Noticed for their discrete styles of dress and goatees, System of a Down presumably stands out in being one of the most unique bands in American music industry. What is more, all four members, who are of Armenian descent, also exploit a wide range of musical appliance which enriches the tunes they have created. Using baritone electric guitars, electric mandolins, sitars, 12-string classical guitars and many other East Asian instruments, they consistently produce unusual compositions about political corruption and injustices that occur in the society.
It was in 1993 when Serj Tankian (born on August 21, 1967 in Beirut, Lebanon) made an acquaintance of another band's member named Daron Malakian (born on July 18, 1975 in L.A., California) during the recording sessions with his former band in a studio. Sharing similar ideas on music, these two talented young men quickly joined forces, thus formed their own band which they called Soil. As both of them befriended a student of private Armenian school in Hollywood named Shavarsh 'Shavo' Odadjian (born on April 22, 1974 in Armenia), they asked him to be the band's manager. After a brief period, however, his status was shifted from that position to the third member of the group.
With Serj in the vocal as well as keyboard, Daron in guitar, Shavo in bass, and later Andy Khachaturian in drum, Soil continued to perform at local clubs while also started to gain more attention which largely was based on strong word of mouth. A great opportunity struck the band during their show at Viper Room in Hollywood as CEO of Maverick Records, Guy Oseary, taking along his friend, Rick Rubin of American Recordings, to the club. Upon witnessing Soil's performance, Rubin got deeply impressed, therefore offered the band a record deal under his label. He afterwards helped the personnel to find a new drummer, replacing Khachaturian who was fired due to the constant disagreements with the other members. John Dolmayan (born on July 15, 1973 in Lebanon) then was appointed to take the seat.
Looking for a new name for the band, they came up with “System of a Down” after Daron brought out his poem entitled “Victims of a Down” to the other members. This term was based on the idea that if people do not take any actions to make things better, they will lose their feelings and become more animal-like, turning the world into total devastation. However, the true meaning of the name has been left open to everyone's interpretation, as Serj has said: “It means different things to different people. That's the beauty of it. It's like putting art up on a wall, and going, 'what do you think of it?' It's many different things, on a personal, a political level.”
By summer 1998, System of a Down released their debut album which was a self-titled one. Containing unique sound blended with strong voices on social, political and religious issues, this piece of work yielded a moderate success for the band. It went number one on Billboard Heartseeker while two of its songs called “Sugar” and “Spiders” smoothly entered the top 40 of Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. As the band's popularity slowly flourished, they were chosen to be the opening act for Slayer besides participated on Ozzfest tours before returning to the recording studio in late 2000. Exceptionally infused with rare originality, including angular riffs, jagged rhythms, and oblique lyrics, “Toxicity” came up on September 4, 2001.
Through “Toxicity,” System of a Down encountered their big break as the album was hugely praised by both critics and music listeners. This resulted to the tremendous sale of the album which reached more than 6.5 million copies worldwide, going multi Platinum in some countries. Furthermore, it also soared to the top spot of Canadian and American charts, particularly The Billboard 200. Some of its hit tracks, such as "Toxicity", "Aerials", and "Chop Suey!" even received incredible amount of national airplay throughout late 2001 and 2002 despite the controversy over the latter song due to the 9/11 attacks. This fabulous attainment unquestionably made System of a Down one of the renowned bands in the world.
Even though some of the members were busy with their side projects, for instance Daron with his record label eatURmusic and Serj with Serjical Strike Records also Serart project, the band continued releasing their next work, “Steal This Album!” on November 22, 2002. A collection of tunes which had already been recorded but did not fit in the previous two albums, it resulted very well although could not surpass the massive success of “Toxicity.” After a three-year hiatus, System of a Down returned with “Mezmerize” on May 16, 2005. It was actually only a half part of the dual CD “Mezmerize/Hypnotize” of which another part has been planned to be released in November of the same year. Even so, this first part scored brilliantly, selling 800,000 copies just in a week while also taking number one slot on The Billboard 200.
Following this magnificent accomplishment, the band embarked on their European tour, and then joined a benefit concert, Amnesty International's VIP Ticket Package Auction, which ended in August 2005. They afterwards held their major U.S. tour with special guests The Mars Volta, beginning at DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts. Regardless of their success, there is a dispute concerning the band's music genre whether it is a nu metal band or simply a heavy metal one. Some fans and media tend to consider System of a Down as nu metal band since it exhibits some nu metal traits, however, the others argue that the band does not include any rapping or turntables used to find in the characteristic of nu metal group. As this debate has not been settled yet, System of a Down is therefore modestly addressed as an alternative metal band.