System of a Down have tracked thirty-three songs for their next album, the follow-up their 1998 eponymous debut. While the progressive metal men won't be releasing the whole lot of tunes (some will disappear into the vault, others will be B-sides/bonus tracks), the group and producer Rick Rubin will soon be narrowing the list to a more-manageable twelve to fourteen songs. System is eyeing an early August release for as-yet-untitled album.
Still rich with their trademark quirks, fits and flagrant disregard for traditional song structures, the album nonetheless finds System -- singer Serj Tankian, bassist Shavo Odadjian, guitarist Daron Malakian and drummer John Dolmayan -- exploring more accessible territory. "It has the erratic time changes," says Odadjian. "It's still quirky. It has that heavy bounce that's gonna make the crowd jump up and down. But the melody has grown. Daron's singing a lot of harmonies.
"There a song called 'Needles,'" he continues, "that's heavy and hard and psychotic and has a slow part and a crazy [portion]. It's the fastest and slowest song you've ever heard in your life. It has a vibe from every metal song you could think of but it's not like anything else. It's System of a Down."
Topically, System's new stuff is socio-political ("The Prison Song" tackles mandatory minimum sentences), pop-culturally knowledgeable ("K.I.T.T." pays homage to the well-spoken car David Hasselhoff drove to TV infamy in the series Knight Rider
) and, in one instance, potentially controversial -- the song "ATWA" examines the life of serial killer Charles Manson. Named for Manson's "revolution against pollution" organization, Air, Trees, Water, Animals, the song neither vilifies nor celebrates the Helter Skelter slasher.
"It doesn't talk shit about him at all," says Tankian. "It's actually sort of like looking at the world through his eyes, not just looking at him as a bad person for the things he's done. We didn't write it to be controversial. If there's controversy, beautiful. If there isn't, beautiful."
System recently invited multi-instrumentalist Arto Tuncboyaciyan into the studio to add his unique brand of Armenian music to the fray. Tuncboyaciyan, who has previously worked with jazz giants Chet Baker, Al DiMeola and Wayne Shorter, laid down vocal as well as instrumental tracks, playing everything from a Coke bottle to a bucket filled with water. The band, also Armenian by descent, has yet to figure out exactly where or how they'll be work those tracks into the album.
Tankian said he very nearly asked ex-Faith No More frontman Mike Patton to drop some vocal science when the two were together a few weeks ago ("I'm hitting myself on the head for not asking him to do something"), a collaboration he still hopes may come to fruition.
Other celebrity cameos may or may not surface but don't bet the farm on this being a Nü Metal brotherhood studio jam. Radio's current love affair with all things heavy has hardly made System of a Down feel a kinship with your Bizkits, Stainds, or Linkin Parks. "We're not into the rock/rap movement," says Odadjian. "We're four guys that play music. We're not a part of any genre. We just happened to have come out in 1998."
"If this album fails in the eyes of the market, it might actually be a good album," adds Tankian. "True art has nothing to do with commercial success. The buying of records is secondary. Once something is done and it's on tape, if someone hears it and decides to buy it, that's secondary."
System of a Down plan to launch a proper tour this summer but have yet to finalize an itinerary, though they have set a handful of radio festival dates in the coming months:
5/25: Somerset, WI, Floatrite Park (with Fuel, Staind, Buckcherry,
5/26: Foxboro, MA, Foxboro Stadium (with Coldplay, Marilyn Manson, Black
5/27: Des Moines, IA, Waterworks Park (with Monster Magnet, Buckcherry,
7/14: Portland, OR, KUFO festival
7/15: Sacramento, CA, KRXQ festival
Written by GREG HELLER
for RollingStone.com News