, hollering yelps from Serj at lightning pace, before the song leaps into a bouncy nu metal stomp and, finally, explodes into a tremolo and blastbeat-fuelled extreme metal meltdown. He might spout some dodgy opinions these days, but John Dolmayan puts in an absolutely powerhouse performance here, smashing the ever living shit out of the kit while sounding tighter than a Khabib Nurmagomedov chokehold.
Before you know it, the song is done and dusted – and you’ll want to immediately smash through both tracks all over again. Where this new era takes System from here is anyone’s guess – there are no clear signs for a full album yet, and you can’t imagine those differences are fully put to bed. But on this evidence? System Of A Down are back, and against all odds, they sound pretty damn good.
The video for Protect The Land, includes recent footage of protests and on-the-ground fighting in Artsakh.
Protect The Land and Genocidal Humanoidz are available now. System Of A Down are scheduled to appear at next year's Download Festival.