For the last decade or so, System of a Down have been largely inactive. They reunited in that time, but haven't released an album. They've played gigs and flirted with the idea of new material, but didn't deliver. It wasn't until 2014 when it truly felt that SOAD were back, with the band returning in memory of the 100 year anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.
All of the band's ancestry hails from that region of the world but its rich history usually goes undocumented or, at the very least, unexplored in Western narrative. When we hear the "g" word, our minds jump to the Holocaust instead of the event that coined it.
For System of a Down, so much of their identity is birthed from that place: Erasure, the stories of war that are ignored. Toxicity, the group's most iconic record, released September 2001, deals with just that. It's a dadaist, conceptual nu-metal (!) record about the Armenian Genocide.
Live, on a cold summer night in Quebec, miles from Montreal and miles more from Ottawa, System of a Down performed those songs from their discography. In addition to being one of the more prolific nu-metal bands, they are also one of the few with a real message. Where Limp Bizkit explore the space of directionless anger, System of a Down are poignant—it's up to you to understand the meaning behind the message.
"B.Y.O.B." made an appearance near the beginning of the set, bringing the crowd to their knees. When frontman Serj Tankian hollers, "Why do we always send the poor?" and later "Where the fuck are you?" you feel it—14 years later and he's still asking us to take responsibility of the actions of other humans. If we don't, it's a moral failing. And not very metal.
SOAD performed on the same stage Slayer destroyed just minutes prior, the same stage guitarist Gary Holt wore a "Kill the Kardashians" shirt, an unfortunate commentary on the only other major Armenian icons in American pop culture. Let's hope Tankian didn't notice, or better yet, knew better than to comment on a trivial act of dissonance. After all, there are real atrocities to be concerned about.