10 bands who wouldn’t be here without System Of A Down
There are, broadly, two types of musician who have been inspired by System Of A Down. The first are those who have absorbed something of the Californians’ own musical DNA. To be fair, there aren’t too many bands mixing up thrashy nu-metal with Armenian folk motifs, and what guitarist Daron Malakian once memorably described to Kerrang! as SOAD’s ‘quacky’ elements – those off-the-wall bits where the guitars squonk out or Serj Tankian performs bizarre vocal back-flips. There are, though, plenty who have taken that combination of aggression, invention and fiery polemic and ran with it.
Then there are the artists who were at just the right age to be swept up by their huge popularity. At the turn of the century, System were just about the biggest metal band in the world, with Toxicity hitting the Number One spot in the U.S. charts in 2001. For many people, System Of A Down were their gateway into the world of heavy music, and there are plenty of bands who might not be here without them. Like this lot…
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes
Frank Carter is probably in the latter of the two camps mentioned above, although you can see some shades of System in the sinuous weaves of The Rattlesnakes if you squint, and the barely controlled chaos of Gallows before that. “I saw them in 1998 at the Astoria in London, and there was a crazy stage invasion,” Frank told us. “I remember being in front of Shavo [Odadjian, bass] the whole gig and vividly recall them playing [Sugar] and thinking,‘Okay, this is what I want to do.’ I actually wanted to be a bass player, but that didn’t really work out. I’m still trying to be a bass player. But I loved System; they really broke free and did something different, they were so wild, free-spirited and there was real complexity in the lyrics.”
Maximum The Hormone
Maximum The Hormone formed in Tokyo in 1998, the year System’s self-titled debut album was released, and are frequently described as the Japanese System Of A Down. If you’ve never dipped into them before, expect an experimental blitz of genres and sounds, including nu-metal, rap, pop, funk and even ska. They’re seriously weird and seriously good.
Portrayal Of Guilt
System’s reach extends beyond metal into hardcore, screamo and more. “System Of A Down is another one of those bands that got a ton of kids into metal just because of how popular Toxicity was, and although I like that record a lot, this is the one that really got me hooked on them as a child,” Portrayal Of Guilt drummer and founding member James Beveridge told Decibel of SOAD’s eponymous debut album. Taking guitar lessons as a kid, he pressured the teacher to show him the riff from Sugar. “Because it was so easy, I decided I didn’t need lessons anymore and I never went back,” he added. “Turns out not every band can make a sick song out of simple riffs like that. Big mistake on my end, I guess.”
Another youngster at just the right stage of life to be steamrolled by System’s all-pervasive presence was Caleb Shomo. “Ozzfest was the first show I went to, although I can’t remember what year it was,” he told us. “System Of A Down were headlining, and that was my introduction to metal in a live setting. Avenged Sevenfold and Disturbed were also on the bill, but my main memory is of seeing Chop Suey! live, and it being one of the loudest crowd participation occurrences I’d ever heard. That shit was super-inspiring to me.”
Bad Acid Trip
Bad Acid Trip actually formed before System Of A Down, but they’ve certainly benefited from the much larger band’s support. SOAD have taken them out on tour, Daron produced their album Lynch The Weirdo and they’re currently signed to Serj’s Serjical Strike label. The System singer started his label as a sanctuary for the strange or, as he put it, “to create an oasis of diversity and uniqueness within the industry where fans of all music can find sanctuary and solace from the drab, carbon-copy musical plagues that sweep through commercial culture”. Bad Acid Trip certainly fit the bill, with a mainstream-unfriendly mix of powerviolence and avant-garde oddness.
Fellow hardcore monsters ACxDC also took early inspiration from SOAD, especially in terms of the Californian band’s intelligent, involved and fiery political messaging. “People consider it nu-metal and use that term disparagingly, but it’s a killer record that really shouldn’t be lumped in with the likes of Mudvayne or Mushroomhead or Trapt,” frontman Sergio Amalfitano told Decibel of SOAD’s game-changing debut. “It’s basically a more mainstream Bad Acid Trip. The lyrical content… absolutely influenced my politics, and probably a whole generation’s. No other band sounds like them or ever will.”
Noise-drenched metallic hardcore types American Standards also deliver politically-charged lyrics tackling corporate greed, media manipulation and more, with System Of A Down once again a formative influence. Vocalist Brandon Kellum told The New Fury that he was a “young angsty teenager” when System released their debut album in 1998. “My father had just given me a guitar for Christmas and I quickly picked up on reading tabs over traditional notes,” he added. “That coupled with the discovery of a good down tuning and bar chord was a recipe for disaster. After I had a few SOAD songs under my belt, I felt fully confident that I didn’t have a thing left to learn before I started my first band.”
System Of A Down did bring that unique mix of heavy and weird to the mainstream, though, and it had a profound effect on a lot of people. Avenged Sevenfold were another band in their nascent stages when SOAD broke massive. “I remember when [Chop Suey!] got played on KROQ for the first time. We were trying to catch it, trying to make a tape of it, trying to record it in the car, because there wasn’t any music on the internet yet, and the record wasn’t out yet,” frontman M. Shadows told Revolver. “It just blew our minds. We couldn’t believe that something like that was getting played on the radio. We were like, ‘What is this? It’s the craziest song we’ve ever heard!’ And it totally opened our minds to the idea that you can do things that are very different and still make them palatable to people, in a mainstream sense.”
Swedish gods Meshuggah are generally considered to be the progenitors of djent. For TesseracT frontman Daniel Tomkins, SikTh had the biggest impact, but as in so many cases, it was SOAD who opened the gateway that led down his particular rabbit hole. “I got into SikTh on the back of liking System Of A Down,” he told Music Radar. Speaking of System’s debut album he added, “It possessed me. I loved how heavy it was with one guitar, a bassist, a drummer and a singer with no effects on his voice. It made no sense but it did, if that makes sense?”
VIZA are another band signed to Serjical Strike who have been championed by Mr. Tankian. The singer has taken them on tour, made a guest vocal appearance on the track Viktor and had a hand in their management early on. Their mix of driving rock and metal with a huge dose of Armenian, Greek and middle eastern folk music is also very reminiscent of System, although VIZA can be closer to a folk band with metal elements rather than vice versa.
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