Of all the bands to have emerged from the late 1990s/early 2000s nu metal era, System of a Down were one of the most unique who stood out from the pack. The band which consists of vocalist Serj Tankian, guitarist Daron Malakian, bassist Shavo Odadjian and drummer John Dolyman have often used their Armenian heritage as an influence on both their music and their outspoken political stance. Before the formation of System of a Down, Tankian and Malakian were in a band together called Soil along with Dave Hapokyan on bass and Domingo Laranio on drums. They initially hired Odadjian as their manager but after a while he became their rhythm guitarist. However, Soil’s existence was short lived after Hapokyan and Laranio both left the band after playing one show.
In 1998, they released their self-titled debut album which produced a couple of successful singles in the form of “Sugar” and “Spiders” of which both of their respective promo videos received heavy rotation on MTV. Very soon, they became a hotly tipped band, managing to get support slots with Slayer and Metallica.
They released their second album Toxicity in 2001 which was their first to go to number one on the US Billboard Album Charts. This album produced two of the band’s most famous songs in the form of the title track and “Chop Suey,” both of which were accompanied by heavily played promo videos. “Chop Suey,” was nominated for a Grammy Award despite some of its lyrical content dealing with “self-righteous suicide” gaining some controversy in the wake of 9/11.
After unreleased material from the Toxicity sessions were leaked on to the internet in 2001, the band released them as their third album in 2002 titled Steal this Album. This featured the song “Boom!” of which a promo video was made by film director Michael Moore showing footage of the band members getting involved in the mass protests against the war in Iraq.
They followed this up in 2005 with the double album Mesmerize/Hypnotize in 2005. This album was a massive success commercially and was met with universal critical acclaim. Both parts were released separately in the year and both reached number one.
However, the following year, the band went on an indefinite hiatus to pursue other creative outlets. They reunited in 2010 and have continued to play live ever since, with their being talk of a possible sixth studio album.
# 10 – Psycho
Kicking off this System Of A Down Songs list is a song with a very apt title as it shows the band’s quirkier side (which to be fair is prevalent in much of their work.) Taken from “Toxicity,” musically it is classic System Of A Down, being largely heavy and fast but with Malakian showcasing a classic example of the Eastern influence that the band have with his sublime solo towards the end. It is the second-to-last track on the album and serves as a nice build-up to the record’s closer “Aerials.”
# 9 – War
Here we have track from the first record that see’s SOAD at their most politically charged, something which they are well-known for. The band are largely seen by many to have taken over where their friends in Rage Against The Machine left off and this track definitely has a hint of the Los Angeles quartets fired up anger. However, it is much faster than RATM and its intensity recalls that of extreme metal bands such as Napalm Death who have always been an influence on the band.
# 8 – Boom
Here, we have the band at the most political that they have ever been, with this track that is a staunch protest song about the invasion of Iraq in 2002 taken from Steal this Album. The song’s lyrics describe the futile and senseless use of bombs and how much money is wasted on them while millions die in poverty. As previously stated, the song was known for its music video directed by Bowling for Columbine director Michael Moore which showed footage of all the mass protests all over the world against the war. Moore had previously directed the video for Rage Against the Machine’s “Sleep Now in the Fore.”
# 7 – Lost in Hollywood
Here we have a song from Mezmerize released in 2005. On both of the 2005 albums, Malakian really got his chance to shine and this song is a prime example of that. He was the main lyric writer on the record and wrote the biggest proportion of the music. Here, he is main vocalist with Tankian providing backing vocals. This song is about the dark side of Hollywood, namely about the falseness of it and the myth of its greatness.
# 6 – Sugar
Here we have the band’s debut single from their debut album. It was certainly a song that introduced the band’s of the wall style to the world. The song pulls no punches either musically or lyrically. The music video that was produced did a very good job of getting the message across, beginning with a news reader losing his mind over the fact that he knows he is feeding SUGAR coated lies, followed by images of the holocaust and nuclear testing.
# 5 – A.T.W.A
Kicking off the second half of this list is a song that would have been worthy of a release as a single. It is a track that is a perfect example of SOAD’s diversity with its wonderful melodic verses and heavy chorus. The song’s title is a reference to convicted murderer Charles Manson’s environmental group Air, Trees, Water, Animals, which will naturally divide opinion between people. Malakian is a fan of Manson’s work as an artist and musician but has stated that he does not approve of the crimes he committed.
# 4 – Spiders
This track was the second single to released from the first album and it was an interesting choice as it is the most different sounding track on the record and thus, not wholly representative of its sound. What the song does, however, is act as an early example of the band’s ability to make dark and slow songs that manage to be effective without exploding into the typical shouting chorus. It charted at number twenty-five in the US mainstream rock chart.
# 3 – Aerials
At number three we have another of the band’s most well-known songs taken from “Toxicity.” The song, although largely slow and mid-paced (and as previously stated, is the album’s closing track) is nevertheless one of their most heavy and angry and has somewhat of a sad and depressive tone to it. Lyrically, it deals with the idea of a world that has become to close-minded. It was another to chart high in several different places, reaching number one in both the US mainstream rock and alternative songs chart.
# 2 – Toxicity
Just off the top spot band’s second-most famous song and title track from the second album. It has come to regarded in the years since its release as a modern metal classic. Starting with a now classic haunting guitar intro courtesy of Malakian, it quickly explodes with Dolyman’s thunderous drumming and a manic and angry vocal performance from Tankian. It certainly put the band on the map, charting in high places globally, with its highest position being number three on the Billboard alternative rock chart.
# 1 – Chop Suey
And at the number one spot on our Top 10 System Of A Down Songs list we have the first single to be taken from “Toxicity” which, like the title track is a song that has become a staple of many rock club dance floors in the years since its release. It is generally considered by most to be the band’s signature song and as previously stated, did cause some controversy upon its release with the chorus line “I don’t you trust in my self-righteous suicide” because the album happened to reach number one during the week of the September 11th terrorist attacks in 2001 on the World Trade Center.