System of a Down, sometimes shortened to SOAD or System, is an Armenian-American heavy metal band from Glendale, California, formed in 1994. The band currently consists of Serj Tankian (lead vocals, keyboards), Daron Malakian (vocals, guitar), Shavo Odadjian (bass, backing vocals) and John Dolmayan (drums).
The band achieved commercial success with the release of five studio albums, three of which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. System of a Down has been nominated for four Grammy Awards, and their song "B.Y.O.B." won the Best Hard Rock Performance of 2006. The group briefly disbanded in August 2006 and reunited in November 2010, embarking on a tour for the following three years. System of a Down has sold over 40 million records worldwide.
Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian attended Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School as children, although due to their eight-year age difference they did not meet until 1992 while working on separate projects at the same recording studio. They formed a band named Soil with Tankian on vocals and keyboards, Malakian on vocals and guitar, Dave Hakopyan (who later played in The Apex Theory/Mt. Helium) on bass and Domingo "Dingo" Laranio on drums. The band hired Shavo Odadjian (another Rose and Alex Pilibos alumnus) as manager, although he eventually joined Soil as rhythm guitarist. In 1994, after only one live show, and one jam session recording, Hakopyan and Laranio left the band, feeling that it was not going anywhere.
After Soil split up, Tankian, Odadjian, and Malakian formed a new band, System of a Down. The group took its name from a poem that Malakian had written titled "Victims of a Down". The word "victims" was changed to "system" because Odadjian believed that it would appeal to a much wider audience and also because the group wanted their records to be alphabetically shelved closer to their musical heroes, Slayer. Odadjian switched from guitar to bass and passed on his managerial duties to Velvet Hammer Music and Management Group and its founder David "Beno" Benveniste. The band recruited drummer Ontronik "Andy" Khachaturian, an old school friend of Malakian's and Odadjian's who had played with Malakian in a band called Snowblind during their teens.
In early 1995, System played as "Soil" at the Cafe Club Fais Do-Do, a nightclub in Los Angeles. Shortly after the event, System of a Down made what is known as Untitled 1995 Demo Tape, which was not commercially released but appeared on file sharing networks around the time of the band's success with Toxicity about six years later. Demo Tape 2 was released in 1996. At the beginning of 1997, System of a Down recorded their final publicly released demo tape, Demo Tape 3. In mid-1997, drummer Khachaturian left the band because of a hand injury (he subsequently co-founded The Apex Theory, which included former Soil bassist Dave Hakopyan). Khachaturian was replaced by John Dolmayan.
The band's first official release of a professionally recorded song was on a collection called Hye Enk ("we're Armenian" in English), an Armenian Genocide recognition compilation, in 1997. Soon after playing at notable Hollywood clubs such as the Whisky-A-Go-Go and Viper Room the band caught famed producer Rick Rubin's attention who asked them to keep in touch with him. Showing great interest, the group recorded Demo Tape 4 near the end of 1997. Unlike the previous demo tapes, however, Demo Tape 4 was made only to be sent to record companies (although it has since been leaked onto the internet). Rubin signed the group onto his American/Columbia Records, and System of a Down began to record in Rubin's studio with engineer Sylvia Massy, laying down tracks that would eventually be released on their debut album.
Also in 1997, the group won the Best Signed Band Award from the Rock City Awards.
In June 1998, System of a Down released their debut album, System of a Down. They enjoyed moderate success as their first singles "Sugar" and "Spiders" became radio favorites and the music videos for both songs were frequently aired on MTV. After the release of the album, the band toured extensively, opening for Slayer and Metallica before making their way to the second stage of Ozzfest. Following Ozzfest, they toured with Fear Factory and Incubus before headlining the Sno-Core Tour with Puya, Mr. Bungle, The Cat and Incubus providing support.
In November 1998, System of a Down appeared on South Park's Chef Aid album, providing the music for the song "Will They Die 4 You?" Near the end of the song Tankian can be heard saying, "Why must we kill our own kind?" a line that would later be used in the song "Boom!" Although System of a Down is credited on the album, South Park character Chef does not introduce them as he does every other artist featured on the record.
