Guitar World (September 2001 issue): What guitarists have been most inspirational to you?
Daron Malakian: Dave Murray of Iron Maiden and Randy Rhoads. The thing about Maiden’s solos was they were melodic, tasteful and easier to play than Yngwie Malmsteen’s. But as much as I loved Randy Rhoads or Eddie Van Halen when I was young, I still never wanted to play like them. I always wanted to play like myself.
The answer made me depart with $20 for the “Toxicity” album. But System Of A Down took me a while to get into.
This band is capable of delivering whacked out but accessible instrumental passages, enormous riffs and bone shaking grooves, augmented by a vocalist with a style which is hard to describe.
“Toxicity” came out in September 2001 with Rick Rubin overseeing the production. The terror attacks couldn’t stop the album from selling and going Platinum within 2 weeks in the U.S.
In Australia, we made it 5x platinum. It was basically huge.
Let’s start with my favourites.
I call it “Whisper A Prayer For The Dying” as the clean tone arpeggio riff in dropped D reminds me of the Coverdale/Page song. This familiarity made it a favourite straight away.
Hang around until the 2.30 minute mark, when that intro riff is played with power chords and Serj starts singing “Aerials, in the sky”. It’s powerful and a sing along.
Aerials in the sky
When you lose small mind
You free your life
The power of the music and the drumming.
Serj is again delivering a killer vocal.
Conversion, software version 7.0
Looking at life through the eyes of a tire hub
How can you not like it?
No one was writing shit like this.
At the 2.40 minute mark, this Iron Maiden like riff comes in, which they then jam on.
It opens with an acoustic guitar strummed riff, then the drums come in and a Spanish flamenco like feel is created. Then the madness starts when the distortion riff kicks in.
And the verses.
The way the vocal line is delivered, it just doesn’t make sense. Then the pre chorus kicks in and it’s all melodic and somehow it all hangs together.
But it’s a song about suicide and they are trying to capture the frantic killer thought process about putting on your make up and leaving the keys on the table.
But the outro.
Serj is nailing those melodies and when you think he couldn’t get higher, he goes higher. And Malakian is there as well, harmonizing. At 3.27, it ends. So I pressed repeat on my CD player just to hear it again.
And now for the rest.
It’s the opening track.
It has clean tone singing, rapping, death metal growls, high pitched falsetto funk and talking. They cover so much ground with this song.
They’re trying to build a prison for you and me
The private prison system needs inmates, so there are people doing time for minor drug offenses instead of being treated for their addictions.
Serj always writes about politics and this is basically a song on the three strikes law. The three-strikes law significantly increases the prison sentences of persons convicted of a felony who have been previously been convicted.
I usually skip it.
Then again just listen to it, as the lyrics talk about pulling a tapeworm out of your arse.
Which Serj has explained is symbolism for releasing yourself from the toxic control of society.
This is what SOAD is about. Weirdness and still making it sound like a rock or metal song. At some stages it sounds like a Rammstein cut, with weird vocal lines.
Then at 1.41, this palm muted riff kicks in, and a vocal line from Serj which is catchy.
The way the music sounds, if you play it with clarinets and accordions, it sounds like an Eastern European folk dance.
But in this case it’s all distorted and Serj’s manic vocal line brings a crazed intensity about wiring eyes of a horse on a jet pilot while he flew over the bay.
It’s less than 2 minutes long. Actually the majority of the songs are short. It’s like SOAD knew that streaming is on its way and having shorter songs means that you get paid more.
For example, you still the same cents if the song is 2 minutes or 4 minutes or 8 minutes long. The only difference is that 2 minute song can be played a lot more within the hour than the 4 minute or 8 minute song.
Then again they did mention that The Beatles songs structures played a huge part in condensing these songs . And if you look at the times of The Beatles songs, most are under 3 minutes.
A song about a pogo stick and orgies.
And Disney had no idea on the content when they used it for the family-friendly animated film “The Secret Life of Pets”.
It’s got this Dio “Gates Of Babylon” vocal melody when Serj sings “Why can’t you see that you are my child / Why don’t you know that you are my mind”.
It’s melodic and heavy and the vocals are chaos personified.
The riffs in this song are excellent, hard rock like.
And the vocal melody is hypnotic, about science failing the Earth and the people and how letting the reigns go is what faith is about, not control.
Make sure you stick around to the 1.40 mark. That whole exotic feel.
It’s like classical and punk which rhymes education and fornication and indoctrination with nation.
It movies between aggression and melody.
Like the lyrics which go “Psycho, groupie, cocaine, crazy”.
An instrumental using traditional Armenian instruments.
Check out the first three songs I mentioned and if you like then go deep and pull out that tapeworm.