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System of a Down - Toxicity Print E-mail
Tuesday, 04 September 2001

System of a Down

format: CD
label: Columbia Records
release year: 2001
performance: 8
sound 7
reviewed by: Bryan Dailey

ImageThe first time I saw System of a Down was at an abandoned medical clinic in downtown L.A in 1996. It was one of those shows that wasn’t advertised anywhere and I had to pick up my ticket and a map to the show in a dark alley in Hollywood from some guy living in a loft on a dark side street. The headliner was underground rap metal band Downset, and one of the openers was an Armenian heavy metal band called System of a Down. Combining spastic rhythms, bizarre lyrics, Middle Eastern vocal melodies and a huge dose of social consciousness, System of a Down is unlike any band I'd ever heard and their sound is so unconventional it almost defies description. From the moment I saw them, I knew they would be signed to a major label, but the tremendous commercial success that System of a Down is having five years later is truly hard to explain. Toxicity, their second release on Columbia Records, debuted at #1 on the Soundscan sales chart, beating out mainstream music by R&B songstress Alicia Keys and Aaliyah's self-titled album.

The opening stutter-stop riff of "Prison Song" gives way to thrash metal played at breakneck speed, as vocalist Serj Tankian sings and screams his opinions about prisons filling up with minor drug offenders and misappropriation of political campaign funds. You may or may not agree with the band’s political views but, much like Rage Against the Machine, they are making music that asks their listeners to look at the world around them and form some kind of opinion. There are so many young people in the world who have become jaded and callous to what is going on today it’s important for bands like System of a Down to be able to have a voice that is heard.

On the album’s first single "Chop Suey," the song that helped fuel the first week’s sales success of the now-platinum Toxicity, Tankian shows his operatic vocal skills. During the song’s chorus, he sings, "I don't think you trust in, my self-righteous suicide, I cry when angels deserve to die, die," with a vibrato tone that you wouldn’t normally associate with metal music, but System of a Down doesn’t follow many conventional musical rules. The band’s Armenian roots aren’t hidden too deeply, as many of the melodies on Toxicity are
derived from Middle Eastern musical scales.

Throughout Toxicity, the lyrics take on a wide range of topics, ranging from the Armenian holocaust to dealing with strung out-groupies and the creation vs. evolution debate. It may be too heady for some, and the abrasiveness may be off-putting for others, but this 14-track Rick Rubin-produced album is a sonic assault on the ears and minds of conventional thinkers. It will take an open mind and a high tolerance for organized chaos to really understand System of a Down’s music.

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