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System of a Down

Steal This Album! (American)


When a band's record company decides to issue a "from the vaults" collection, it's generally the fans who suffer the most. Packed with subpar throwaways, poorly chosen covers and B-sides that earned their nonalbum status, these releases tend to do little other than fatten corporate wallets and give bands a few extra months of downtime. Leave it to System of a Down to flip the formula and offer a cohesive anthology that's as good or better than the band's formal efforts.

Swiping its title from progressive hip-hoppers the Coup (who pilfered it from Abbie Hoffman's counterculture call to arms), Steal This Album! features Toxicity outtakes from 2001 and unreleased gems that date back to 1995. The frantic opening number, "Chic N' Stu," is an anti-marketing screed that finds vocalist Serj Tankian vomiting up a literal grocery list of complaints, insisting in the end, Advertising causes me therapy. "Boom" proffers a shotgun marriage of political punk and machine-gun metal that doesn't sound remotely contrived -- the work of a group comfortable with a spectrum of influences that ranges from Alice in Chains to Noam Chomsky. Throughout Steal, the SoCal quartet displays originality, insight and noncontrived anger, traits its modern metal peers seldom demonstrate.

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