System of a Down's former drummer, Ontronik Khachaturian, briefly reunited with the band at a show at The Troubadour in 1999, filling in on vocals for an ill Tankian. In 2000, the band contributed their cover of the Black Sabbath song "Snowblind" to the Black Sabbath tribute album Nativity in Black 2.
On September 3, 2001, System of a Down had planned on launching their second album at a free concert in Hollywood as a "thank you" to fans. The concert, which was to be held in a parking lot, was set up to accommodate 3,500 people; however, an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 fans showed up. Because of the large excess number of fans, the performance was cancelled by police officers just before the group took the stage. No announcement was made that the concert had been cancelled. Fans waited for more than an hour for the group to appear, but when a banner hanging at the back of the stage that read "System of a Down" was removed by security, the audience rushed the stage, destroying all the band's touring gear (approximately $30,000 worth of equipment) and began to riot, throwing rocks at police, breaking windows, and knocking over portable toilets. The riot lasted six hours, during which six arrests were made. The band's manager, David "Beno" Benveniste, later said that the riot could have been avoided if the group had been permitted to perform or had they been allowed to make a statement at the concert regarding the cancellation. System of a Down's scheduled in-store performance the next day was cancelled to prevent a similar riot.
The group's big break arrived when their second album, Toxicity, debuted at No. 1 on the American and Canadian charts, despite the events of September 11. The album has eventually achieved 3x multi-platinum certification in the US and has since sold over 12 million copies worldwide. It was still on top in America during the week of the September 11, 2001 attacks and the political environment caused by the attacks added to the controversy surrounding the album's hit single "Chop Suey!" The song was taken off the radio as it contained politically sensitive lyrics according to the 2001 Clear Channel memorandum at the time such as "(I don't think you) trust in my self-righteous suicide." Regardless, the video gained constant play on MTV as did the album's second single, "Toxicity". Even with the controversy surrounding "Chop Suey!" (which earned a Grammy nomination), System of a Down still received constant airplay in the United States throughout late 2001 and 2002 with "Toxicity" and "Aerials". In May 2006, VH1 listed "Toxicity" in the number 14 slot in the 40 Greatest Metal Songs.
In 2001, the band went on tour with Slipknot throughout the United States and Mexico. Following a performance in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Odadjian was allegedly harassed, ethnically intimidated, and was physically assaulted by security guards backstage, who then dragged him out of the venue. Odadjian received medical attention from police and later filed a suit against the security company. Despite the incident, the tour was a success and System of a Down and Slipknot went on the Pledge of Allegiance Tour with Rammstein in 2001.
In late 2001, unreleased tracks from the Toxicity sessions made their way onto the internet. This collection of tracks was dubbed Toxicity II by fans. The group released a statement that the tracks were unfinished material and subsequently released the final versions of the songs as their third album, Steal This Album!, which was released in November 2002. Steal This Album! resembled a burnable CD that was marked with a felt-tip marker. 50,000 special copies of the album with different CD designs were also released, each designed by a different member of the band. The name of the album is a reference to Abbie Hoffman's counter-culture book, Steal This Book as well as a message to those who leaked the songs onto the internet. The song "Innervision" was released as a promo single and received constant airplay on alternative radio. A video for "Boom!" was filmed with director Michael Moore as a protest against the War in Iraq.
Between 2004 and 2005, the group recorded the follow-up to Steal This Album!, a double album, which they released as separate installments six months apart from each other. The releases notably included album cover artwork by Malakian's father, Vartan Malakian, and were designed to connect the two separate album covers. The first album, Mezmerize, was released on May 17, 2005 to favorable reviews by critics. It debuted at No. 1 in the United States, Canada, Australia and all around the world, making it System of A Down's second No. 1 album. First week sales rocketed to over 800,000 copies worldwide. The Grammy Award-winning single "B.Y.O.B.", which questions the integrity of military recruiting in America, worked its way up the Billboard Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock charts. The next single, "Question!" was released with Shavo Odadjian co-directing the music video. Following the release of Mezmerize, the band toured extensively throughout the United States and Canada with The Mars Volta and Bad Acid Trip supporting.
