Diving into System Of A Down’s first new music in 15 years, ‘Protect The Land’ & ‘Genocidal Humanoidz.’
System Of A Down have always been a politically-charged band. If you don’t think so, you probably also think that Rage Against The Machine are apolitical. The four-piece have made no secret of this, always sticking to their guns about their beliefs. Their goal has to always be informative and to make people pay attention. That was true on their self-titled debut album (1998), and it was very much the case on their final outing, the ‘Hypnotize‘ and ‘Mesmerise‘ double-album (2005.) System Of A Down were one of those highly important bands for rock and nu-metal music from that around that time period, so it’s no surprise that last week’s sudden, exciting news of the outspoken group releasing not one, but two new songs was basically it’s own event for fans around the globe. Though the reasoning for the release of these two songs is anything but celebratory.
The focal point of this benefit pair was to encourage listeners to purchase ‘Protect The Land‘ and ‘Genocidal Humanoidz‘ and donate towards humanitarian efforts aiding those affected by the violent injustices and human rights violations occurring in the autonomous region of Artsakh. A conflict whose origins extends back to the years between 1914 and 1923, when a systemic mass-murder and expulsion of over 1.5 million ethnic Armenians occurred within Turkey and connected regions, at the hands of the Ottoman empire. It’s a black stain in history that only recently other world governments started to acknowledge, let alone condemn. (Turkey is not one of those countries.) With Armenian blood in its members, it’s a topic that SOAD have brought up before in ‘P.L.U.C.K.‘ and ‘Holy Mountains‘ – songs that are still relevant now, the latter of which opened their 2015 Armenia live performance – and is something the four-piece believe firmly in more than any other issue; raising awareness of the Armenian Genocide, the Armenian diaspora living around the world today, and the independence of Armenia.
It is the tragic, recently renewed conflict and violence via drone strikes, bombings and rocket attacks by Azerbaijan and Turkey (and reported ISIS militants from Syria) occurring in Artsakh – all amidst the COVID pandemic – that’s pushed SOAD out of their music-release retirement. A weeks-long threat of genocide as the world watched on, even now as Russia enters to try to keep the peace as a cease-fire is made, and only after 10,000+ people have already been displaced. (The below video also raises how far Turkey and Azerbaijan might go to silence people on social media platforms.)
As I’m a 25-year-old white dude from Australia, who only has a surface level understanding of the current geo-political issues and history of what’s happening right now in Armenia and Artsakh (commonly referred to as Nagorno-Karabakh), I’ll leave it to the band to inform you best:
“On September 27, the combined forces of Azerbaijan and Turkey (along with Isis terrorists from Syria) attacked the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, which we as Armenians call Artsakh. For over the past month, civilians young and old have been awakened day and night by the frightful sights and sounds of rocket attacks, falling bombs, missiles, drones and terrorist attacks. They’ve had to find sanctuary in makeshift shelters, trying to avoid the fallout of outlawed cluster bombs raining down on their streets and homes, hospitals and places of worship. Their attackers have set their forests and endangered wildlife ablaze using white phosphorus, another banned weapon.
Because over 30 years ago in 1988, the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh (which at the time was an Autonomous Oblast within the USSR), were tired of being treated as second class citizens and decided to declare their rightful independence from the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic whose borders engulfed their own. This ultimately led to a war of self determination by Armenians in Karabakh against Azerbaijan that ended in a cease fire in 1994, with Armenians retaining control of their ancestral homelands and maintaining their independence to the present day. Our people have lived there for millennia, and for most families there, it’s the only home they and their forefathers and mothers have ever known. They just want to live in peace as they have for centuries.
The current corrupt regimes of Aliyev in Azerbaijan and Erdogan in Turkey now want to not only claim these lands as their own, but are committing genocidal acts with impunity on humanity and wildlife to achieve their mission. They are banking on the world being too distracted with COVID, elections and civil unrest to call out their atrocities. They have the bankroll, the resources and have recruited massive public relations firms to spin the truth and conceal their barbaric objective of genocide. This is not the time to turn a blind eye.
There is an immediate need for global citizens to urge their respective governments to not only condemn the actions of these crooked dictators, but to also insist world leaders act with urgency to bring peace to the region and rightfully recognize Artsakh as the independent nation it is.
We realize that for many of you, there are more convenient ways you like listening to music, so please consider the opportunity to download these songs as an act of charity above all else. Think of the list price for the downloads as a minimum donation, and if you have the ability and can be more generous with your donation, every single member of System Of A Down will be even more grateful for your benevolence. Band royalties from this initiative will be donated to Armenia Fund, a US based charity organization instrumental in providing those in need in Artsakh and Armenia with supplies needed for their basic survival.”
