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Old 08-03-2008, 02:40 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Back to the River Aras: A Collapsed History of System of a Down

System of a Down is today one of the most recognizable metal bands, and were certainly among the most popular. They were strange beyond strange, and their music existed as a huge departure from conventional metal bands. Many songs from their five studio albums achieved radio play and mainstream success, and their popularity abounded. However, System's music and intent was largely misinterpreted. It is my wish to relieve some of the misrepresentation clouding their legacy and pay homage to one of the most unique metal acts ever.

Soil and Untitled Demos: The Early Years


System's incarnation lies in the formation of a then relatively unknown band: Soil (paid homage to in the likewise titled song from their debut album). They were formed during and at the school which Daron Malakian and Serj Tankian attended. Daron played lead guitar and Serj lead vocals. Two other members graced their presence, Dave Hakopyan (current bassist for Mt. Helium) and drummer Domingo Laranio. Afterwards, Shavo Odadjian joined as a rhythm guitarist. The project survived three years of tinkering, one recording (a live jam session) and one actual show before disbanding in 1995. There are no surviving recordings.

Out of the ashes of Soil, three members rejoined to form System of a Down (Serj, Daron, and Shavo). The band was named after a poem of Serj's, Victims of a Down. They acquired a drummer, Andy Khachaturian, and set to work on some of their earliest recordings. These early recordings were unreleased to the general public but contain snatches of the brilliance that was to come. System revealed their heavy thrash roots in very early versions of Mr. Jack and Metro (a Berlin cover). Their deep metal roots gave way to distorted thrash riffs and occasional structured melodies. System derived the most influence from Slayer. Indeed, Daron borrowed much of his technique from Tom Araya, while Serj favored his own trademark staccato scream.

After touring heavily around Los Angeles between 1995 and 1997, System recorded a few more demo tapes (much which would make it onto their first LP) and replaced their drummer with John Dolmayan. System earned a cult following and a great reputation for their live acts (known as The Dark Red Experience). They soon secured gigs at notable establishments like Whiskey-A-Go-Go and The Viper Room, which led to exposure to new crowds and a small producer named Rick Rubin. They were quickly signed to Columbia Records and went on from their to record their debut album.

Now, at this point, the LA metal act was comprised of four members: Serj (lead vocals), Daron (lead guitar), Shavo (bass guitar and rhythm guitar) and John (drums, percussion). They were all Armenian-American, and they soon incorporated some unique Middle Eastern folk into their metal acts. However, System of a Down has always objected to being typecasted as "an Armenian metal band," because they were an American metal band who just happened to be of Armenian descent. Most of their material is derived from thrash acts like Slayer and Anthrax, not Armenian music.


Up next: the eponymous of eponymous debuts.
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Old 08-03-2008, 07:44 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Always Great to see another discog thread. I hope you'll include Serj's solo album and the upcoming side project eventually. Looking forward to comparing your opinions on the album and more insightful notes and history.
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Old 08-03-2008, 08:19 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Thanks, and I will make sure to cover Serj's album. You should check out Scars On Broadway's debut, for the time being. It's very good.
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Old 08-04-2008, 12:35 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Well done. They're definately in my top ten.
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Old 08-04-2008, 06:40 PM   #5 (permalink)
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nice band and yeah, their music was always a bit out there,if you know what I mean. By the way, that is a lot of info, some I did not even know until I read your review!
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Old 08-04-2008, 09:27 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Default "Open your eyes, open your mouths, close your hands and make a fist."

Debut of a Titan



System of a Down (1998)
Suite-Pee
Know
Sugar
Suggestions
Spiders
DDevil
Soil
War?
Mind
Peephole
CUBErt
Darts
P.L.U.C.K.

For the majority of people living outside Los Angeles (and the majority of people living in Los Angeles too), System of a Down’s debut album was a huge surprise. It was well publicized and critically reviewed thanks in part to Rick Rubin’s involvement in production of the album. For the majority of listeners (metalheads included), System of a Down was a welcome reprieve. Up until this period, thrash was still the dominant metal genre, and was to be for some time. System provided a huge breath of fresh air with their debut album, impressing metal fans with their unflattering scratchy riffs and varying levels of fetus-deafening vocals. Two singles from the album, “Sugar” and “Spiders,” saw significant radio play. System of a Down was a success both commercially and critically, and showcased a level of metal-heaviness that was unparalleled by any of their subsequent albums.

The album opens with a scratchy lick in “Suite-Pee” and rebounds with a trademark System thrash riff. From the beginning, the listener is introduced to Serj Tankian’s bifurcated vocals: light and melodic at first and escalating to a heart throbbing wail punctured by animalian screams. The album progresses in vigor when John Dolmayan’s chaotic intensity is displayed in full effect thereafter in "Know." Distortion and feedback on Daron Malakian’s lead guitar provides a chilling atmospheric sound while Serj delivers howls of self-righteous malice. Transitions between melodic and metallic riffs leave the listener refreshed. The vocals get increasingly more tortured with the presence of Serj’s nasal-infused urgence. The sudden appearance of sheer metal soon resounds. “Sugar”s incredible intensity and melodic structure leave the listener agog, and the coda at the end attests its power.

