In 2001, one Armenian American heavy-metal band conquered the charts regardless of infighting, a riot, and a ban that maintained them off major radio stations adhering to 9/11. Twenty years later, system of a down and rather look kembali on a career-defining album.

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After almost three years of touring behind milik mereka self-titled debut, device of a turun was prepared to provide the tendency a wake-up call. In autumn 2000, the hefty rockers top home—a rehearsal room in utara Hollywood dubbed The Alley—to job-related on what would become dari mereka masterpiece, Toxicity.

System the a dibawah had grown from neighborhood heroes selling out mirrors on the Sunset strip to the most-buzzed-about pita across the country. Prime slots on Ozzfest ‘98 and ‘99 alongside metal gods like black Sabbath, Tool, and Deftones didn’t hurt. Nu metal’s popularity was near its peak, and ketika System the a down was tossed right into that category, the band was a berbeda beast: lock painted their faces, menjadi influenced by Slayer, and also proudly sang about milik mereka Armenian heritage. The very first time well known producer rick Rubin observed the tape perform in former of a sold-out kawanan at the Viper Room in 1997, he couldn’t contain his excitement.

“They make me laugh,” Rubin says, pointing out the band’s mix that Armenian individual dancing and heavy guitar riffs. “They go out my mind. They menjadi unlike any type of hard batu or metal band I had seen previously.”

Though Rubin signed the pita to his label, American Recordings, it’s difficult to error him for his early reaction. Bawa pulang the band’s an initial single, “Sugar,” which mixes jazz-style drums and Cookie Monster growls about “Kombucha mushroom people” that combusts into frontman Serj Tankian manically yelling, “How do I feel? maafkan saya do i say? In the end, it all goes away.”


“Sugar” wasn’t precisely a hit, peaking at no. 28 ~ above Billboard’s Mainstream batu chart. A follow-up single, “Spiders,” featured ~ above the Scream 3 soundtrack, got to no. 25. Even without a hit, the self-titled album went yellow by February 2000.

Tankian credits non-saw touring for the band’s rapidly farming following. Even as the album cycle luka down, mechanism of a turun was on the roadway through July 2000 ~ above the Summer Sanitarium Tour through Metallica and also Korn.

After that string that dates, drummer john Dolmayan remembers having to turn down Iron Maiden. He was disappointed, however “it to be time to do the second,” he says. “We had gone as far as we mungkin with the first.”

To prepare for Toxicity, the pita wrote an ext than 40 songs. In feather 2001, the pita went come Cello Studios in Hollywood and recorded nearly all of them. Anticipation flourished as rumors about brand-new material leaked come the press. One tune was reportedly called “K.I.T.T.,” an allusion come the Knight Rider vehicle with satirical lyrics around the show’s star, David Hasselhoff. Lagi song was around pajamas.

If fans menjadi worried around the brand-new direction, guitarist Daron Malakian crushed those concerns when he told MTV that the pita remained heavy. In the exact same breath, the compared lagu like “ATWA” and “Version 7.0” (later change the name “Toxicity”) to Radiohead and also Pink Floyd. As lot as the guitarist was aware of the buzz, he to be hellbent on preventing the second album slump.

“I didn’t desire to do the an initial album part two,” Malakian says. “The sophomore document is something i think people pay fist to. It was essential for us to deliver. I placed a lot of pressure top top myself, which probably made me a small bit difficult to deal with. Yet I felt prefer I had to ambil the bull by the horns.”

Studio time to be fraught through tension. Part arguments were over a solitary word in a lyric. Others turned into hospital visits. ~ above the outside, pan were hanya as impatient. Anticipation boiled over throughout a complimentary show ~ above September 3, 2001, in a parking lot of on Schrader Boulevard. Api marshals shut turun the concert before the pita could permainan a single note. A lytic ensued.

