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System of a Down

System of a Down

Rock group

For the Record

Selected discography


Fusing rock, punk, metal, rap, and even ethnic folk and jazz, and tackling subjects ranging from cultural and political issues to poetry and humor, System of a Down proved themselves true contenders on the rap-metal scene with their sophomore album, Toxicity. Released in September of 2001, the album, containing the radio hit Chop Suey, debuted in Billboard at number one, reached platinum status within a couple of months, and elevated the band to a new level of popularity among teenagers. System of a Downs unsettling yet absorbing music played regularly on radio stations nationwide, while the groups videos rotated daily on MTV. The music press placed the quartet in the same league as Tool and Rage Against the Machine. They have a deep musicality thats really powerful, producer Rick Rubin told Natalie Nichols of the Los Angeles Times. For a band that offbeat, [the success of Toxicity] is really a testament to the depth of their songs.

System of a Downcomprised of guitarist and chief songwriter Daron Malakian, bassist Shavo Odadjian, keyboardist Serj Tankian, and drummer John Dolmayanformed in 1994 in Los Angeles, California, deriving their name from a poem composed by Malakian. (Before joining forces, Malakian and Tankian played together in Soil, a band managed by Odadjian.) They claim that loyalty, a strong sense of community, and the importance of family and friendsin addition to their love of musicenabled the group to succeed. Were a very brotherly band we care about each other, Dolmayan insisted in an interview with LA Weekly contributor Paul Rogers. Indeed, System of a Down exhibit a deeper continuity than most bands. Since their formation, the group has had a stable lineup and crew, the same manager and attorney since 1996, and a strong artistic and business relationship with their producer.

Much of the bands emphasis on mutual respect and brotherhood is a direct result of their background. All four members were raised in Los Angelesmaking them an anomaly of sorts in a city filled with transplanted hopefulsall share a common Armenian heritage, and, except for Dolmayan, attended the same private Armenian high school in Hollywood. As adults, one of the main issues they champion is international recognition of the Armenian genocide. (Under Ottoman Turkish rule an estimated 1.5 to 2 million Armenians died between 1915 and 1923; many of the band members ancestors suffered during this period.) To raise awareness of this horrific event, which many nations, including Turkey, still refuse to acknowledge, System of a Down addresses the topic through their lyrics, as well as through interviews and concert events sponsored by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

Although known for their aggressive, spectacular, and passionate live performances, the band members appear quite different in person. Tankian, a native of Lebanon, is described as warm and nonjudgmental, a

For the Record

Members include John Dolmayan, drums; Daron Malakian, guitar, background vocals; Shavo Odadjian, bass guitar; Serj Tankian, vocals, keyboards, samples.

Group formed in Los Angeles, CA, 1994; played at clubs such as the Roxy and the Troubador, mid-1990s. signed with American Recordings, released System of a Down, 1998; released Toxicity, 2001.

Addresses: Record company Columbia Records, 550 Madison Ave., New York City, NY 10022, phone: (212) 833-5212, website: Website System of a Down Official Website:

devotee of meditation, and a student of global politics and ideologies. Before settling into a career in music, he worked as CEO of a marketing management software company.

Malakian, the bands creative nucleus, was born in Hollywood to artistic parents. He decided to pursue music at the tender age of four. Im a real workaholic with what I do, Malakian, known for his intense, yet at times vulnerable, demeanor, revealed to Rogers, sometimes to the point where its not healthy. I get stressed out, especially now theres a million people listening to us. I used to write for myself and then show my momthat was my audience. In order to deal with the pressures of the music business and System of a Downs popularity, Malakian, too, became interested in the meditative arts.

Odadjian, who was born and lived in Armenia until the age of five, was raised by his mother and grandmother. A former skate punk and intense fan of other bands as a teen, he never expected to make a living in the music business and remains much in tune with System of a Downs audience. Others associated with the group credit him for keeping an eye on the bands commercial appeal, regularly warning his fellow bandmates when songs sound too complicated.

In contrast, Dolmayan, also from Lebanon, recognized music as his calling around age two, even though his father, a jazz saxophonist who ultimately chose family over a musical career, tried to steer him in a different direction. He knows what a musicians life is like, Dolmayan explained in comments included on the System of a Down official website. He had no clue I would be in a signed band one day, he figured Id be struggling my whole life. Described as at once a precise and unorthodox percussionist, Dolmayans drumming inspirations range from the Whos Keith Moon to Maynard Ferguson and Jaco Pastorius. You have to have discipline in drumming, he added. Timing is very important, but I dont want to sound like a robot. I like the fact that every now and then Ill go off time a little bit, every now and then my rolls arent perfect.

During the mid-1990s System of a Down, united by their personal and musical connections, established themselves in Los Angeles. Their primary influences included heavy metal, hard-core punk, and traditional Armenian music, but they were also intrigued by the boldness of groups such as Faith No More and Janes Addiction. With the help of friends and promotion by Odadjian, the bands original manager, and Tankian, an expert at web-based networking, System of a Down landed gigs at established clubs like the Roxy, the Whiskey, and the Troubadour. The music industry took notice, impressed by their message and raw energy. Music producer Rick Rubin, noted for his work with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash, the Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy, among others, felt equally enthusiastic after attending a show at the Viper Room. Rubin signed the band to his Columbia Recordsaffiliated American Recordings label and offered to serve as the bands producer.

