System of a Down

System of a Down
System of a Down

System of a Down at Download Festival On June 12, 2005.
Background information
Also known as Soil (1992–1994)
Origin Los Angeles, US
Genres Alternative metal, progressive rock, hard rock, experimental rock
Years active 1994–2006, 2011
Labels Sony Music, American, Columbia
Associated acts Achozen, Axis of Justice, George Clinton and His Gangsters of Love, Scars on Broadway, Serj Tankian and The F.C.C., The Apex Theory
Daron Malakian
Serj Tankian
Shavo Odadjian
John Dolmayan
Past members
Ontronik "Andy" Khachaturian

System of a Down, also known by the acronym SOAD and often shortened to System, is a rock band from Southern California. The band was formed in 1994. It consists of Serj Tankian (lead vocals, keyboards, rhythm guitar), Daron Malakian (guitar, vocals), Shavo Odadjian (bass, background vocals) and John Dolmayan (drums). All four members are of Armenian descent, and are widely known for their outspoken views expressed in many of their songs confronting the Armenian Genocide of 1915 as well as the ongoing War on Terrorism.

The band has achieved commercial success with the release of five studio albums; three of their studio albums debuted at number one on the Billboard 200. System of a Down has been nominated for four Grammy Awards, and won the award in 2006 for Best Hard Rock Performance for the song "B.Y.O.B." On August 13, 2006, the group went on indefinite hiatus, but announced a reunion on November 29, 2010 with several shows planned at European music festivals for the summer of 2011. This tour has continued through the west coast of North America as well as South America, with dates announced throughout the summer.



Soil (1992–1994)

Serj Tankian, Daron Malakian, and Shavo Odadjian all attended Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School while children, although because of their eight-year age difference they did not meet until 1992 while working on separate projects at the same recording studio.[1] 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. After three years, only one live show, and one jam session recording, Hakopyan and Laranio quit the band, feeling that it was not going anywhere.

Demo tapes and signing (1994–1997)

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 the Down."[2] The word "victims" was changed to "system" because Odadjian believed that the alteration 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.[citation needed] 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.[2]

System of a Down quickly 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).[2] 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, 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.[3]

System of a Down (1998–2000)

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 doesn't introduce them as he does for all 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.[2] In 2000, the band contributed their cover of the Black Sabbath song "Snowblind" to the Black Sabbath tribute album Nativity in Black 2.

Toxicity and Steal This Album! (2001–2003)

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.[4]

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 eventually achieved multi-platinum certification[citation needed] and has since sold over 12 million copies worldwide.[citation needed] 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 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 No.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 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.[5] 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.[6] 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.

Mezmerize and Hypnotize (2004–2006)

Serj Tankian in 2006

Between 2004 to 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, notably including album cover artwork by Malakian's father, Vartan Malakian, which was 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.[7] 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 wasn't playing on the main stage.

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.

Concert footage and interviews with the band concerning the importance of helping create awareness and recognition of the Armenian Genocide were featured in the 2006 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 of the Turkish embassy in Washington D.C. was also used in Screamers.

System of a Down was honored at a University of Southern California game at the Los Angeles Coliseum in Los Angeles, California in 2006. The Trojan Marching Band, along with Dolmayan and Odadjian, performed three System of a Down songs: "Toxicity," "Sugar," and "Hypnotize." System of a Down's song "Lonely Day" was nominated for Best Hard Rock Performance in the 49th Grammy Awards in 2007, but lost to "Woman" by Wolfmother.

In May 2006, 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."[8]

May 2006 also 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.

Hiatus (2006–2010)

Malakian announced he was forming a band called Scars on Broadway, which was joined by Dolmayan. System of a Down's final performance before their hiatus 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."[9]

Tankian released his debut solo album Elect the Dead in the autumn of 2007 to great critical and commercial acclaim. Malakian and Dolmayan released Scars On Broadway's debut self-titled album on July 29, 2008. Dolmayan, alongside working with Scars on Broadway, formed his own band, Indicator, as well as opened Torpedo Comics, an online comic book store.[10] 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.

Reunion and tour (2011)

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.[11] 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. In their reunion statement posted on their website, the band was unclear as to the extent of their reformation. It read, "We have no master plan of sorts – we are playing these shows simply because we want to play together again as a band and for you, our amazing fans."[12] On March 1, 2011 the band announced they will play several shows in western North America in May and June. The reunion tour commenced on May 10, 2011 in Edmonton, Alberta.[13] On May 4, 2011, Brazil event organiser and promoter Roberto Medina announced that System will be headlining, alongside Guns N' Roses, his Rock in Rio 2011 festival on October 2 in Rio de Janeiro.[14]

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.[15] From late February to early March 2012, they will headline five dates at the Soundwave festival.[16] This will be the first visit in Australia, since 2005.

