System of a Down (sometimes simply referred to as SOAD or System) is an Armenian-American rock band from Glendale, California, formed in 1994. System of a Down consists of Serj Tankian (lead vocals and keyboards and rhythm guitar), Daron Malakian (vocals and lead guitar), Shavo Odadjian (bass), John Dolmayan (drums).
The band has released five studio albums and have sold over 20 million records worldwide . They have been nominated for four Grammy Awards, of which they have won one in 2006 for Best Hard Rock Performance. The group went on indefinite hiatus August 13, 2006.
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Daron Malakian met Serj Tankian in 1992, while they both shared the same rehearsal studio in different bands. They formed a jam band called Soil (Serj on vocals/keyboards and Daron on guitar; not to be confused with the Chicago band Soil) with Domingo Laranio (drums) and Dave Hakopyan (bass). Around this time, they also met Shavo Odadjian. After about a year, with one supposed jam session recording and one live show, Dave and Domingo left, thinking the band wasn't going anywhere (Hakopyan would later co-found the band The Apex Theory which, in 2007, changed their name to Mt. Helium).
In the beginning (1994?1997)
The band later broke up and Tankian and Malakian formed a new band "System of a Down," adapting the name from a poem Daron wrote entitled "Victims of the Down". Shavo Odadjian thought that the word System appealed to a much broader audience than "Victims," and they wanted their albums to be stored near the band Slayer. Odadjian was the band's original manager and promoter, but joined as the bassist, and managerial duties were taken over by the Velvet Hammer Music and Management Group and founder David "Beno" Benveniste.
System of a Down quickly made what is known as their early Untitled 1995 Demo Tape, which had very early recordings of "Mr. Jack" (called "PIG"), along with a song called "Flake," and an early recording of "The Metro," a cover of the Berlin song of the same name. It is rumored that there are other tapes made, which contain early recordings of "Friik," "36" (called ".36"), and "Roulette." Two other songs, "X" (called "Multiply") and "Honey" were live demos at the time and were played at very early shows. After this, the band recorded three public demos, which have been numbered as Demo Tape 1 to 3, as the early 1995 demo was not discovered until much later. Many of the songs featured on the demos would eventually make their way onto the band's debut album. In mid 1997, Khachaturian left the band due to a hand injury (he subsequently co-founded The Apex Theory, which included former Soil bassist Dave Hakopyan). Soon after playing at the Whisky-A-Go-Go and Viper Room with new drummer John Dolmayan, the band caught the attention of producer Rick Rubin, who asked them to keep in touch with him. Showing great interest, they recorded yet another demo near the end of that year. This demo, however, was made only to be sent to record companies. The tape was not released to the public until years later when it was leaked onto the Internet. After Rick helped them get signed onto American/Columbia Records, System of a Down began to record in his studio. In 1997, the group won the Best Signed Band award from the Rock City Awards.
Debut album (1998?2000)
In the summer of 1998 (June 1998), System of a Down released their debut album, System of a Down. They enjoyed moderate success with their first single "Sugar" becoming a radio favorite, followed by the single "Spiders." 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 2000, the band contributed their cover of the Black Sabbath song "Snowblind" to the Black Sabbath tribute album Nativity in Black 2.
Breakthrough and success (2001?2003)
The group's big break arrived when their second album Toxicity debuted at #1 on the American and Canadian charts, eventually achieving multi-platinum certification. The album has since sold 7 million copies worldwide and is the only album of System of a Down that doesn't have a parental guidance sticker on the cover. It was the top album in America on the week of the September 11, 2001 attacks and the political environment caused by the attacks added to the controversy surrounding their hit single "Chop Suey!" causing it to be 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 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" which also earned a Grammy nomination in 2003. In May 2006, VH1 listed Toxicity in the #14 slot in the 40 Greatest Metal Songs.
In 2001, the band went on tour with Slipknot in the United States. After seeing the success of the tour, System and Slipknot went on a Pledge of Allegiance Tour with Rammstein, Mudvayne, and No One in 2002. In late 2001, a few unreleased tracks made their way onto the Internet. The group released a statement that the tracks were unfinished material. Soon after, the band released the final versions of the songs, which were recorded at the same time, but hadn't been used for Toxicity. The result was Steal This Album!, released in November 2002. The album did not feature a booklet, and its disc resembled a CD-R 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 and as a message to those who stole the songs and released them on 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)
From 2004 to 2005, the group produced a double album, with the two parts released six months apart. The first album, Mezmerize, was released on May 17, 2005, to favorable reviews by critics. It debuted at #1 in the United States, Canada, Australia and all around the world, making it System of a Down's second #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 #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 #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 wasn't playing on the main stage.
System of a Down's songs were used in the 2006 film Screamers, directed by Carla Garapedian. They appeared in the movie, in an interview talking about the importance of helping create awareness and recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Screamers debuted in theaters in large city markets such as New York City, Detroit, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Fresno, Providence, and Boston. An earlier engagement started exclusively in Los Angeles on December 8, 2006. Also, Lonely Day appeared on the soundtrack for the 2006 movie Disturbia.
System of a Down was honored at the USC v. Cal game at the Los Angeles Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA 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.
Hiatus and future of the band (2006?present)
In May 2006, the band announced they were going on hiatus. Malakian has confirmed the break will 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 a rest."
During their performance in Houston, Texas, Malakian also took a moment to say, "There's been a lot of rumors about us breaking up. Well, don't listen to them. Us four right here, we will always be System of a Down!" However, Malakian announced he was forming a band called Scars on Broadway, which was joined by Dolmayan. Their debut self-titled album was released on July 29, 2008. Odadjian will be working on a project with RZA of Wu-Tang Clan named AcHoZeN as well as his urSESSION website/record label. Tankian plans to keep recording as a solo artist/producer. Empty Walls is his first single off his debut solo album Elect the Dead, which was released on October 23, 2007. Dolmayan, as well working with Scars on Broadway, planned to open a comic book store online by November 2007.
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."
Shavo Odadjian recently told Launch Radio Networks that System of a Down is "alive and well", but just aren't working together.
In an April 2008 interview with Kerrang magazine, guitarist Daron Malakian and drummer John Dolmayan gave their takes on the band's future. When told that many people are going to wonder what the future of the band is, Malakian responded by stating that "We'll all know when the time is right." Dolmayan added, "It'll just happen." Malakian went on to say:
Yeah. It'll feel good and happy. I can respect this situation more than I can respect the situation where two people are like, 'The lead singer fucked my girlfriend!' and that kind of bullshit. Nah, man. The lead singer is a special person to me and I am to him. And that's how we ended off. Same with Shavo, same with John. And it will always be. It was a big part of my life. We were onstage together for a long time, man. We went through shit as a band and friends -- we slept in RV's together!
In an interview with Tankian about Big Day Out 2009, a show involving playing his Elect the Dead album live with the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra, and his upcoming second studio album. "Every few months I am honored to hear interesting rumors about whether the band is going to tour or break up permanently. I find them all to be very entertaining."
Style and influences
The stylistic variety and level of experimentation in System of a Down's music has made it difficult to describe. Though they have evolved their sound with each album, 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, alternative rock, art rock, experimental rock, hard rock, heavy metal, nu metal, progressive metal and progressive rock. 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". According to Tankian, "As far as arrangement and everything, 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, including 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, The Beatles, Frank Zappa and Slayer. The band's musical style has often been compared to that of Zappa. Malakian has stated that "I'm a fan of music. I'm not necessarily a fan of any one band." Dolmayan stated "I dont 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."