Upon the appearance of “Suggestions,” we are first introduced to System’s unabashed melodic nature. This is the first among many treasures of Middle Eastern folk found in System’s music. But the song doesn’t lend itself to being weak. After the intro and verse, the song collapses into a structured thrash riffs at the chorus. Daron’s guitar sings at the bridge, offering a haunting composition. The real gem of the album, “Spiders,” follows, introducing a System that none expected. It is structured around a small fingerpicking riff delivered by Daron, but builds with intensity upon Serj’s powerful vocals and dark lyrics.

Quote:
The piercing radiant moon,
The storming of poor June,
All the life running through her hair,
Approaching guiding light,
Our shallow years in fright,
Dreams are made winding through my head.

Thereafter, the album regresses into more thrash-oriented rock. "DDevil" brings strength into the album with its twisted lyrics and booming double bass intro. In “Soil,” System pays homage to a band that once was. The vocal breaks in the song forecast future works like “Psycho” (Toxicity), while one of the earliest solos of Daron (a particularly good one) foreshadows the genius that was to come. Towards the end of the song, Serj explodes with emotion with his moribund inquiry:

“WHY THE FUCK DID YOU TAKE HIM AWAY FROM US, YOU MOTHERFUCKERS?”

The album grows darker in “War?” when System questions the genocide of their Armenian ancestors. Finally, System of a Down breaches the banal structure of their normal songs in “Mind.” A small bass intro provided by Shavo Odadjian with whispered vocals ascends to a mind-scattering exploration of one’s most inner thoughts. Throughout the song, there are sparse quiet moments that interrupt the otherwise incendiary music. Then, the album grows frightening in “Peephole,” a revelation into System’s progressive exploits, with the repeated question, “don’t you ever get stuck in the sky?” Afterwards, the double bass schedule resumes in “CUBErt,” which frankly doesn’t bring anything new to the album. However, this modest disappointment is redeemed by the following track, “Darts,” which draws the listener in with its hypnotic bass and beats the living shit out of his ears with Serj’s apocalyptic growls. The last track on the album, “P.L.U.C.K.,” may be the heaviest of the album. Intervening periods of silence and screams open it, followed by an attractive riff. The verse is melodic, the first chorus enormously heavy, but the second, the second chorus is chilling. One of the only tracks on the album where Daron provides backup vocals effectively seals one of the most chaotic metal albums ever:

Quote:
The plan was mastered and called Genocide
Took all the children and then we died,
The few that remained were never found,
All in a system, Down.
System of a Down brought so much to the table with their self-titled album. Heavy riffs, growling vocals, and intervening instances of melodies: it was all there. There was too much contained in this album to categorize it as any particular genre of metal, a fate that System has had to suffer for years. They were so off-the-cusp, so unique, and to pigeonhole them as any particular label is ignorant and insulting to what they accomplished. This album remains a mainstay of modern metal because of its huge impact – not upon other bands, but upon SOAD themselves. They never were as heavy on any other album, but that is a fact that I relish, not regret. System of a Down grew and developed into a completely different entity by their last album.

During this time, System became well-known to metal-maniacs, but still relatively unknown to the general public. They toured extensively with their predecessor and idol Slayer following the album’s debut. They also performed at Ozzfest, which drew a great number of metal fans to their unique brand of metal. It was following this that System went back to the studio in preparation for their next (and perhaps most widely recognized) musical feat: Toxicity.
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Old 08-04-2008, 11:04 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Ozzfest System late 1990's was epic. "Spiders" remains an epic tack and among my top five favs of theirs. Strong, creative review; cool to see all the personal styles of review everyone does here.

Overall I was a bit disappointed with the album revisiting it; a lot of good songs but few that made me want to hear them again and again. Still when I first heard SOAD you're dead on saying they were "a breath of fresh air" their melodic and eclectic nature makes them endlessly entertaining and their classical and professional training coupled with passionate dedication make them a band worth celebrating, so glad you took a chance and started this thread.
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Old 08-05-2008, 03:38 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Great reviews. The only I have heard (and own) by SOAD is the obvious: Toxicity and there is some great work on there. I may check out their debut some time.
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Old 08-05-2008, 03:44 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by JayJamJah View Post
Ozzfest System late 1990's was epic. "Spiders" remains an epic tack and among my top five favs of theirs. Strong, creative review; cool to see all the personal styles of review everyone does here.

Overall I was a bit disappointed with the album revisiting it; a lot of good songs but few that made me want to hear them again and again. Still when I first heard SOAD you're dead on saying they were "a breath of fresh air" their melodic and eclectic nature makes them endlessly entertaining and their classical and professional training coupled with passionate dedication make them a band worth celebrating, so glad you took a chance and started this thread.
Thirded, they're one of those great bands who have their own unique sound that anyone would find difficult to replicate.
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Old 08-05-2008, 01:50 PM   #10 (permalink)
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This thread is deemed good enough to make it into Editor's Picks. Keep it up.
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