As the band escaped come hotel rooms, castle watched the events unfold across CNN. Helicopters circled the scene, zooming in on police with riot gear and also fans damaging the stage. Dolmayan remembers thinking, “What the fuck?” together he saw people run dibawah Hollywood Boulevard through his drums: “My manager is like, ‘Something big is coming.’”

His manager to be right. In its an initial week, Toxicity sold 220,000 copies. The landed the album in ~ no. 1 top top the Billboard 200 Albums chart. However, celebrations and also upcoming days with Slipknot would be put on hold as the berita of the chart triumph come the exact same day as the September 11 attacks. Days later, in an answer to 9/11, Tankian published an essay called “Understanding Oil” as an effort to understand the attacks as well as confront the unified States’ foreign politik problems—a decision the singer would have actually to protect with the pita internally kemudian publicly top top The Howard Stern Show.

The album’s struggle single, “Chop Suey!”—which consisted of the phrase “self-righteous suicide”—was instantly taken off radio airwaves as component of an notorious list from clean Channel programme directors that felt certain lagu-lagu shouldn’t be played after 9/11. Other lagu-lagu on the list contained P.O.D.’s “Boom,” extraterrestrial Ant Farm’s “Smooth Criminal,” and Phil Collins’s “In the air Tonight.”

That these events happened within a main of each various other was overstimulating to mechanism of a Down’s manager, David Benveniste. An ext confusing was the band’s popularity kelanjutan to rise, Benveniste says: “It all functioned to the band’s favor.”

Toxicity’s singles—“Chop Suey!,” the title track, and “Aerials”—dominated batu charts and also crossed end onto the Billboard warm 100 charts. “Chop Suey!” received a Grammy nomination in 2002 for best Metal Performance. In 2003, the tape received its second Grammy nod, this time for ideal Hard rock Performance through “Aerials.” to date, Toxicity has actually sold virtually 3 juta copies stateside and also 12 juta worldwide.

Twenty year later, the album has actually maintained its status as device of a Down’s magnum opus. Metal Hammer named it the fourth-greatest metal album the the 21st century. Metallica loves it, as melakukan Melanie C of the summer sprouts Girls. A scene from a Nigerian wedding in 2020 walk viral together guests moshed and sang bersama to the judul track.

“That says whatever you must know,” says Sasami Ashworth, a classically trained singer-songwriter who spanned “Toxicity” terakhir year, around the wedding video. “It claims so much that, in a completely different continent, rakyat know the lyrics and are raging come it.”

The years dari Toxicity’s publikasi have to be fraught with publik infighting, an extensive hiatuses, and exhaustion. However, in 2020, system of a turun released the lagu-lagu “Protect the Land” and also “Genocidal Humanoidz.” The first material native the pita in 15 years came in an answer to assaults on the member’s cultural homelands the Artsakh and also Armenia. It’s a preview of apa could have been had the pita not gone on hiatus in 2006.

“It to be all around the development of the band, and I felt favor there was an ext to go when it concerned that,” Malakian says, commenting top top the band’s prolonged break. “That’s the component I’m paling sorry about.”

As Toxicity turns 20, SOAD members and others discuss the occasions that turn Hollywood’s hometown rockers right into one the music’s paling dangerous bands.


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system of a dibawah during a 2001 video shoot in Hollywood picture by L. Cohen/WireImage

Part 1. “Ministry digunakan Drills … I used a Vibrator.”

After mechanism of a down proved themselves on tour through Slayer, Ozzfest, and Metallica, the pita reconvened at milik mereka rehearsal space, locking in songs for what would menjadi Toxicity.

The pita wrote riffs, songs, and also lyrics at home, kemudian showed them to every other throughout rehearsal. When a team of lagu was ready, the band would invite Rubin come hear them. Sebelum recording, Rubin would give his advice. Malakian contrasted the bearded, guru-like producer come a doctor: “I walk to Rick, and also he tells me, ‘Try a couple of these and tell me exactly how they feel.’”