Asked in October 2011 whether System of a Down will record a new album, drummer John Dolmayan replied, "We're gonna take it day by day. [...] For the people who are waiting for an album — I know there's a lot of people waiting for an album; I'm waiting for an album just like they are. It's gonna happen when it's right and when we can make something that tops what we've done in the past. Because we don't really wanna rest on our laurels — where what you've done in the past is what you depend on. Well, I don't wanna do that, and I know the rest of the guys don't wanna do that. Instead of resting on our laurels, we wanna throw them away and create something new and specific for this generation that they can say that's their System of a Down."[17]

Style and influences

The stylistic variety and level of experimentation[18] in System of a Down's music has made it difficult to describe, but System of a Down has, for the most part, maintained a single style throughout their body of work. This style has variously been termed alternative metal,[19] alternative rock, rock,[20] art rock,[21][22] experimental rock,[23][24] hard rock,[19][25] heavy metal,[19] nu metal,[26][27] progressive metal[28][29] and progressive rock.[30][31] Malakian has stated that "We don't belong to any one scene"[32] and that "I don't like the nu-metal drop-A 7-string guitar sound; it is not my thing, at least not yet".[33] 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."[34]

The band has used a wide range of instruments, including electric mandolins, baritone electric guitars, acoustic guitars, ouds, sitars and twelve string guitars.[35] 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.[33] 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."[33]

The band's influences include Middle Eastern music,[36] Ozzy Osbourne,[32][36] Dead Kennedys,[37] Frank Zappa,[38] Slayer,[36] The Beatles, Deftones, and Van Halen.[37] One reviewer claimed that their music encompasses different sounds, from sounding like "Fugazi playing Rush" to sometimes "tread[ing] close to Frank Zappa territory".[30] Malakian has stated that "I'm a fan of music. I'm not necessarily a fan of any one band."[39] Dolmayan stated "I don't think we sound like anybody else. I consider us System of a Down."[40] 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."[40]

Awards and nominations

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.

Grammy Awards
Year Nominated work Award Result
2002 "Chop Suey!" Best Metal Performance Nominated
2003 "Aerials" Best Hard Rock Performance Nominated
2006 "B.Y.O.B." Best Hard Rock Performance Won
2007 "Lonely Day" Best Hard Rock Performance Nominated


  • In 2005, System of a Down won for Best Alternative Act in the Europe Music Awards
  • In 2006, System of a Down won the "MTV Good Woodie Award" for their song "Question!"
  • In 2006, System of a Down's song "Toxicity" was No.14 on the VH1 Top 40 Metal Songs list

Band members

First Soil line-up
Soil's second line-up
System of a Down's first line-up
System of a Down's standard line-up
Occasional contributors
  • Arto Tunçboyacıyan – percussion, composition (on Toxicity: "Science" and "Arto". Steal This Album!: "Bubbles" and some live concerts in 2005)[41]
  • Harry Perry – rhythm guitar (Ozzfest 2006)



