‘Truth to Power’ documents art and activism of System of a Down's Serj Tankian

New documentary delves into the political mouthpiece of one of '90s alt-rock's most unlikely success stories

Brad Keefe
"Truth to Power"

“We are System of a Down, and it’s our responsibility to tell you these things and rock you at the same time.”

In 2015, System of a Down played its first show in Armenia, the nation of its origin, and this was singer Serj Tankian’s introduction to a crowd of thousands.

It’s worth reflecting on the fact that this collection of Armenian-Americans became one of the strangest musical success stories of the last two decades.

The nu-metal era was weird, but perhaps nothing was weirder than System of a Down's rise to (relative) rock stardom. I was once evacuated from a photo pit because the band was playing at Riot Fest in Chicago, and security (rightly) determined that it was not safe for photographers in that space.

“Truth to Power” is very much a documentary about System's lead singer and not about the band. It sidesteps a tremendous amount of band drama, notably not including guitarist Daron Malakian really at all and not addressing John Dolmayan’s vocal turn into right-wing Trumpian politics.

In fairness, a collection of Armenian-Americans in Los Angeles would have no reason to think they’d be so culturally significant 20 years later.

But the documentary “Truth to Power’ is very much about Serj, and it’s very much a film about his lifetime efforts to educate audiences about the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century, and it’s hard to fault his mission.

It remains a completely bizarre but also wonderful anomaly that System of a Down became hugely popular. This is a sample SOAD lyrical hook:

“All research and successful drug policies show

That treatment should be increased

And law enforcement decreased

While abolishing mandatory minimum sentences”

That’s a call to arms, not lyrics. But it was also strangely mainstream, because I don’t think people remember how weird the late ’90s really were.

“Truth To Power” is very Serj-focused and sidesteps band drama considerably, but it’s an amazing documentary for fans and activists who couldn't care less about band drama.

If it interests you at all, it’s worth the rental.

“Truth To Power”