System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian and Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, who recorded the song “Patterns” together in 2000, have reunited for a new song that will help raise money for imperiled Armenians.
The tune was the brainchild of Cesar Gueikian, CEO of Gibson Brands. Gueikian, an Argentine member of the Armenian diaspora, teamed with Tankian and Iommi on a new song, “Deconstruction,” that’s coming out under the banner of the Gibson Band via Gibson Records as a charity single. The tune is a six-minute descent into psychedelic doom metal that finds Tankian singing about “deconstruction of the human mind” while Gueikian plays meaty riffs and Iommi slices through it all with a wah-wah–inflected, bluesy solo. One hundred percent of the money the song makes will go to Armenia Fund’s Artsakh Refugee Initiative, which provides aid to Armenians displaced following Azerbaijan’s 2020 invasion.
“We asked ourselves how to use this song to bring awareness to Armenia and the Armenian situation and raise funds for Armenia,” Gueikian says via Zoom. “In addition to making music, Serj is an activist in service to Armenia, and Tony has ties to Armenia because many years ago, he was part of a group that funded a music school there. So the three of us have pledged any income the song makes to go to Armenia through the Armenia Fund.”
Gibson has also built a unique Les Paul Special that sports Tankian’s painting, Our Mountains, which depicts Armenia’s beloved Mount Ararat and is selling via Julien’s Auctions. Corporación América, owned by Argentine billionaire and Armenian diaspora member Eduardo Eurnekian, and the Eurnekian family are matching the funds the endeavor raises.
“Because it was Armenia Fund, I thought it appropriate to donate a painting called Our Mountains, which refers to the two mountains of Mount Ararat, where Noah’s ark landed,” Tankian tells Rolling Stone over Zoom. “It’s one of the symbols of Armenia and our culture and history. … [Armenia Fund] is one of the recipients of System of a Down’s donations from the two songs we did in 2020 during the war with Azerbaijan. They help with the rehabilitation of veterans.”
Gueikian wrote the song but worried he’d be the only person interested in it. Since he’s close with Tankian, though, he decided to play it for him anyway — and maybe, if Tankian dug it, the System of a Down vocalist would sing on it. He recorded an instrumental with engineer Greg Gordon at La Roca Power Studio in Buenos Aires, where he played guitar with Argentines Cristian Iapolla and Jota Moerlli handled bass and drums, respectively. He sent it to Tankian close to a year ago and anxiously waited for feedback. “I said, ‘If you don’t like the song, please tell me,’” Gueikian recalls. “He listened to the song and immediately came back within minutes and said, ‘I love the song. I want to do the lyrics.’”
“I thought it was really cool,” Tankian says. “It sounded like a very Sabbathy kind of song, like an old-school, classic-rock vibe. When he said, ‘I want you to sing on this,’ it was like, ‘OK, I’m in.’
“The funny thing was as I was singing it, I got the Layne Staley vibe, like Alice in Chains — that really deep, dark thing with harmonies like Jerry Cantrell’s,” he continues. “There’s a certain aspect of what I did that reminded me of [Layne], almost like paying him homage, because it’s slow but hard.” He pauses for a second to sing Alice in Chains’ “Rooster.” “And then the second part was more trippy, almost poetry. But Cesar liked it.’”
Tankian borrowed some lyrics from his poetry book, Cool Gardens, for ponderous words like “no time to die, nor kill, nor structures of a pyramid.” “I borrow from myself all the time because I can,” he says, laughing.
In the song, he asks himself, “What is life, if today I die?” “It’s like, what am I here for?” he explains. “What am I doing here? It’s kind of like deconstructing your own life and asking the universal question of, ‘Why am I here?’ Not just why we’re here, but, ‘What is my pivotal role in this drama called life?’”
The song also abstractly addresses world ecology. “When I’m referring to flower’s mother, soldier’s father, farmer’s wife — I’m talking about the Earth, I’m talking about land,” he says. “So it’s talking about the planet as well as our pivotal role in it, whatever that might be.”
With Tankian on board, Gueikian approached a man he considers his “adopted godfather, Tony Iommi, who was another quick “Yes.” “In 24 hours, I had the solo from Tony,” Gueikian says, beaming. The lead part flutters, flies, and ultimately soars. You can hear Iommi’s inspiration come out of his guitar.
“It was great to hook up with Serj again and also to do a track with Cesar,” Iommi says via email. “I think that he’s trying to steal my job!! Haha!! The Armenian people are really lovely people, and it’s a great pleasure, a great cause, and I’m very happy to be involved in it.”
Gueikian says that getting two of his favorite artists on his track was a “pinch-me moment,” and he hopes to explore the process again himself and encourage other Gibson staffers to collaborate with the brand’s artists for future Gibson Band releases. He wants the Gibson Band — like Gibson Records, the company’s book publishing arm (which put out a book about Slash earlier this year), and its video series — to be an unfettered representation of what people can do creatively.
“[The Gibson Band’s music] may or may not always be a charitable project, depending on the song,” he says. “I think about the Gibson Band as a platform but more importantly as a collective. There’ll be a collective of artists who are going to be writing songs that we can put out through Gibson Records under the banner of Gibson Band. Ultimately, it’s all about the music.”
Tankian is grateful, though, that this track will be benefiting his and Gueikian’s ancestral homeland. Earlier this year, Armenians who lived in an area known as Nagorno-Karabakh, aka Artsakh, were driven from their homes by Azeri invaders following a 2020 incursion in the region. “It’s ethnic cleansing and genocide when you’re forced to leave your indigenous home of thousands of years because of someone attacking,” he says. “And this was after nine months of starvation, which Azerbaijan enacted on the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.” Tankian hopes that Armenians can take the injustice, which goes back to the Soviet era, to an international court.
“But right now, there’s a lot of humanitarian aid necessary for these 120,000 displaced Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh,” he says, “so these funds will help with that particular refugee crisis that Armenia Fund already attends to.”
Tankian is also pleased to play a part in a cool song. When he heard the fully mixed version of the song with his vocals and Iommi’s guitar, he says, “It sounded kicking.” “I was really happy to be a part of it,” he says. “It’s something different, and it’s good that it’s for a good cause.”
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