System of a Down Biography and Profile

system of a down
Serj Tankian of System of a Down. Photo: Scott Gries/Getty Images.

System of a Down's Origins:

One of the most experimental hard rock and metal bands of the early 21st century, System of a Down formed in the Valley north of Los Angeles in the mid-1990s. The group consists of singer Serj Tankian, drummer John Dolmayan, guitarist Daron Malakian and bassist Shavo Odadjian. Known for their politically outspoken lyrics and complex, unconventional hard rock arrangements, System of a Down managed to win over critics while courting mainstream audiences.

An Ambitious Metal Debut:

Impressed by the group, producer Rick Rubin signed System to his American Recordings label at the end of the ‘90s. The band’s self-titled debut emerged in 1998. System of a Down is typically labeled as a metal album, but the record enjoys wandering into sonic terrain unfamiliar to most metal bands. The songs, written by Tankian and Malakian, pursued unusual rhythm structures and provocative lyrics about marijuana laws, religious faith and the Armenian Genocide of the early 20th century, a topic the band cared deeply about, considering that three of their members are of Armenian descent.

Hard Rock for Headbangers and Deep Thinkers:

While System of a Down helped establish their name, it was 2001’s Toxicity that cemented their reputation. Although Toxicity remained indebted to metal traditions, its musicianship and accessibility managed to attract both a commercial audience with potent singles such as “Chop Suey!” and “Aerials” as well as the critical community, which declared the album one of the most ambitious releases of its era.

Eventually securing triple-platinum sales, Toxicity represented a thinking man’s hard rock, music that was edgy and propulsive but also introspective and challenging.

System of a Down Demand You 'Steal This Album!':

The most overlooked album in their canon, 2002’s Steal This Album! comprised a collection of songs recorded around the time of Toxicity, many of which were first leaked online without the band’s knowledge.

Steal This Album! included finished versions of many of those songs and also featured new, unheard tracks. With its intentionally slapped-together album art – the cover resembles a blank recordable CDR – the record is generally regarded as an outtakes collection, although that didn’t keep the single “Innervision” from being a substantial hit or the album itself from going platinum.

Returning With a Double Dose of Rock:

The next System of a Down album wouldn’t hit shelves until 2005, but when the band returned with new music, they came back with two records. In May of that year, System dropped Mezmerize, and then in November they followed up with Hypnotize. Both albums were full-length efforts, resulting in an overstuffed treasure trove of great songs, including singles such as “Hypnotize” and the Grammy-winning “B.Y.O.B.” Bouncing between prog-rock, metal, hard rock and arty exotic sounds, System of a Down now seemed to be a genre unto themselves.

Hiatus:

Since their two 2005 albums, the band has been on hiatus while the individual members pursue side projects. Serj Tankian released four solo albums: 2007's Elect the Dead, 2010's Imperfect Harmonies, 2012's Harakiri, and 2013's Orca Symphony No. 1.

 Daron Malakian and John Dolmayan formed Scars on Broadway, releasing their self-titled debut in 2008 and disbanded in 2009.

Reunion:

In November 2010, the band announced they'd be getting back together to play European summer festivals in 2011. System of a Down have toured sporadically from 2010-2015. In an interview with Rolling Stone on January 8, 2015, Tankian said the band may consider recording a new album after their 2015 tour. 

Current Members:

John Dolmayan – drums
Daron Malakian – guitar, vocals
Shavo Odadjian – bass
Serj Tankian – lead vocals

Essential System of a Down Album:


Every System album is overly ambitious, almost to a fault, but Toxicity is the best one-disc representation of all the styles the band members do well. Don't expect for it all to sink in after one listening: The mixture of rap-rock, metal, political anthems and oddball weirdness starts to congeal over time, creating a colossal impact as a whole that easily outweighs its impressive individual parts.

Discography:

System of a Down (1998)
Toxicity (2001)
Steal This Album! (2002)
Mezmerize (2005)
Hypnotize (2005)


(Edited by Bob Schallau)