With John Dolmayan having recently talked about why the band hasn’t written a new record in some time, now makes for as good of a time to consider what the band has achieved with each System of a Down album.
While it has been 18 years since the band put out a new record, System of a Down remains one of the biggest bands in mainstream metal. Having formed in 1994, the band came about during the nu metal boom of the ‘90s; although, they are a much different beast compared to their contemporaries.
Comprised of vocalist Serj Tankian, guitarist Daron Malakian, bassist Shavo Odadjian, and drummer John Dolmayan, System of a Down makes for one of the more compelling bands to come out of nu metal. While they embrace the heaviness of other big-name acts from the genre, they also incorporate more technical intrigue into their material (getting even jazzy at times).
Between captivating uses of time signature shifts, an array of sonic moods, variety in tempo, and a remarkable means of establishing atmosphere, any given System of a Down song can make for a whirlwind of musical intrigue. While the band has been known to create more straightforward compositions of aggression, it’s these types of creative twists that have made them really shine throughout the years.
The band caught the attention of the metal world by storm with the release of their first record, and over the course of their career, only gained more momentum. With their last record having come out in 2005, there has been much talk regarding whether there will ever be another System of a Down album.
The order of this ranking considers what System of a Down albums reflect the band’s best qualities and how each record compares to one another.
Without further ado, here is our ranking of System of a Down albums from worst to best.
5. Steal This Album!
If there’s one weak link in the System of a Down discography, it’s Steal This Album!. Though not bad by any means, the band wasn’t able to iterate on its ideas and executions from Toxicity and their Self-Titled.
That said, Steal still features some impressive performances, such as on “A.D.D. (American Dream Denial),” which shows off the whole band working together to present an intriguing rhythm of fluctuating mood, tempo, and atmosphere. But though moments like this pop up throughout Steal, a lot of this album ends up offering more of the same, as compared to what the band has already provided listeners (a la past System of a Down albums).
As System of a Down’s third studio record, Steal This Album! solidified the band’s songwriting and dominance as one of metal’s most prominent acts at the time. You’re just not going to hear anything that beats out the band at their best.
4. System of a Down
System of a Down’s self-titled is a bombastic mission statement that still rips years later.
Coming out of the gates with this first record, the band unleashes a massively impressive display of technical finesse. This is heard immediately come the first track on the record, “Suite-Pee.” This song alone captures the sonic duality of System of a Down’s music – metal that is hysteric and aggressive sounding, yet also moody and mesmerizing.
This duality is a stylization the band would come to perfect, and improve upon, over the course of their career. While this debut System of a Down album still stands today as an impressive work, it only falls short behind other System of a Down albums due to lacking other awesome qualities that would end up appearing in future records (e.g., higher production quality, additional touches of melody, and more variety in terms of technical performances).
Hypnotize is a stunning work that continues to play off the newer qualities of the band presented in their previous record, Mezmerize.
“Dreaming” is an incredible example of the band showing off their ability to craft technically dynamic songs, with the tempo, mood, and intensity of instrumental performances shifting dramatically throughout the track. From somber sections to more thrashy sequences, the song is a compelling example of how the band’s aggressive music has evolved.
However, what stands out the most about Hypnotize is how much more it plays into a moodier presentation; it doesn’t utterly abandon aggression, but it pushes a little deeper into somber pop song territory more so than Mezmerize.
“Hypnotize” and “Lonely Day” are two prime examples of this; while still heavy in their own right, these songs strip away the all-out ferocity of System of a Down’s earlier days. Each song’s respective pacing strives to create more of a contemplative atmosphere, rather than getting you to bang your head.
None of this is bad by any means, but coming off of Mezmerize, it would be great to hear the band work in some of those older qualities. Hypnotize is a great record that shows off the band’s artistry, it just falls a little short of total awesomeness by repeating new sonic habits (and distancing itself too much from the band’s roots).
Released in 2005, Mezmerize is a brilliant leap forward in terms of musical quality for System of a Down. Whereas their past material already features strong band chemistry and technical ability, the band not only build upon those qualities even more, but also introduce a wider range of stylization on this System of a Down album.
Coming off of Steal This Album!, Mezmerize brings a great wealth of stylistic flair in terms of mood and atmosphere. In bringing more sonic flavor to this record, the band ends up creating an experience that is more relatively digestible (that is, for folks outside of heavy music).
Take a song like “B.Y.O.B.” for example: while the band still embraces their passion for crafting chaotically driven compositions, the song also provides a much greater use of melody and displays a more relatively conventional approach to pacing. This isn’t some aggressive thrashy song with death metal elements thrown in, it’s much more of a somber take on a pop track.
While the earlier, more abrasive material of the past is great, this more “mainstream” approach to System of a Down’s music ultimately provides another fascinating layer to their artistry. Mezmerize is an exhilarating and gripping experience that exudes emotion and ferocity, with a plethora of tracks presenting captivating duality (e.g., the gentle, yet at times roaring “Question!”).
The only thing that slightly hurts this System of a Down album is that, in its approach to incorporating some pop sensibilities, it ends up holding itself back from being a more forward and in-your-face experience (in terms of metal intensity).
That said, that is a slight con against this record, for Mezmerize is a fantastic experience that highlights not only how much the band has grown, but also what more they are capable of creating.
Since its release over 20 years ago, Toxicity has proven itself to be a timeless work of socio-political depth and musical genius.
Coming off the band’s debut LP, the band took a tremendous leap forward in terms of their lyric and songwriting quality when it comes to this System of a Down album. Building upon their talent for crafting aggressively forward compositions, System of a Down further expands upon their technical range, providing much more of a roller coaster experience. “Bounce” is such a brilliantly chaotic experience, featuring some jarring shifts in tempo that will catch listeners by surprise.
“Deer Dance” is also another example; though leaning more into a straightforward delivery of metal aggression, the band imbues that heaviness with a tremendous catchy appeal (Malakian’s guitar performance offers up a more conventional rock sound). At the same time, Tankian’s lyricism dives deeply into haunting territory: “Pushing little children/ With their fully automatics/ They like to push the weak around.”
Between the brilliant lyric writing and the stunning presentation of technical performances, System of a Down not only hit it out of the park with Toxicity, but they ended up creating a masterful experience that would go on to captivate listeners around the world. To this day, “Chop Suey!” is one of the most powerfully moving songs in all of metal; it perfectly captures the duality of System of a Down’s music, displaying their skills in creating an extreme song that exudes tremendous feeling and atmosphere.
Toxicity as a whole captures the balance of System of a Down’s old and new qualities; it weaves in the melody and moodiness that is further expanded upon in Mezmerize, while keeping to the abrasive presentation of the band’s self-titled release. Whereas Steal This Album! and Hypnotize end up leaning too much in opposite directions, this is the System of a Down album that perfectly encompasses all of the band’s talent.
And for that, Toxicity has proven itself the strongest System of a Down album (and the one that every other record from the band is compared against).
What do you think of our System of a Down album ranking? How close does it match your own ranking? What is your favorite System of a Down album?