The writing and also recording process generated a ton of material, and also the pita grew “tighter and tougher,” Rubin says. However, they would certainly need more than the producer’s magic to deal with some of their pain.

Rick Rubin (producer): native the beginning, us talked around the keuntungan of over-writing. If you write 4 albums’ precious of material to make one album, every album released functions as a best hits album—the best hits from 4 unreleased albums. The artists who truly love produksi music gain the healthy and balanced process.

Daron Malakian (guitarist): There was a lot of music. I’m not comfortable in a situation when you go into the studio through no material.

John Dolmayan (drummer): We had like 44 songs total.

Serj Tankian (singer): I no feel any pressure other than time pressure. It’s not prefer our very first record was a an excellent hit, together it didn’t have actually much radio play. Though, we developed a solid adhering to from touring it.

Rubin: From the incessant touring, the band’s bermain got tighter and tougher, and Serj grew significantly as a vocalist. Over there is no better boot camp for a band to focus dari mereka skills than playing often in front of people. Also, obtaining to open up for Slayer is a challenge, nearly impossible because that any band to success at—a true gauntlet. The system lads rose to the occasion.

Shavo Odadjian (bassist): Serj wasn’t yes, really a singer before joining device of a Down. He to be a keyboard player. He occurred his style and also sound with us. The sang and also got so lot better. Every one of the sudden, I could see him emotion freer with his voice. The tried things nobody to be doing. Rick really got a kick the end of that.

Tankian: Rick’s production and confidence in us was necessary in our increase as a pita from clubs come the world stage. With the very first record, his manufacturing was based on replication of our live sound. Top top the second, it was much more traditional record techniques.

Odadjian: Daron telah mengambil on that role of guiding things through, and you require that in a band. Daron is way more vital than Rick.

Malakian: i liked songs like “Aerials,” “Toxicity,” and “ATWA” that lugged an development to our sound. The wasn’t hanya about trying to awal mosh pits anymore. Ns was composing open lagu with huge choruses.

Tankian: Thematically, my music and also lyrics selalu expounded on egalitarian principles and/or present of consciousness, particularly on <Toxicity>.

Malakian: There dulu plenty the heavy, hard-hitting songs like “Needles,” but what works is something the you tidak pernah know until you bermain with the band.

Odadjian: I lugged in “Toxicity.” I referred to as it “Version 7.0.” at the time, AOL to be around, and it to be at variation 5.0. I was like, “When this song comes out, it’ll be on version 7.0, and also we’d be telling the future.” Of every the songs, “Toxicity” dropped through the cracks. We didn’t work on it. Ns felt so an excellent about it, and also it wasn’t taken well.

Towards the end of writing material, Daron goes, “Remember the song, ‘Version 7.0’? ns kinda did my thing to it, and here it is.” and also the dude played “Toxicity.” that chopped it up and also said, “Drums should go there, and this and this.” all of the sudden, “Toxicity” was really born. The last song that acquired submitted to be the title track.

Dolmayan: I was trying to karakter out beats. Shavo was ideal in former of me and also wouldn’t avoid talking. Ns was like, “Shavo, provide me a 2nd to shot and come up through something.” He was like, “Why don’t you shot it choose this?” that was bergerak his eight up and also down. Come mock him, ns did maafkan saya I thought he was doing. That beat came out of complete irritation. That was very much just, “Get the fuck out of mine face. Ns going to do this so friend leave.” It came to be one the the win I’m paling known for.


Odadjian: During pre-production, we memikirkan “Aerials” was perfect. Rick was like, “It’s missing something … You understand that riff the goes transparent the song? exactly how come you don’t play that heavy?” The di antara part come out of the bom-bom-bom, that component that blows increase the tune up, and then “Aerials” became that song.

Malakian: I wrote a most that stuff at home, once I to be still living with my parents. There were some lagu that were written top top tour, prefer “Chop Suey!” I composed the opened riff and also pretty lot structured the song ketika we dulu still touring in an RV.

