With their auspicious self titled debut in the late nineties, System of a Down were one of the first bands to bring a political message to metal since Rage Against The Machine. Their alt metal sound which effortlessly switched between cartoonish frenzy and grand melody soon started turning heads and, from there onward, their popularity exploded. In 2021, System of a Down are one of the biggest rock acts on the planet, and that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.
As they first came to attention in the late nineties, SOAD have always been bundled in with the alternative metal movement of the day, but their sound is actually far more varied and unique. Incorporating progressive elements, thrash, avant-garde, middle eastern and more, nobody else really sounds like SOAD.
Vocalist Serj Tankian is perhaps one of the most versatile and recognisable voices in metal. His clean vocals are without equal, and beyond that he can unleash all manner of Patton-esque scream, shrieks, and roars. His performance is enhanced by harmonising with songwriter and guitarist, Daron Malakian, who himself also has a unique and enthralling voice.
The rhythm section is handled by bassist, Shavo Odadjian, and drummer, John Dolmayan. Together they bring both a surgical precision and a jazzy, funk influenced heartbeat to the proceedings.
The four of them together is clearly a winning combination. SOAD have put out a number of tracks that made huge pop cultural impacts. Chop Suey!, Aerials, B.Y.O.B., and Lonely Day, to name a few.
Personally though, System of a Down’s greatest achievement will always be the song Spiders. As a nu metal kid at the tail end of the nineties, Spiders was a paradigm shift. I’d never heard anything so darkly haunting. This had none of the bravado we’d become accustomed to in nu metal. It was something unheard of. Something in that song, as I can attest having listened to it while writing this for the first time in a while, moves me deeply. It is entwined with my teenaged nascent music taste, and, from there, my teenage years in general. It’s one of those ‘time travel for the soul’ sorts of songs I’ve mentioned in the past.
System of a Down have not released an album in over fifteen years, and perhaps never will again at this point. But, thankfully, in 2010 after a four year hiatus they returned to touring, much to the enthusiasm to fans worldwide. The passion, boldness, and sincerity of System of a Down is something that was sorely missed in their absence.