In 1998 System of a Down released a self-titled fulllength album. It sold approximately 750,000 copies, due in large part to the rock radio hit Sugar, media exposure, and a relentless touring schedule. As in Los Angeles, System of a Down attracted a large following with their aggressive, raging sound, dramatic live act, and socially conscious lyrics. Although the records closing track, P.L.U.C.K. (Politically Lying, Unholy, Cowardly Killers) was an assault on the ongoing denial of Armenian genocide, System of a Down refuses to be labeled simply as an Armenian-American band. To me, the Armenian genocide is personal, Tankian said to Nichols. Its about grandparents and things like that. [Being Armenian] indirectly and in a very deep way plays a part in everything we do, but its not as big as people usually make it.

Following tours with the Ozzfest concert series and bands such as Slayer and Limp Bizkit, System of a Down returned in the fall of 2001 with their second effort, Toxicity. Entering the charts at number one and eventually reaching platinum sales, the album solidified the quartets reputation. Although Toxicity relied heavily on political and social messages, such as with the anti-drug war track Prison Song, the album also included less serious numbers like Bounce and Jet Pilot. Our music is not just for social causes, Tankian explained to Nichols, in another Los Angeles Times interview. It has an entertaining factor to it, because kids will not just listen to a sermon. Thats boring.

Selected discography

System of a Down, American Recordings, 1998.

Toxicity, American Recordings, 2001.



Billboard, January 6, 2000; January 8, 2000.

Boston Globe, January 21, 2000; September 30, 2001.

Guitar Player, July 2000; January 2002.

LA Weekly, December 7-13, 2001.

Los Angeles Times, August 25, 1998; January 9, 2000; January 19, 2000; September 23, 2001; October 1, 2001.

Melody Maker, June 5, 1999.

Rolling Stone, March 30, 2000; September 27, 2001.

Time, November 12, 2001.

USA Today, October 4, 2001.

Village Voice, October 16, 2001.


System of a Down Official Website, (January 7, 2001).

Laura Hightower

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System of a Down


Formed: 1995, Los Angeles, California

Members: John Dolmayan, drums (born Lebanon, 15 July 1974); Daron Malakian, guitar, vocals (born Glendale, California, 18 June 1975); Shavarsh "Shavo" Odadjian, bass (born Armenia, 22 April 1974); Serj Tankian, vocals (born Lebanon, November 1970).

Genre: Rock, Nu Metal

Best-selling album since 1990: Toxicity (2001)

Hit songs since 1990: "Chop Suey"

The Los Angeles-based hard rock band System of a Down began its ascent in the late 1990s when it appeared on festival stages with other popular nu-metal bands such as the Deftones, Korn, Slayer, and Slipnot. Although it shared a reverence for early metal originators like Black Sabbath, the band did not fit neatly into a specific category. The group's breakthrough album, Toxicity (2001), was praised for its originality. Instead of the screaming vocals, gothic doom, and dense sheets of guitars typical of mainstream metal, the album blended in Armenian folk music, unusual rhythms, and confrontational lyrics that explored spiritual and political themes. The band actively supported social justice and politically progressive causes. Because three of the four members are of Armenian descent, they became particularly vocal about shedding light on the genocide of their ancestors during World War I.

Vocalist Serj Tankian, guitarist Daron Malakian, and bassist Shavo Odadjian met while attending an Armenian-run high school in Hollywood. They began playing under the name Soil in 1993. Two years later they invited drummer John Dolmayan into the group, switched their name to System of a Down, and were soon building a buzz in the progressive heavy metal scene in southern California. At the time, metal bands were replacing their lead singers with rappers and adopting the culture of hip-hop. Hip-hop dominated the 1990s commercially with its anti-establishment stance that appealed to metal bands looking for streetwise credibility.

In the rap-rock explosion System of a Down was viewed as a band that succeeded in weaving rap into its music. Label mogul Rick Rubin, who produced both rap and metal artists like Public Enemy and Slayer, discovered the band. He signed them to his boutique label American, a subsidiary of Columbia Records, and produced the band's self-titled debut in 1998. Immediately, the band was launched on several high-profile summer festival tours like OzzFest, Family Values, and Summer Sanitarium.

But the band did not make its major breakthrough until 2001 with its second album, Toxicity, which debuted in the number one spot on the Billboard charts the week of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Co-produced by Rubin, it separated the band from its more formulaic rap-rock
peers. The band incorporated pop melodies, jazz, Middle Eastern rhythms, tempo changes, whiplash rock riffs, and thought-provoking lyrics about war, prison overcrowding, spirituality, and totalitarianism. The song "Chop Suey" became an MTV hit and the band ended up headlining festivals including OzzFest. Steal This Album!, a collection of b-sides, followed the next year.

System of a Down used its newfound popularity to promote political causes. Tankian and Tom Morello, the guitarist for the political rap-rock band Rage Against the Machine, established, a website designed as a clearinghouse for social justice organizations. The group also became vocal proponents for recognizing the 1.5 million Armenians who were murdered or deported by Turkey during World War I. They supported a House Resolution in Congress sponsored by the Armenian National Committee of America that would have forced Turkey to accept official responsibility, which it has historically denied. "P.L.U.C.K. (Politically Lying, Unholy, Cowardly Killers)," a song from the band's first album that addresses the genocide, became a major staple in the band's live shows.


System of a Down (American/Columbia, 1998); Toxicity (American/Columbia, 2001); Steal This Album! (American/Columbia, 2002).


mark guarino

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"System of a Down." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . 17 Jan. 2018 <>.

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"System of a Down." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved January 17, 2018 from