Feb 15 2009
Albums of the Aughts No. 7: "Toxicity" by System of Down makes "Chop
Suey" of metal conventions
by Bill Chapin February 15, 2009 05:00AM
Categories: Albums of the Aughts, MLive Entertainment, MLive Music
Every Sunday, I’ll be posting an entry in my Albums of the Aughts
series, highlighting 50 great or near-great albums released since
Jan. 1, 2000. Read more about the series in my initial post.
7. "Toxicity," System of a Down
Released: Sept. 4, 2001
For folks who …
want to fly their freak flag, rage against the machine and bang their
would maybe be more into heavy metal if the bands would simply throw a
little melody in among those brutal beats and guttural growls.
need proof that even the most embarrassing of musical movements ‘ in
this case nu metal ‘ can produce a masterpiece.
The backstory: This is, for better or worse, what America was
listening to when the planes hit the twin towers on
Sept. 11. "Toxicity" was the No. 1 album in the country that week.
The fact that such a discomforting album endured during a time when
all people wanted was a little comfort, that its revolutionary
politics didn’t turn everyone off during a period of intense
patriotism, that its lead single cracked the Billboard Hot 100 despite
a chorus that spoke of "self-righteous suicide" that got it pulled
from radio station playlists ‘ it all points to, I think, the power of
the music. There’s nothing weak about "Toxicity," and maybe Americans
were looking for that, too.
Founded by a quartet of Armenian Americans from Southern California,
System of a Down had been developing a cult following since their 1998
debut. With omnipresent producer Rick Ruben at the sound board, they
recorded and released their follow-up just as the nu metal wave was
cresting and crashing into a sea of Limp Bizkit jokes. "Toxicity" may
have even played a role in that, since just by comparison it made
their contemporaries’ work look juvenile.
System of a Down followed with the conjoined albums "Mezmerize" and
"Hypnotize," both of which made good use of the formula (thrash metal
hyperactivity + Eastern European harmonies + Dada-esque weirdness =
win) established by "Toxicity." Since 2006 the band has been in hiatus
limbo, with members working on separate projects and hinting they’ll
maybe reunite when the time is right.
My two cents: I remember being terrified by the video for "Chop Suey!"
in general and Daron Malakian’s body art in particular. Being a nerdy
wuss, my gut reaction to anything with a double kick drum was to run
and hide, but I couldn’t get over those beautiful harmonies in the
chorus. I didn’t hear the rest of "Toxicity" until after SOAD had
already won me over with "Mezmerize," but it cemeted their status as
my favorite metal band.
Someone else probably said it better: " … Co-songwriters Daron
Malakian and Serj Tankain sound like are the bastard children of Frank
Zappa and Slayer. … When a band takes this many left turns, you’d
expect them to start going in circles sooner rather than later, but
this is not the case with System of a Down. Hands down one of 2001’s
top metal releases, Toxicity may well prove to be a lasting heavy
metal classic to boot." ‘ Ed Rivadavia for All Music Guide
Moment that kills me every time: Whenever Serj Tankian spouts some
knowledge in "Prison Song," especially: "Drug money is used to rig
elections and train brutal corporate sponsored dictators around the
world!" It’s really the way that he says it, racing to cram it all in
before the chorus and tossing off the last three words with indignant
goofiness. Very few people can pull of indignant goofiness. Serj is
one of them.
If you listen to just one track, make sure it’s … : "Chop Suey!"
(although all three singles from this album are pretty accessible).