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System of a Down is an Armenian-American rock group consisting of lead singer/keyboardist Serj Tankian, backup vocalist/guitarist Daron Malakian, bassist Shavo Odadjian, & drummer John Dolmayan, formerly drummer/one-time vocalist Ontronik Khachaturian. The name ultimately derives from a poem written by Daron titled "Victims of the Down." They changed the name to "System of a Down" so that their CD's could be shelved closer to their musical idols, Slayer. In their early years, they were (more or less incorrectly) labeled Nu Metal. This gradually subsided once the band gained further respect among both metal fans and the more critical segment of the mainstream. With that said, their sound isn't genre-definable but they sound similar to metal, alternative, & progressive. In general, most of their work fits well enough under the general label of "rock" music.In 2006 they parted ways to work on various non-System of a Down projects (Tankian's solo effort, Scars On Broadway formed by Malakian and Dolmayan, and Odajian's work with RZA); all of them except Malakian claimed this was an indefinite hiatus, but a lot of fans assumed it was more of a break-up, until they reunited for a tour in 2011. The band have continued to tour since, but it currently unclear if and when the band will record another album, although Dolmayan has said he would've liked to work on one in 2013, but so far, no material has been in production.The band released five studio albums:
Their lyrics often revolve around themes of isolation, insanity, and criticisms of modern society. Some of their songs have absurdist lyrics, others are sung as if speaking directly to the listener and feature terse statements and lots of questions/demands, and others yet are more sarcastic and satirical. Probably their most well-known attribute is their rapid tone/tempo/time signature changes, giving the music a schizophrenic feel (most noticeable in songs like "Question!," "I-E-A-I-A-I-O," "BYOB," and, of course, "Chop Suey").They have been vocal in spreading word about the early-20th-century Armenian genocide (though Malakian has stated that "P.L.U.C.K." is their only song about said genocidenote "Holy Mountains" from Hypnotize is too though.). They are also in favor of drug decriminalization & are strongly anti-interventionism.
The video for "Boom" was shot by Michael Moore during the massive worldwide anti-war protests in 2003. Most of the lines are sung by random protestors. It also includes a Harsher in Hindsight moment when the video shows a the "scary" factoid that the war could cost $200 billion. The total cost is estimated to be inthetrillions.
"Prison Song" becomes this live, as does the bridge for "War?"
"Psycho." The audience sings the "PSYCHO! GROUPIE! COCAINE! CRAZY!" refrain.
Digital Piracy Is Evil: After outtakes from the Toxicity sessions were leaked to the internet as Toxicity II, the band rerecorded most of the tracks, added some new ones, named it to Steal This Album! and changed the art to look like it was a burned CD with the title written with a Sharpie. More a parody or commentary than outrage, as they later said they don't care if fans download their music as long as it's after the work is released.
They did some other things. They gave it no promotion and did not advertise it (ie, like a bootleg), and the album didn't even include a booklet in America. It does in the UK and Europe but it is a simple one sided sheet saying "Steal This Album!" on one side. Some copies of the US album had art CDs drawn by the band, something which is an occasional selling point of bootlegs.
Interestingly, the band regard "Steal This Album!" as their third album indicating that they were satisfied with how it was released.
On that note, all of their albums end depressingly. Their self titled debut closes with P.L.U.C.K., a song about young men forced to join the army in the wake of the Armenian genocide. Toxicity ends with "Aerials", a song about how selfish the human race is, and its hidden track is a tribal rendition of Armenian church hymn "Der Voghormya" (God Have Mercy). In addition, Steal This Album ends with "Streamline", a song about a man not being there for someone when they were on their death bed,
Large portions of a lot of their more absurdist songs, such as "Vicinity of Obscenity", "Bounce", etc.
From "Fuck the System":
I but a little bit bit bit show, but a little bit bit bit shame, but a little bit bit bit-BIT BIT BIT
"I-E-A-I-A-I-O" flirts with this trope. The lyrics are decipherable, but performed at such high speed that it takes several re-listenings to make them out properly.
"Chop Suey!" certainly is quite strange to listen to before you figure out the high-speed shouting.
WAKE UP! Ragabragamagalaka MAKEUP! Haddaskadafadawraka SHAKE-UP!
