Records like System of a Down's Steal This Album are always a tough sell. Its 16 songs were recorded during the sessions for 2001's ''Toxicity'' and rejected. But after unfinished versions appeared on the Web, the band decided to polish the tunes up and release them as a new CD. No matter how hard the label tries to repackage them as ''alternate tracks,'' though, the fact remains: If they were that good, they would've made the original cut.
''Toxicity'' triumphed as a complete album, balancing politics and humor, metal and funk, melodrama and silliness. ''Steal This Album'' echoes its structures and themes: ''I-E-A-I-A-I-O'' is a warp-speed rant in the mold of ''Psycho''; ''Boom!'' is a political powerhouse with spoken interludes a la ''Prison Song''; and ''Ego Brain'' infuses the band's signature soft-LOUD-soft dynamics with soaring harmonies, as ''Chop Suey!'' did.
Many of ''Album's'' tunes work as vibrant stand-alone compositions, which not only makes this an impressive disc but also makes ''Toxicity'' seem all the more masterful: Even the rejects sound pretty damn great. A few tracks, like ''Nüguns,'' an innovative mix of thrash, melody, and classical guitar, rival anything on ''Toxicity.''
Despite its individual gems, ''Steal This Album,'' as a unit, relies too heavily on blunt political diatribes and musical gimmicks, and System's ferocity doesn't sound as fresh as it did last year. Don't get me wrong: ''Steal This Album'' stands head-and-tattooed-shoulders above its competition in the hard-rock genre. System of a Down have long since proved themselves to be one of the most exciting bands around, and this crunching, between-discs snack only whets our appetite for what's to come.