Of all the genre-hopping bands to emerge in Faith No More's wake and attain massive popularity for music that wasn't remotely mainstream, System of a Down have long been a personal favourite. They were never remotely predictable, so I always thought of them as being more akin to Frank Zappa than the other alternative media darlings of their own era. While they went away a surprisingly long time ago, their most recent albums dating back to 2005, they still seem far more imaginative and unusual than almost anyone making music today.
This EP, from System of a Down's lead singer Serj Tankian, comprises five tracks written for System of a Down but never recorded or released by them, similar to the Cirith Ungol EP I reviewed yesterday, but not quite so old. Apparently the members of the band couldn't agree on how the songs should unfold for a theoretical new album so Tankian took care of them himself. While they're a mixed bag, there's some fascinating material here and it's often neatly heavy. Oh, and while it's my second "alternative" review this week but it couldn't be any more different from the A. A. Williams covers album if it tried.
My favourite tracks are the bookends, but stretched a little to include the second with the first.
Elasticity opens up with another of Tankian's patented vocal trips that are well known to all System of a Down fans. He's a wildly versatile singer and, even when he seems to be failing utterly at scansion, he somehow gets all the words he needs into the lines and in memorable fashion. It's a unique form of delivery and that's even before he adds the weirdness the he does in the verses here. The song itself is actually rather a sedate alternative rock song for much of its running time but it's unforgettable because of what he's doing with his voice.
Your Mom is a title that makes sense in a Zappa-esque way once you've heard the whole song, but it's odd for a long time, because it's a vehemently anti-religious extremism song, if not anti-religion, with lyrics that tell a simple story in complex words, like the best of Tim Minchin: "The embedded hypocrisy fighting autocracy with an army of convenience" is merely how the song starts. And, of course, there's a particularly haunting section delivered with a catchy hook: "Butchering, raping, killing and burning, brutally beheading your enemies. What kind of retarded promises have led you to these prophecies?"
What else Your Mom does is combine ethnic music from the middle east with the alternative rock and metal musical base of the song. There's not as much of that here as I expected but, when it does show up in songs like this one, it's noteworthy. I expected some of this on Electric Yerevan, which closes out the EP, given that Yerevan is the capital of Armenia, but it goes in different musical directions, heavy riffs combining with wild electronica. The song ends up almost with a Dead Kennedys vibe to it, which shouldn't surprise as much as it does, given how Jello Biafra and Serj Tankian are similarly outspoken on politics and similarly acerbic in how they do so.
In between these three songs are a couple more that aren't as memorable but aren't weak. Rumi is a personal song, I expect, given that it's the name of Tankian's son, and How Many Times? is capable in what it does, but it just doesn't stand out in this company. These aren't weak songs, so if you're one of those people who misses System of a Down and wishes that they'd get back together for more than a charity single, this is pretty much what you've been waiting for. I wish it was longer and I wish that its songs were more consistent in quality, if not in style, but there are two killers here and another that you won't forget in a hurry. That ought to be enough for now.