The second part of the double album, Hypnotize, was released on November 22, 2005. Like Mezmerize, it debuted at No. 1 in the US, making System of a Down, along with The Beatles, Guns N' Roses, and rappers 2Pac and DMX, the only artists to ever have two studio albums debut at No. 1 in the same year. In February 2006, System of a Down won the Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance for "B.Y.O.B.", beating out other established artists such as Nine Inch Nails and Robert Plant. Their second single off the Hypnotize album, "Lonely Day" was released in March in the United States. System of a Down released "Kill Rock 'N Roll" and "Vicinity of Obscenity" as their next promo singles. The band headlined Ozzfest 2006 in cities where tour founder Ozzy Osbourne opted not to appear or was not playing on the main stage (with the exception of the show at Randall's Island, where Ozzy Osbourne headlined the second stage before System of a Down's performance that night).
Whereas on System of a Down's previous albums most of the lyrics were written and sung by Tankian and the music was co-written by Tankian and Malakian (and sometimes Odadjian), much of the music and lyrics on Mezmerize/Hypnotize were written by Malakian who also took on a much more dominant role as vocalist on both albums, often leaving Tankian providing keyboards and backing vocals.
May 2006 saw the UK publication of a biography of the band entitled System of a Down: Right Here in Hollywood by writer Ben Myers. It was published in the US in 2007 through The Disinformation Company. Also in 2006, concert footage and interviews with the band concerning the importance of helping create awareness and recognition of the Armenian Genocide were featured in the film Screamers, directed by Carla Garapedian. An interview with Tankian's grandfather, a survivor of the Genocide, was also included in the film as well as Tankian's and Dolmayan's meeting with (then) Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert during which the two musicians campaigned for the United States government's official recognition of the Genocide. Footage of Tankian and Dolmayan marching with protesters outside the Turkish embassy in Washington D.C. was also used in Screamers.
In May also, the band announced they were going on hiatus. Malakian confirmed the break would probably last a few years, which Odadjian specified as a minimum of three years in an interview with Guitar magazine. He told MTV, "We're not breaking up. If that was the case, we wouldn't be doing this Ozzfest. We're going to take a very long break after Ozzfest and do our own things. We've done System for over ten years, and I think it's healthy to take some rest." System of a Down's final performance before their separation took place on August 13, 2006 in West Palm Beach, Florida. "Tonight will be the last show we play for a long time together," Malakian told the crowd during Sunday's last performance. "We'll be back. We just don't know when."
During the band's hiatus, Malakian formed a band called Scars on Broadway, which was joined by Dolmayan. After one self-titled album the project became dormant and Dolmayan has since left the band. Dolmayan, alongside working with Scars on Broadway, formed his own band, Indicator, as well as opened Torpedo Comics, an online comic book store. Odadjian pursued his project with RZA of Wu-Tang Clan, a hip-hop group named AcHoZeN, worked on his urSESSION website/record label, and performed as a member of funk legend George Clinton's backing band. Tankian opted for solo career and released his debut solo album Elect the Dead in the autumn of 2007. He has continued releasing solo albums, recording them almost by himself, after System of a Down reunited.
On November 29, 2010, following several weeks of Internet rumors, System of a Down officially announced that they would be reuniting for a string of large European festival dates in June 2011. Among the announced tour dates included UK's Download Festival, Switzerland's Greenfield Festival, Germany's Rock am Ring/Rock im Park, Sweden's Metaltown, Austria's Nova Rock Festival and Finland's Provinssirock. The reunion tour commenced on May 10, 2011 in Edmonton, Alberta. System's first tour through Mexico and South America began on September 28, 2011 in Mexico City, ending in Santiago (Chile) on October 7, 2011. From late February to early March 2012, they headlined five dates at Soundwave festival. This was the band's first visit to Australia since 2005. The band have continued playing around the world. On August 11 and 12, 2012, they played the Heavy MTL and Heavy T.O. music festivals in Montreal and Toronto, respectively. In August 2013 System of a Down played at the UK's Reading and Leeds Festivals, among other festivals and venues that year.
System of a Down played their only 2013 US performance at the Hollywood Bowl on July 29; tickets sold out hours after going on sale on March 22.
