System of a Down had not planned on releasing an album this winter. As far as the group is concerned, there is only one reason for the release of “Steal This Album.” “If these songs were never leaked on the Web, I never would have agreed to release them,” guitarist Daron Malakian says.
Last spring, the bulk of what comprises “Steal This Album,” which was released Nov. 26, found its way to peer-to-peer networks. Alternative Press magazine went as far as to review the pirated tunes, all of which were unfinished and unmixed (and were remastered for this release).
“Early on, I wasn’t excited about this album,” says Malakian of the band’s third release for American/Columbia. “The turning point for me was when I sat down and listened to what the kids were hearing. My [backing] vocals weren’t on the songs, and at least 10 guitar tracks were missing. It was as if you had covered your ears and listened to an early mix. It didn’t piss me off, but these songs deserved to be heard with all the colors, and they weren’t.”
While “Steal this Album” is not the artistic breakthrough that was 2001’s “Toxicity,” it showcases a still-growing band that is not afraid to experiment sonically or lyrically. Highlighting the group’s blistering mix of metal guitars, Eastern melodicism, and gloomy harmonies, “Steal This Album” drips with anti-war sentiment (“A.D.D.,” “Boom!”), explores classic-rock tendencies (“Ego Brain,” “Highway Song”), and establishes the group’s acoustic side (“Roulette”).
“What’s so impressive about ‘Steal This Album’ is that most of these tracks and all of ‘Toxicity’ came from one inspired period of time,” Columbia Records chairman Don Ienner says. “How many other current bands have demonstrated this kind of creative depth? I think when people hear this companion album, they’ll realize that System of a Down are one of the world’s most important rock bands.”
Vocalist Serj Tankian says the band recorded more than 30 songs for “Toxicity,” which debuted at No. 1 on The Billboard 200 in September 2001 and has sold 2.7 million copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. Most of the 16 tracks on “Steal This Album” were considered for “Toxicity,” and Malakian says the group intended to eventually release the songs.
“We had planned to hold them for soundtracks or our next album,” he says, “but with the Internet, you can’t hold things anymore.”
Tankian adds, “We didn’t want our sophomore effort to be a double-album. I think that’s pretentious, but we wanted to release these songs at some point. They’re not B-sides, and they’re not outtakes.”
“Steal This Album,” was produced by the “Toxicity” team of Malakian and Rick Rubin and mixed by Andy Wallace. The set includes the single “Innervision,” which is No. 15 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and No. 17 on the Modern Rock Tracks tally. There is no accompanying video, and the band, System of a Down’s manager, David Benenviste, says the band is not planning to tour in 2003.
Excerpted from the Dec.21, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.
For information on ordering a copy of the issue, click here.