Serj Tankian’s new EP opens with a burp and closes with a beating—not a bad summary of his entire oeuvre, balancing the absurd and the gravely serious.
The singer envisioned Elasticity as the foundation of a new System of a Down record, the most feverishly awaited heavy music project this side of Tool’s recent reawakening. These tracks were pre-molded into classic System structures: spastic vocal melodies, massive distortion, political commentary, a splash of the theatricality that animated classic tunes like “Sugar” and “Chop Suey!” But—in a non-surprise twist—they couldn’t agree on a path forward, so Tankian repurposed the material for himself.
The Armenian-American band did unite in November for an even bigger cause: quickly recording a pair of tracks, “Protect the Land” and “Genocidal Humanoidz,” to support the displaced people of their war-torn ancestral homeland. Still, System thrive in the album format, smearing lyrical themes and tonal colors in unusual ways. And it’s a bummer, no matter how you slice it, that we’re still waiting on a proper follow-up to their 2005 double-header, Mezmerize and Hypnotize.
Several of these Tankian songs scratch the deep System itch regardless—particularly when the energy peaks. The opening title cut is some kind of kooky symphonic-metal masterpiece: Over gurgling synths and arena-tailored power chords, he pogos back and forth between a cartoonish falsetto yelp, fuzzy punk shriek and a confident mid-register croon that grows gradually more controlled with age. On the similarly springy bookend “Electric Yerevan,” Tankian draws out drama from the titular 2015 protests in Armenia, where citizens successfully railed against a proposed hike in electricity rates.
In these moments of real-life stakes, Elasticity feels most vibrant. His spoken-word delivery on “Yerevan,” unleashed like that of a caffeinated TV correspondent, conjures his famous statistical interjections on System’s “Prison Song”—familiar, sure, but any day you can tap into that level of raw excitement is a good day.
That’s the only rub with Elasticity: Though Tankian is more than capable of carrying these System-y songs himself (see: 2012’s Harakiri), it’s easy to ponder how his bandmates could have enriched them. The drum sound is paper-thin throughout, and guitarist Daron Malakian could have elevated the power ballads “How Many Times?” and “Rumi” with more dynamic, intricate riffs.
It’s not like Tankian needs to write rock at all: In recent years, he’s tackled everything from proggy orchestral-fusion (2013’s Jazz-Iz Christ) to batshit crazy electronica (2020’s Fuktronic). But when his fire’s fully lit, as it often is here, not even wrecked career plans can extinguish it.
Ryan Reed is a Contributing Editor at SPIN and Ultimate Classic Rock, the Monday night news editor at Rolling Stone, and a freelancer for outlets like Relix and The New York Times.