In February 2001, the pita recorded an ext than 30 songs at Cello Studios. An early standout was “Prison Song,” reportedly about Malakian’s quick time in prison after being arrested for web traffic warrants and also marijuana possession.

Sessions menjadi as extreme as the lyrical topic matter, filled through arguments, few of which turned right into brawls. The band wanted to sound as substantial as possible—even if that intended butting heads or resorting to speculative techniques.

Malakian: i went a tiny overboard ~ above Toxicity. We had the huge budget, this persewaan stuff … ns don’t class 12 monitor of etc anymore. Ns was young.

Steve Appleford (journalist): Daron is jernih influenced by Slayer and other excessive metal acts, however he has a selection of how amazing tastes. His favorite tune is “Sailing” by christopher Cross. That sounds ridiculous, yet it states something around his attraction to melody, shading, and also subtlety.

Malakian: You have the right to hear me bermain guitar v a vibrator top top the intro the “Psycho.” It offered the tune a tiny bit of industrial flavor. Ministry tangan kedua drills. I tangan kedua a vibrator. <Laughs> We’ve tidak pernah been shy to be a little wacky.

Tankian: “Bounce” was originally about pajamas, which no fly well v the various other guys. Pajamas aren’t challenging enough, ns guess.

Malakian: The original lyrics menjadi something like, “PJ, PJ, PJ, PJ, Pajamas.”


Rubin: It’s funny in retrospect, however in the moment, band tempers were running high, considering we were all ~ above the same side with the exact same goal that producing and releasing the best work us are capable of. As soon as there is friction, that only method we haven’t gone far enough to deal with the pertanyaan at hand.

Odadjian: There was the “not knowing maafkan saya mood everyone’s walk to it is in in” every night. There to be the psychological facet to it, like, “Here ns go from being on the road, sort of ailing of everything, and now, I have to go kembali to the studio.”

Dolmayan: Writing and also recording wasn’t easy. In the winter, it got a tiny harder. Ns was no the easiest guy to get bersama with at the time.

Malakian: John and also I got into it. We’ve selalu gotten into it with the years. It’s a brotherly love. I think he claimed something about my personal life, and also I was like, “Don’t lug that increase anymore!” He lugged it up again, and also I swung my guitar at him. He swung in ~ me, kemudian an elbow hit mine mouth, and also I took a microphone stand and hit that in the head. That was type of stupid. <Laughs.>

Dolmayan: There may have been a murder that day if 2 other band members didn’t involved that who aid. We were in 2 adjoining hospital beds, getting our stitches. We laughed around it kapan we menjadi in the beds. Would that happen today? No, i’m 49 years old. Ns wouldn’t allow it to acquire to the place.

David Benveniste (manager): apa makes them tremendous is that heat between them. It’s no secret they have inner chaos as does Rage, Aerosmith, and also many of the all-time an excellent bands, however it works. It’s not by design. It is why they’re for this reason powerful: everything is real.

Dolmayan: Maybe was positive for us due to the fact that the mainly after hospitalization, us went in, and “Chop Suey!” and “Toxicity” were completed.


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The pita during a record session picture by J. Shearer/WireImage

Part 2: “Doesn’t Somebody very own That?”

In summer 2001, the pita and Rubin whittled turun the tracklist indigenous the much more than 30 songs recorded for Toxicity. Sony Music’s in-house art director, Brandy Flower, began working on ideas for the album cover.

Pre-Toxicity, Flower remembers device of a turun being a component of “this nu-metal lump v a zillion other bands.” as soon as he heard an development of the band’s sophomore effort, he was shocked.

“It was fucking amazing,” Flower says. “Everybody knew that this was going to punch up. There was a lot of interior anticipation. In ~ a corporate label, the didn’t take place a lot.”

As lot as the album to be a headbanger’s ball, the route to its judul and album cover to be a frustrating interlude.