A deeper dive into these issues and what’s happening in Artsakh also comes in the form of an insightful interview from Forbes with Serj Tankian in October. Covering the region’s history, the lack of coverage on the violence, the band’s position, the singer’s childhood of experiencing conflict-strewn areas before moving to the U.S., and what action people can take to help those suffering. It’s a great read! One of those awesome, symbiotic pieces where solid questions are asked by the interviewer – author Derek Scancarelli – so that the interviewee (Serj) can properly explain and extrapolate from that foundation and offer in-depth responses. Serj even addresses drummer John Dolmayan, also his brother-in-law, being an avid pro-Trump supporter, saying that while that’s frustrating, when it comes to the politics of Armenia, the two are fully united.
Both ‘Protect The Land‘ and ‘Genocidal Humanoidz‘ are terrific examples of a band not spreading themselves too thin with the topics they address in their music. Many artists will cram as many socio-political and moral issues into their lyrics, but to the point where it amounts to saying very little of value. That is not the case with these two fundraising tracks. Even though neither track is suddenly my new favourite or in my top ten SOAD songs (they’re still solid nonetheless), they are direct in what they say; there’s no escaping the meaning behind them. Therein lies their power.
First up is the mid-tempo, stomping and melancholic ‘Protect The Land,’ feeling more like a Scars On Broadway song. ‘Protect The Land‘ is an extremely on-brand piece for the band instrumentally and vocally. Sitting at over five-minutes (the longest of the two, though it doesn’t quite feel like five minutes), is a straight-forward, repetitive song for SOAD. There are some nice vocal harmonies and subtle twists on the riffs here and there, along with the track’s chiller middle-eight section where guitarist/songwriter Daron Malakian softly laments over organs and clean-picking, but it’s so hard not to compare this to the band’s older, classic songs. It’s easily my least favourite of the two singles, in which the hype and shock of receiving new music from these guys after 15 long years doesn’t quite live up to the actual song itself.
Lyrically, however, it’s a heart-breaking track, filled with painfully real emotions, standing in solidarity with the men and women who stay, fight and bleed for Armenia and Artsakh. Even in the face of death. This is about defending one’s cultural homelands; a healthy dose of patriotism that doesn’t spill over into toxic nationalism, becoming an oppressive force in the process. Here, the medium is the message, and SOAD should be applauded for their resolve. This is a great example of music educating people, and bringing awareness to atrocities that may have gone largely unnoticed. It’s about being proud of their cultural heritage; a fact the below music video displays. In that sense regarding ‘Protect The Land,’ I’m all for it.
Then there’s ‘Genocidal Humanoidz,’ which is almost the polar opposite of ‘Protect The Land.’ This a riffier, much faster-paced song than it’s counterpart, taping into the more metal and punk side of the band’s style. In fact, it reminds me of a shorter iteration of ‘B.Y.O.B‘ – almost like a sequel – with it’s overall feel, speed, lyrical imagery, riff patterns and vocal back-and-forth between Daron and Serj. If ‘B.Y.O.B‘ was a Bush-era protest about elites and warfare, then ‘Genocidal Humanoidz‘ is an anti-war protest against Turkey and Azerbaijan. If ‘Protect The Land‘ was about solidarity, then this is about full-blown resistance. Of course, SOAD aren’t attempting to one up their former glories with these two songs, nor are they trying to redefine themselves in 2020: these songs are just great vehicles for the band’s politics. While I’m unsure whether or not this over-familiarity is intentional or simply just the band stuck in their own comfort zone – a new full-length album would confirm or disprove that (wink wink nudge nudge, SOAD) – this is still my go-to of the pair, the one I’m much more positive about.
Because what a song! When that killer groove kicks in at 1:00, with those clanking guitar string-noises that sound like a gun being cocked, it’s hard not to resist it. And then the song then blazingly rockets off into a fucking blast-beat section with some low-key black metal guitar work. John has tracked various forms of blast beats in the past, and it’s great to hear them again now on new music, pushing the band’s politically-motivated compositions forward at an urgent pace. It doesn’t hold back, going for the throat.
In the verses, Serj doesn’t mince words, defiantly singing “Terrorists were fighting and were never gonna stop. The prostitutes guns who prosecute have failed us from the start,” clearly stating what the band think of the oppressing forces, as well as the leaders and governments who have failed to act in the face of a new wave of violence. Serj later mocks the titular “genocidal humanoids” (the forces and propagandists of Turkey) and the values and beliefs they instill on their off-spring, potentially perpetuating further hate towards Armenians in future generations: “Guess who’s coming over to dinner? The genocidal humanoids. Teaching warfare to their children, the bastards that will be destroyed.” SOAD have always communicated the intent of their songs, and that remains steadfast in ‘Genocidal Humanoidz.’
While getting more new music from this band is something I’m sure that we are all up for, if it’s just these two new songs for now, that’s fine. As it’s just so lovely to hear these four guys playing together once more, confirming that they’ve still got it when it comes to standing up for what they believe and retaining their quality songwriting.