  1. ^ Meyers, Ben. System Of A Down: Right Here In Hollywood (2007), p. 14.
  2. ^ a b c d "OnTroniK: System of a Down Information". Retrieved July 18, 2010. 
  3. ^ "Rock City Awards 1997". Retrieved July 25, 2007. 
  4. ^ "System Of A Down cancellation sparks riot". Live Daily. September 4, 2001. Retrieved July 20, 2010. 
  5. ^ Gil Kaufman (March 10, 2003). "System Of A Down Bassist Sues Security Team For Humiliating Him In Front Of Fans". MTV. Retrieved July 18, 2010. 
  6. ^ Mike Lancaster (March 28, 2003). "The Daron Malakian Interview". Glendale High School Newspaper-the Explosion. Retrieved July 26, 2010. 
  7. ^ Harris, Chris (November 30, 2005). "System of a Down Make It a Double with Chart-Topping Hypnotize". MTV News. Retrieved February 18, 2009. 
  8. ^ Harris, Chris (May 3, 2006). "System of a Down Aren't Breaking Up—They're Going on Hiatus". MTV News. Retrieved February 2, 2009. 
  9. ^ "West Palm Beach, FL — August 13, 2006 Review". July 13, 2006. Archived from the original on May 15, 2007. Retrieved July 25, 2007. 
  10. ^ "SOAD talk about side projects". July 13, 2006. Archived from the original on March 10, 2007. Retrieved July 25, 2007. 
  11. ^ Karan, Tim (November 29, 2010). "System Of A Down to reunite, headline Download Festival". Alternative Press. Retrieved November 29, 2010. 
  12. ^ Sciarretto, Amy (November 29, 2010). "System of a Down Reunite to Play European Tour Dates". Noisecreep. AOL Music. Retrieved November 29, 2010. 
  13. ^ ChartAttack Staff (March 1, 2011). "System Of A Down Announce North American Dates With Gogol Bordello". ChartAttack. Retrieved March 3, 2011. 
  14. ^ Rockinrio 2011 line up[dead link]
  15. ^ System of a Down Tours
  16. ^ "Soundwave Festival 2012". Retrieved 2011-10-11. 
  17. ^ "System Of A Down Drummer On New Studio Album: 'It's Gonna Happen When It's Right'". October 3, 2011. Retrieved October 3, 2011. 
  18. ^ Nettleton, Chris. "Review of System of a Down". Drowned in Sound. Retrieved July 25, 2007. 
  19. ^ a b c Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Biography of System of a Down". Allmusic. Retrieved July 24, 2007. 
  20. ^ Spence D. (June 3, 2005). "Review of Mesmerize". IGN. Retrieved April 22, 2009. 
  21. ^ Christgau, Robert. "Reviews of System of a Down". Retrieved April 2, 2009. 
  22. ^ Hoard, Christian (November 1, 2007). "Review of Elect the Dead". Rolling Stone. Retrieved April 22, 2009. 
  23. ^ Aquilante, Dan (November 20, 2005). "This Week's CDs: Hypnotize". New York Post. Retrieved March 3, 2009. 
  24. ^ Friedman, Gary (October 27, 2007). "System of a Down leader releases first solo album". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 3, 2009. 
  25. ^ "Review of Hypnotize". Rolling Stone. November 17, 2005. Retrieved April 22, 2009. 
  26. ^ Berelian, Essi. The Rough Guide to Heavy Metal. p. 349. ISBN 1843534150. 
  27. ^ Christe, Ian (2004). The Sound of the Beast. Allison and Bubsy. p. 329. ISBN 0749083514. 
  28. ^ McDonnell, Evelyn (August 16, 2005). "System of a Down carves a distinct path with prog-thrash sound.". The Miami Herald. Retrieved March 3, 2009. 
  29. ^ Serpick, Evan (December 15, 2005). "System of a Down — Prog-metal Radicals". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 24, 2007. 
  30. ^ a b Sinclair, Tom (September 3, 2001). "Review of Toxicity". Entertainment Weekly.,,173181,00.html. Retrieved April 2, 2009. 
  31. ^ Lynskey, Dorian (November 18, 2005). "Review of Hypnotize". The Guardian. UK. Retrieved April 2, 2009. 
  32. ^ a b Morse, Steve (August 26, 2005). "Pounding out a blistering attack: System of a Down lashes out at Hollywood, war, and hypocrisy". The Boston Globe. Retrieved April 5, 2009. 
  33. ^ a b c Perry, Megan (2004). "Daron's Guitar Tunings". Wired: musicians' home studios : tools & techniques of the musical mavericks. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 79. ISBN 0879307943. 
  34. ^ DeRogatis, Jim (September 14, 2001). "They're an Armenian band". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved April 4, 2009. 
  35. ^ "System of a Down biography". Retrieved June 26, 2006. 
  36. ^ a b c Nalbandian, Bob. "Interview with System of a Down". Shockwaves Online. Retrieved July 21, 2007. 
  37. ^ a b Candellari, Gianni. "System of a Down: Rabbia armena" (in Italian). Ondarock. 
  38. ^ Prato, Greg (July 7, 2005). Zappas Making Zappa Film. . Retrieved on November 13, 2008
  39. ^ "Many musical influences in System of a Down". Long Beach Press-Telegram. August 3, 2005. Retrieved April 5, 2009. 
  40. ^ a b ""Official System of a Down MySpace". Retrieved July 21, 2007. 
  41. ^ (2001) Album notes for Toxicity by System of a Down [booklet]. Los Angeles, California: American Recordings (86059).

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