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by System of a Down

Released September 4, 2001 via American Recordings / Columbia Records

Reviewed September 2, 2021

Top tracks (based on community voting)
Chop Suey! (62%), Toxicity (56%), Prison Song (25%)

At the turn of the century, nu metal was reaching its peak influence and popularity. As the genre began to oversaturate the mainstream, System of A Down’s 2001 release, Toxicity, redefined its boundaries and placed the Armenian-American band in a class of their own creatively. Building upon the sound of their 1998 self-titled debut, System of A Down crafts an unprecedented mixture of melody, harmony, and blistering aggression. The intensity heard on their debut is kept fully intact; Serj Tankian’s vocals demand your attention, Daron Malakian’s guitar work is as jerky and gripping as ever, while the rhythm work of Shavo Odadjian (bass) and John Dolmayan (drums) is as subtly groovy as it is undeniably brutal. Opting for more freeform song structures and the use of instruments not traditionally used in heavy metal—including sitar, banjo, and piano—the band frequently juxtaposes heavy, high-intensity sections with softer and more tasteful divisions. These contrasts give Toxicity a shifty sound that owes as much to progressive rock and Armenian folk music as it does heavy metal. And with the pairing of Tankian and Malakian both providing vocals, Toxicity has a blend of brooding growls, hysterical spoken-word, and impassioned, melodic singing. This frequent shifting of delivery allows System of A Down to approach a wide array of topics from many angles; few artists could ever touch upon social and political issues mass incarceration/the prison industrial complex, police brutality, climate change, and drug addiction on the same record that has songs about cocaine-loving groupies and orgies. And none of them could ever do it this well. – Dominick (9.5/10)

After a solid debut just three years prior, Armenian-American metal band System of A Down cemented their unique sound on their sophomore project, Toxicity. The contrast this album provides is what truly makes this project standout. Between typical metal moments of hardcore, thumping drums, screeching vocals, more delicate guitar, you’ll find banjo plucking, pianos, and soft vocal harmonies that show just how much range a metal project can have, both sonically and thematically. By the time Toxicity hit shelves, nu metal seemed to have accomplished all that it could in the mainstream. However, with the clear cultural influence from Armenian music and the maintaining of the bare bones of a nu metal project, System of A Down flipped the entire industry on its head. This album is jam packed with banger after banger. Providing commentary on everything from social justice issues, addiction, and incarceration, to group sex, this project offered a fresh take on topics that have and may always plague our communities—both domestically and abroad—while also keeping some of the sleaze that nu metal is often associated with. Toxicity renders itself as a classic, and with iconic record producer Rick Rubin in tow on production, it's no wonder this album has stood the test of time. – Pablo (9/10)

Toxicity, System of A Down's sophomore project, treads the line between political problems and social woes; themes of addiction, police brutality and mass incarceration, are fought and thought head on. Many bands that exist upon the mainstream plane generally stick to 'go with the flow' material—don't question the norm as there's a reason as to why it's the norm, this is the way that life is supposed to be. Serj Tankian and his SOAD comrades devote their being to shining a light on society's darkest corners. Embracing the potential for backlash has always resulted in fiery material, and Toxicity is no different. 20 years on and its message is still as powerful as ever. Time has moved on, but ultimately things remain the same. The power of Toxicity resides in its transparency and timeless power through commentary of society's intrinsic and somewhat never-ending battles. – Peter (8/10)

Hadley: 10/10 | Daniel: 9.5/10 | Dominick: 9.5/10 | Pablo: 9/10 | Victoria: 8.7/10

DeVán: 8.5/10 | Jared: 8.5/10 | Peter: 8/10 | Cam: 7.8/10


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