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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. Their sound isn't genre-definable but they sound similar to metal, Alternative Rock, & Progressive Rock, but 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 this year.

The band released five studio albums:

  • System of a Down (1998)
  • Toxicity (2001)
  • Steal This Album! (2002)
  • Mezmerize (2005)
  • Hypnotize (2005)

Their lyrics revolve around themes of isolation, insanity, and criticisms of modern society. Just like Pink Floyd's do. Some of their songs have absurdist lyrics, others are sung as if speaking directly to the listener and feature terse statements & lots of questions/demands.

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 genocide). They are also in favor of drug decriminalization & are strongly anti-war.

Tropes found in their music:

  • Aerith and Bob: Serj, Daron, Shavo and...John.
  • Audience Participation Song: 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 at almost 1 trillion so far.
    • Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz actually estimates the true cost at three trillion.
    • "Prison Song" becomes this live, as does the bridge for "War?"
  • Book Ends: Mesmerize and Hypnotize double-album, the one's outro echoing the other's intro.
    • Hypnotize's lyrics include 'They disguise it, hypnotize it' and 'Mesmerize the simple-minded'.
    • The packaging for both albums interlock as well.
  • Careful with That Axe: Frequently, though mixed with other vocal styles as well. See Soprano and Gravel below.
  • Cross Dresser: "She's Like Heroin"

  "He wants nothing less, but to wear a little dress."

  • Digital Piracy Is Evil: After outtakes from the Toxicity sessions were leaked to the internet as Toxicity II, System of a Down 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 the band 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.
  • Dissonant Serenity: The stylistic disconnect between a frantic verse & a calm chorus ("Chop Suey", "B.Y.O.B.", "Viscinity of Obscenity", "Violent Pornography", among others).
    • The song "Temper" from their second demo is the opposite of this, a relaxed, mid-tempo verse and a brutal grindcore chorus.
  • Everything Is an Instrument: The end-section of "Aerials".
  • Genre Busting: Not just as their musical style (Rock and Roll/Hard Rock/alt rock/alt metal/Progressive Metal/Progressive Rock/Experimental/self-described as 'pop'), but the combination of clearly stated protest & absurdity.
    • They even throw in some Armenian folk riffs into many of their songs, giving them a somewhat Middle Eastern flavor.
    • The Genre Busting probably shouldn't come as any surprise since they've named Frank Zappa as one of their primary influences. Indeed, several critics have compared them to Zappa.
  • Ice Cream Koan: "Aerials", and arguably most of their repertoire.
  • Indecipherable Lyrics: Fast vocal riff for "B.Y.O.B.", large portions of a lot of their more absurdist songs, such as "Vicinity of Obscenity", "Bounce", etc. A lot of their music isn't quite indecipherable, but is quite hard to cipher.
    • Fuck the System, anyone? 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.
      • "WAKE UP! Ragabragamagalaka MAKEUP! Haddaskadafadawraka SHAKE-UP!" Chop Suey certainly is quite strange to listen to before you figure out the high-speed shouting.
  • 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 2 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).
  • Last-Note Nightmare: "Aerials", for one.
  • 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), "Shimmy" (a hard song including lyrics about indoctrination and subjugation, also about wanting to dance all night and not being late for school).
  • Metal Scream
  • 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).
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: Usually about a 7 or 8. Some of their ballads go as low as a 4 or so.
  • N-Word Privileges: Their reworking of "Shame on a N***a".
    • As well as on "Will They Die 4 U?", their collaboration with Mase, Puff Daddy and Lil Kim from the South Park Chef Aid album, where Serj can be heard singing/shouting beginning on the second round of the chorus, while Mase raps it.
  • Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly
  • New Media Are Evil: Steal This Album!
    • However, as noted above this isn't a straight example of the trope, seeing 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".
  • 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.
  • Protest Song: "B.Y.O.B.", "Prison Song", "Deer Dance", "Tentative", ect.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Repeated a few times in "Soil".
  • Riding the Bomb: Music video for "Boom".
  • Rockstar Song: "Radio/Video".
  • Sanity Slippage Song: The last 60 seconds of "Sugar" is a good example of this.
  • Science Is Wrong: "Science has failed our mother Earth."
  • Self-Titled Album: Their debut.
  • The Something Song: "Prison Song" and "Highway Song".
  • Soprano and Gravel: Serj does this all by himself on the first album, going from screeching to clean singing to guttural roars.
  • 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.
  • Unusual Euphemism: The entirety of "Bounce".
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Too many to list, but especially "I-E-A-I-A-I-O", "Vicinity of Obscenity" and "Old School Hollywood".
    • Don't forget Suite Pee, which Daron himself admitted was just a bunch of random lines strung together.