Intercourse with You: "She's Like Heroin", "Violent Pornography", "Bounce", "Cherry/Virginity", and "Vicinity of Obscenity".
Large Ham: Started out as Serj ("Sugar", "Bounce", pretty much most of the first two albums), but Daron slowly began to take the spotlight ("Needles", much of Mezmerize/Hypnotize), while Serj sits at the Cloudcuckoolander ("This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I'm On This Song", "Vicinity of Obscenity", "Revenga", "Radio/Video") / Deadpan Snarker ("Cigaro") / occasionally The Quiet One ("Lost in Hollywood") position. With the release of Serj's two solo albums, he's gone back to the Large Ham he's meant to be ("Lie Lie Lie", "Beethoven's Cunt", pretty much everything else).
Loudness War: To some extent, a LOT of their work, especially just about everything on Toxicity.
They're all Rick Rubin productions and three of their albums were mastered by Vlado Meller. Clipping is basically guaranteed, unfortunately.
Lyrical Dissonance: Many, including "Bounce" (a very heavy song about group sex) and "Shimmy" (a hard song including lyrics about indoctrination and subjugation, also about wanting to dance all night and not being late for school).
"Kill Rock 'n Roll", a heavy, serious song about the time Daron hit a rabbit with his car.(Note the cryptic lines "eat all the grass that you want / accidents happen in the dark".)
Miniscule Rocking: Just as an example, Steal This Album! is sixteen tracks over 43 minutes — that's just over 2:30 on average, with "Bubbles" just under two minutes long and "36" only forty-five seconds long. A song that lasts for four minutes or more is extremely hard to come by in general, though there usually is one track per album that exceeds five minutes and at least one other that equals or exceeds four (the sole exception being Steal This Album!, where only one song exceeds four minutes in length and none exceed five).
Both Mezmerize and Hypnotize, despite being released separately, are under 40 minutes and so could have fit on a single CD.
Mood Whiplash: Serj himself has said "Bounce" coming right after "Chop Suey!" in the track listing is an example of this. Also, "Vicinity of Obscenity" being the next song after "Holy Mountains", and probably more.
"Will They Die 4 U?", their collaboration with Mase, Puff Daddy and Lil Kim from the South ParkChef Aid album, where Serj can be heard singing/shouting beginning on the second round of the chorus, while Mase raps it.
New Media Are Evil: Subverted by Steal This Album!, as it essentially encourages the fans not to buy it, and nothing about the album suggests that SOAD was angry about the material being leaked or potentially "stolen".
SOAD wasn't angry about the material being leaked at all, just that the songs weren't quite finished. They were happy to put out the material and present it like it was a bootleg. The band have absolutely no problem with people downloading their demo tapes, and have been known to play the exclusive material from them live.
Non-Appearing Title: "Stealing Society", "This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I'm On This Song", "B.Y.O.B.", "Chop Suey", "Chic 'n' Stu", "36", "U-Fig".
One-Hit Wonder: Technically. "B.Y.O.B." is their only song to ever trouble the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100, achieving this feat with absolutely no help from pop radio and mostly from single sales, downloads and what little rock radio airplay contributes to Billboard Hot 100 chart placement. Subverted, however, in that several of their albums have sold more than ten million copies anyway.
Precision F-Strike: In the middle of "Lost in Hollywood", a slow ballad, Daron sings "All you bitches put your hands in the air and wave em' like you just don't care".
Protest Song: "B.Y.O.B.", "Prison Song", "Deer Dance", "Tentative", etc.
Soprano and Gravel: Serj does this all by himself on the first album, going from screeching to clean singing to guttural roars. Some of the clean singing on later albums is done by Daron.
Subdued Section: Many, many songs. A few of the best examples are "She's Like Heroin", "Aerials", and "Chop Suey!".
Title Track: Toxicity and Hypnotize both contain a straight example.
Uncommon Time: "Question!", a song with so many time signatures the band has had trouble performing it live. Many other songs as well, using time signatures like 6/8, 7/8, 6/4, 3/4 and 15/8 (7/8 + 8/8 in the riff of the song "Soil") along with 4/4.