On November 23, 2014, System of a Down announced the Wake Up The Souls Tour to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The tour included a free concert in Republic Square in Yerevan, Armenia on April 23, 2015, their first show in the country.
In a November 2016 interview with Kerrang!, drummer John Dolmayan revealed that System of a Down has been working on more than a dozen songs for their follow-up to the Mezmerize and Hypnotize albums. He stated, "We've been working on a new album for the last six months and there's about 15 songs that I think are album-worthy." Although Dolmayan stated that the band does not know when the album will be released, he added that, "I want everyone on board and feeling good about it. That's what we're trying to accomplish right now. There's a tremendous amount of pressure on us, though, because it's been 11 years—at least 12 by the time it comes out."
System of a Down's lyrics are often oblique or dadaist, and have discussed topics such as drug abuse, politics and sexual intercourse. "Prison Song" criticizes the War on Drugs whereas Rolling Stone describes "Roulette" as a "scared, wounded love letter". "Boom!", among the band's most straightforward and unambiguous songs, lambasts globalization and spendings on bombs and armament. Commenting on the track "I-E-A-I-A-I-O", drummer John Dolmayan said it was inspired by an encounter he had with Knight Rider's actor David Hasselhoff in a liquor store in Los Angeles when he was around 12. On Mezmerize, "Cigaro" makes explicit references to phallic imagery and bureaucracy, while "Violent Pornography" harshly views television and degradation of women. System of a Down's discontent towards the controversial Iraq War arises in "B.Y.O.B.", which includes a double entendre reference to both beer and bombs, containing the forthright lyric "Why don't presidents fight the war? Why do they always send the poor?"  "Old School Hollywood" describes a celebrity baseball game. On their album "Hypnotize", "Tentative" describes war, "Hypnotize" refers to the Tiananmen Square events and "Lonely Day" describes angst. The album title Steal This Album! is a play on the book Steal This Book by left-wing political activist Abbie Hoffman. System of a Down's firm commitment for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide emerges in two songs: "P.L.U.C.K." and "Holy Mountains", which rank among the band's most political songs.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine of AllMusic stated "Like many late-'90s metal bands System of a Down struck a balance between '80s underground thrash metal and metallic early-'90s alternative rockers like Jane's Addiction". System of a Down's music has variously been termed alternative metal, nu metal, hard rock, progressive metal, thrash metal, art rock and avant-garde metal. Malakian has stated that "We don't belong to any one scene" and that "I don't like the nu-metal drop-A 7-string guitar sound; it is not my thing, at least not yet." In interview with Mike Lancaster, he also said, "People always seem to feel the need to put us into a category, but we just don't fit into any category." According to Tankian, "As far as arrangement and everything, [our music] is pretty much pop. To me, System of a Down isn't a progressive band. [...] But it's not a typical pop project, obviously. We definitely pay attention to the music to make sure that it's not something someone's heard before."
The band has used a wide range of instruments, such as electric mandolins, baritone electric guitars, acoustic guitars, ouds, sitars and twelve string guitars. According to Malakian, he would often write songs in E♭ tuning, which would later be changed to drop C tuning in order to be performed by the band. Malakian states that "For me, the drop-C tuning is right down the center. It has enough of the clarity and the crisp sound—most of our riffy stuff is done on the top two strings, anyway—but it's also thicker and ballsier."
The band's influences include Middle Eastern music, Ozzy Osbourne, Dead Kennedys, Frank Zappa, Slayer, Kiss, Mr. Bungle and Van Halen. One reviewer claimed that their music encompasses different sounds, from sounding like "Fugazi playing Rush" to sometimes "tread[ing] close to Frank Zappa territory." Malakian has stated that "I'm a fan of music. I'm not necessarily a fan of any one band." Dolmayan stated "I don't think we sound like anybody else. I consider us System of a Down." Odadjian stated "You can compare us to whoever you want. I don't care. Comparisons and labels have no effect on this band. Fact is fact: We are who we are and they are who they are."
System of a Down has been nominated for four Grammy Awards, of which has won one in 2006 for Best Hard Rock Performance for the song "B.Y.O.B." The band has also been nominated for several Kerrang! and MTV awards.
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