System of a Down

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System of a Down is a heavy metal band from Los Angeles, California, USA consisting of Serj Tankian (vocals, keyboards), John Dolmayan (drums), Daron Malakian (guitar, vocals) and Shavo Odadjian (bass). All four members are of Armenian ancestry, and some of their songs are about Armenian history and politics.

History, style and influences

Their diverse instrumentals range from baritone electric guitars, electric mandolins, sitars, 12-string classical guitars to many other East Asian instruments. Their main influence is noticeably the heavy metal veterans Black Sabbath and Slayer, but they have many other musical influences such as jazz, fusion, Armenian folk music, classic rock, blues and industrial metal. They also sometimes play short Armenian songs live such as 'Julieta' by Harout Pamboukjian which was played at London Astoria 2005 by the guitarist whilst singing to it and 'Im Nazelis', which was played by the guitarist at Souls 2004. The vocalist Serj Tankian always sings 'Yes im anoush hayasdani, arevabar' in between the Armenian sounding song from the Toxicity album, 'Science' whilst performing it live.

The band enjoyed moderate success with their first singles, Sugar and Spiders, off their debut album System of a Down. However, their big break came from their sophomore effort, Toxicity, which debuted at #1 on the American and Canadian charts, eventually going multi-platnium. The album also has the dubious distinction of being the #1 album in America on the week of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Their first big hit was the controversial "Chop Suey!", released in the late summer of 2001. The title comes from a poem of Father Armeni, who wrote about Armenia after the genocide of 1915. He asked God why have you forsaken me in your eyes. Father Armeni also said that in Armenia a self righteous suicide has taken place. System of a Down received constant airplay in the United States throughout late 2001 and 2002 with their hits, Chop Suey!, Toxicity, Aerials, off their second album, Toxicity, and Innervision off their third album, Steal This Album!.

Their third album, containing songs from the Toxicity recording session, was released as "Steal This Album!" because early recordings of most of the songs had leaked out onto the Internet. There are four different designs of the album available. One version of the CD resembles a CD Recordable that was labeled with a felt-tip marker, and the other four featured designs by individual band members.

In 2004, the band recorded two brand new albums for release in 2005, to be released 6 months apart from each other. They are Mesmerize and Hypnotize. Mesmerize was released in April whilst Hypnotize will be released approximately six months after. In early January, 2005, a new track called "Cigaro" was leaked onto the Internet (some say it was leaked by the band itself, considering it was leaked onto a web page which featured a "mesmerizing" spiral and was performed by the band at their Big Day Out appearances several days after the leak) to praise from fans.


Previous members

  • Andy Khachaturian (Former Vocalist of 'The Apex Theory'- Drums


  1. System of a Down (30 June 1998)
  2. Toxicity (4 September 2001)
  3. Steal This Album! (26 November 2002)
  4. Mesmerize (17 May 2005)
  5. Hypnotize (22 November 2005)

Music videos

  • "Sugar" from System of a Down (1998)
  • "Spiders" from System of a Down (1999)
  • "War" from System of a Down (2000)
  • "Chop Suey!" from Toxicity (2001)
  • "Aerials" from Toxicity (2002)
  • "Toxicity" from Toxicity (2002)
  • "Boom!" from Steal This Album! (2003)
  • "B.Y.O.B." from Mesmerize (2005)
  • "Question!" from Mezmerize (2005)
  • "Hypnotize" from Hypnotize (2005)


  • "Sugar" from System of a Down (1998)
  • "Spiders" from System of a Down (1999)
  • "Johnny" (released as a 1-track single) (2001)
  • "Chop Suey!" from Toxicity (2001)
  • "Toxicity" from Toxicity (2002)
  • "Aerials" from Toxicity (2002)
  • "B.Y.O.B." from Mezmerize (2005)
  • "Question!" from Mezmerize (2005)
  • "Hypnotize" from Hypnotize (2005)


Critics’ Forum

Let the Hostilities Begin By Sam Ekizian

Balancing commercial success with substance and vitality is a difficult feat. The band System of a Down seems to have achieved this equilibrium.

Following a nearly four-year absence since its critically acclaimed Toxicity album, System of a Down released Mezmerize, the first installment of a two-album set—Hypnotize will follow sometime this fall. Despite this long absence, the band—which features lead vocalist Serj Tankian, guitarist Daron Malakian, bassist Shavo Odadjian, and drummer John Dolmayan—shows no signs of slowing down. Indeed, Mezmerize showcases the band’s uncanny ability to effortlessly blend diverging styles and influences to achieve its emblematic sound.

Mezmerize is also a vehicle for System’s razor-sharp commentary. It is an unflinching indictment of the sociopolitical landscape—a diatribe of anti-war, anti-corporate and anti-celebrity sentiment. This is readily evident in such songs as “B.Y.O.B.,” “Sad Statue,” “Cigaro,” and “Radio/Video.” However, it is the fierce musical content that ultimately dominates Mezmerize. Other than the brevity of the new album (a mere 36 minutes long), its only shortcoming is that it suppresses the band’s previously ever-present frontman, Serj Tankian. Tankian’s iconic voice has lent much to the band’s unique sound. But it drifts to the background on Mezmerize. Guitarist/co-songwriter Malakian takes added lead-vocal time on this album, which compensates only somewhat for the noticeably diminished vocal role of Tankian.

Mezmerize is not as melodic as System’s previous release, Toxicity. As a result, passively listening to the album can lead to the conclusion that the guitar riffs are redundant and the sound formulaic. However, a more conscious effort reveals the album’s nuances and intricacies.

Mezmerize is at once a savage and frenzied sonic outpouring and a delicately crafted totem. Grinding and vicious guitar rushes interspaced with deliberately poppy interludes somehow seamlessly hold together, despite the obvious tension. The songs are equal parts discord and harmony. The album’s tracks are also peppered with System’s operatic and Middle Eastern flourishes. All of this combines to create an album that is both an organic whole as well an assemblage of individually viable songs.

With the final song, the album shifts gears, closing with the melancholic “Lost in Hollywood,” depicting the seedy underbelly of a city that consumes the unwary. This somewhat jarring transition from the previous onslaught provides the opportunity to reflect and take in the true depth and forceful delicacy of Mezmerize. But we realize that, in the end, this is merely a temporary cessation of hostilities.

Hypnotize is due to be released in November.

All Rights Reserved: Critics Forum, 2005

Sam Ekizian has been involved with the Armenian cultural and music scene for over two decades and has helped introduce artists to West Coast audiences.

This and all other articles published in this series are available online at[1]. To sign up for a weekly electronic version of new articles, go to[2]. Critics’ Forum is a group created to discuss issues relating to Armenian art and culture in the Diaspora.

External links