For a band that hasn’t released an album since 2005’s Hypnotize + Mezmerize, you might question the popularity of System Of A Down considering the decade+ wait fans have had for any kind of new material from the Armenian-American legendary metal band. That would be an incorrect assumption, though. The band’s sporadic shows and tours across the world routinely sell out rather quickly, and if you go by only Spotify data, their hundreds of millions of streams are impressive for any artist – let alone one as uncompromising as System Of A Down.
Their 2001 album Toxicity, though, was a landmark album. Before that, I really didn’t understand any of their work. Too artsy, too intellectual. It was on this record where Daron Malakian’s presence became more apparent. I think Toxicity is the group’s undisputed masterpiece. It’s an epic meditation on intangibility. At the same time, it deepens and enriches the meaning of the preceding album. You can practically hear every nuance of every instrument. In terms of lyrical craftsmanship, the sheer songwriting, this album hits a new peak of professionalism.
On Toxicity, though, the band doubled down on political ideologies that might have seemed excessively liberal at the time – but much like more modern bands like Enter Shikari, it’s clear that SOAD foresaw the current climate in their future. Examples reign on Toxicity, including the negative impacts technology has had on our world (“Science”), mass, unfair incarceration (album opener “Prison Song”), and militarized riot police (“Deer Dance”). Delivered with a newfound sense of melodicism and accessibility, it’s not hard to see why the vocal interplay between Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian helped the album hit #1 on the charts – the same week as the 9/11 attacks.
Of course, the band’s nu-metal sound is actually very unique, especially considering there’s so much more going on artistically. Vocalists Daron Malakian and Serj Tankian try to out-do each other on most of Toxicity, but it’s the band’s progressive and avant-garde approach to music – fearlessly incorporating instruments like the sitar and banjo – that made it stand out. While not necessarily the most technical of albums, the rapid-fire guitar riffs on “Prison Song” and the ridiculousness of tracks like “Bounce” provide energy to the record in a way that’s also accessible.
It’s true that System Of A Down are known for challenging the status quo, both politically and in a social context as well. However, the singles are pretty accessible and melodic from an everyman perspective. A deeper analysis of the band’s politically-oriented lyrics showcase an act that’s intelligent enough to discuss them, yet never shying away from almost nonsensical tracks like “Bounce”. With a clear understanding of how to inject melodic hooks into socio-political dialogue, and a keen ability to write great songs, it really shouldn’t be all that surprising that Toxicity is the album that broke System Of A Down almost two decades ago. All you have to do is listen.