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[COLUMN] HEAVY ROOTS

System of a Down is an iconic alternative metal group which can trace its roots back to Armenia from 1994. Fronted by Serj Tankian‘s unique voice, dealing with everything from police brutality to the Armenian Genocide of 1915 in his lyrics. SOAD are the band with a voice that must be heard.

Serj attended Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School in Hollywood where he met guitarist Daron Malakian. Soil was formed with Tankian on vocals and keyboards and Malakian on guitarShavo Odadjian, who also attended the school initially managed the band and later joined as lead guitarist. Around this time Dave Hakopyan played bass with Domingo “Dingo” Laranio on drums.

Hakopyan and Laranio left the band, feeling they weren’t going anywhere and Soil split in 1994. A number of demos were recorded as System Of A Down, comprising of Tankian, with Odadjian moving to bass and Malakian on guitar. Laranio was replaced by Ontronik “Andy” Khachaturian, who had played in Snowblind with Malakian in their teens. Khachaturian later left the band due to a hand injury and went on to form alternative rockers The Apex Theory, with former Soil bassist, Hakopyan. The band are now known as Mt Helium.

Drummer John Dolmayan replaced Khachaturian in 1997, with the band catching the eye of producer Rick Ruben at a gig at the Whiskey-A-G0-Go and Viper Room. 

The rest was history and in 1998 the band’s debut was produced by Rick Rubin on his very own American Recordings, home of Slayer. The album was mastered by Sylvia Massy, known for her work with Tool. One of the album’s singles, Spiders haunted many fans with its solemn bass intro and unique voice of Tankian. This was like nothing metal fans had heard before.

Shortly after SOAD toured opening for Slayer and Metallica. The band also played on the Second Stage at the Ozzfest and later headlined the Sno-Core Tour with Puya and Mr Bungle with Incubus as one of the supports. SOAD featured on the South Park: Chef Aid album and also covered Black Sabbath‘s Snowblind on the Nativity in Black 2 Compilation. The sky was the limit for the band and Toxicity (2001) put the band in the spotlight, eventually being certified triple-platinum. Lead single Chop Suey was a controversial hit, containing lyrics some felt alluded to suicide bombers around the time of September 11. The name was changed from its original title, Suicide due to this.

Steal This Album! (2002) featured demos such as Chic ‘N Stu that dated back to 1995 and other B-sides that were spruced up and mastered with Rubin and Malakian producing. The band were disappointed that fans had been downloading unfinished tracks and poor quality recordings so they came up with the title Steal This Album! due to the fact fans wouldn’t get a chance to hear the final masters til the albums release. Featuring the political anthem Boom!, the single Innervision and crowd favourite Mr Jack.

In 2003 Tankian collaborated with fellow Armenian, Arto Tunçboyacıyan,  a folk multi-instrumentalist who featured on the track Science off Toxicity record. The project went by the name of Serart and the album was the first record to be released on Tankian‘s very own label, Serjical Strike records. 

Tankian signed a number of bands to his label, notably the quirky Bad Acid Trip who Serj praises below discussing his label and other bands he has signed. Serj also featured on Buckethead‘s 14th studio album, Enter the Chicken in 2005. Dirk Rogers, vocalist of Bad Acid Trip and bassist Keith Aazami also featured on the album.

2005 saw the last recordings for SOAD with both the Mezmerize and Hypnotize albums. Vocals provided by Malakian featured heavily on these records harmonising with Tankian. Hits such as B.Y.O.B, Cigaro, Radio/Video and Question! featured on Mezmerize while Hypnotize gave us the likes of Kill Rock ‘N Roll and Lonely Day.

The band officially went on hiatus in 2006. Odadjian then collaborated on a project with Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA known as AcHoZeN and featured on the Babylon A.D. Soundtrack. In 2007 Tankian released his first solo record, Elect The Dead featuring musicians including Brain from Primus and fellow SOAD member Dolmayan on drums. Between 2007 and 2009 Tankian played with his live band The Flying Cunts of Chaos, which once featured Larry “Ler” LaLonde of Primus on guitar.

Malakian went on to form Scars on Broadway and released a self-titled album in 2008. Malakian featured on vocals, guitars, bass and keyboards and Dolmayan joined him on drums.

The Elect The Dead Symphony recorded in 2010 brought the release of Tankian‘s second solo record, Imperfect Harmonies. 2012 also saw the release of Haraki and the follow-up Orca Symphony 1 in 2013.

In 2013 Tankian released a jazz fusion record going by the Jazz-Iz-Christ moniker. Someone who has never really listened to the genre may find themselves quite impressed with the many talents of this great musician.

The good news is that the band reunited in 2010 and have been on the live circuit. Even better news is that recently the band has been in the studio. Let’s hope they will be releasing new material and we may get a taste of it as the band is set to play European Festivals in 2017, headlining Download Festival. Better still if they make that trek Down Under, as there are many SOAD fans out there awaiting the band’s return. Till then we will fight The heathens!

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