Brandy Flower (art designer): Each tape member had a different idea of maafkan saya they want for the album cover, and Rick was the fifth tape member. Stack came v a picture of a kawanan from the 1960s at some political protest. It spoke to the energy of the band’s live shows, but I nothing remember the pita liking it.

Odadjian: us tracked all the music in Studio 2. There to be a wooden door with a wood no. 2 ~ above it. I ambil a snapshot of that. Ns was like, “Dude, this 2 looks badass. This is our second record. We have to just panggilan the record ‘2.’” that was the an initial idea.

Flower: Each band member has actually an aesthetic, and they’re every miles apart. Serj was hanya like, “We should get Vartan to carry out the cover. Everyone tahu Vartan.” Daron wanted several of his father’s artwork because that this. Man was this comic book nerd. He more than likely wanted something illustrated.

Odadjian: I to be picking a bunch of names, and nobody was agreeing v it. For part reason, our tape agreed to be unanimous always—so fucked up.

Flower: One that the men working through them, mark Wakefield, had actually designed a web banner—a lo-res photo of the Hollywood sign, yet it said device of a Down. It came to be something the resonated v Shavo.

Odadjian: i walked exterior of Cello Studios and saw the Hollywood sign. Ns ran kembali in, and I was like, “Guys, I acquired it.” I carried them outside and said, “Look … apa if the said mechanism of a Down? We’re from here. This is our hometown. We’re selalu L.A.” the was it.

Flower: The difficulty was Mark’s photo was this blob that pixels. Together I’m trying to recreate this image, the various other bad ide started obtaining traction. Therefore it was like, “We gotta figure this out.”

Odadjian: When the album cover ended up being the Hollywood sign, the arts that goes behind the CD is that 2 top top the door. The puzzle pieces dulu all there. We hanya had to fit castle in the small holes.

Flower: It to be a perfect album cover because it to be something people dulu familiar with, but they do it their own. Yes sir a little bit of rebellion in it. It to be a the majority of Photoshopping hours.

As more details surfaced around Toxicity, the publikasi date was pushed from mid-August to Tuesday, September 4, 2001. Changes were made come the tracklist, too, together the label pushed kembali on the name of the command single, “Suicide.”

“Daron came in and was like, ‘Chop “Suicide” in half—“Chop Suey,”’” Odadjian says. “I to be like, ‘Are girlfriend crazy? Yes, you are. I love that.’”

As decisive as Malakian appeared, he was his own worst critic. “I don’t need anyone come tell me that sucks,” the guitarist says. “I’ll tell friend it sucks.” by the summer the 2001, however, the then-26-year-old couldn’t avoid publik reaction.

Flower: spring back, you mungkin tell just how fruitful this moment was. They created a dobel album, and they want to placed that out, but the merek was like, “You can’t carry out that. You need to put out hanya one album.”

Appleford: once a pita or artist to be finishing one album, they will do invite Rolling Stone or some various other publication to check it out. I went turun to Burbank whereby they were mixing. They telah mengambil me in John’s SUV and also started bermain some songs from Toxicity.

Daron remained in the backseat, and his eyes were getting lebih lebar as we dulu listening. It was an intense endure for the to play this because that someone for the an initial time. Later on, ns asked him about it, and also Daron said, “A lot of rakyat will check out that shit, dude.”

Malakian: I was so concentrated on law my part to deliver. I want to placed out something strong with this band, but I didn’t want to repeat myself. The public, the pressure, the press, and also the exaggeration made me menjadi more that a hermit. I hanya never left mine house.

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Tankian: We tidak pernah had anyone else in psychic but diri when us wrote and recorded.

Dolmayan: The deck was stacked versus us. We dulu not commercially viable. We didn’t to the right the mold. We looked different. We’re Armenian. You surname it. Yet there to be something undeniable around our sound. We were different enough but pop-centric and melodic enough to break v the barriers.

Tankian: Given ours left-of-center music, performance, and inability come fit in, our kesuksesan is still a mystery.