Whether you love System of a Down or hate them, you have to admit one thing: there’s nobody else out there quite like them.
Sure, there are some tracks during which they rely a little too much on grinding, heavy, simplistic riffs, but for the most part, they have put out a wide variety of songs with distinct sounds.
Overall, however, most System of a Down songs can be broken down into two categories: “Classic” and “Off-the-Wall.” Their “Classic” songs typically involve a lot of political commentary on various issues regarding American foreign policy and/or society, while the off-the-wall songs are random, wacky, and experimental, often with crude lyrics that can be polarizing.
With that in mind, here are my picks for the top ten System of a Down songs, divided by category.
Top 5 Classic-Style Songs
There have been plenty of forgettable songs with similar titles in the world of music, but this song has a very unique sound to it and is rife with political message.
“Boom!” is off the album “Steal this Album,” a collection of songs not good enough to make the cut on “Toxicity,” but it’s hard to understand why this song wasn’t included.
The atmospheric opening drum work conjures up images of a detonator going off, and the song continues down this dark path most of the way. The chorus is filled with emotion as lead singer Serj Tankian decries the U.S. practice of continually bombing other countries as heavy, pulsating guitar riffs keep the track moving and the emotions flowing.
4. Chop Suey!-
Another song with an exclamation mark at the end of the title, perhaps foreshadowing the manic energy of Tankian and his band mates, the video for this song is the one that catapulted the band to stardom.
The sweeping, rhythmic guitar opening and pounding tribal drum sound get the adrenaline pumping and Tankian delivers a frenzied, emotional vocal performance throughout. The lyrics are a little out there in this song and difficult to comprehend but it all sounds well and good, so I won’t complain.
Let’s just say that they’re open to interpretation and call it a day.
Off the band’s self-titled major label debut album, this song is a terrific showcase for Tankian’s underrated vocal talent. He starts out tempered and calm and then builds up into a full-fledged outpouring of emotion, not through the typical SOAD way of yelling and/or screaming but by increasing his range and letting himself go.
It’s a great change-of-pace song for an album filled with heavy tracks and a melodic masterpiece backed up by terrific guitar and cymbals work.
Another cut off of “Steal this Album” that surprisingly was left off of Toxicity, this song incorporates the best parts of both “Chop Suey” and “Spiders,” alternating between inspired vocal parts, primal-sounding drums, and that one-of-a-kind sweeping, heavy-yet-melodic guitar style that the band is famous for.
The last song on perhaps their most celebrated album, “Toxicity,” “Aerials” features some of the most thought-provoking (yet vague) lyrics the band has ever written. While many fans have searched for the meaning behind the lyrics, the band has said that they are open to interpretation and have no specific meaning.
The scope, imagery, and pacing of this song, with its skyrocketing guitar and earthy bass, combines to form a song that showcases the best elements of a band that is easily capable of producing classic songs when they put their mind to it.
Top 5 Off-the-Wall Songs-
5. Chic N’ Stu-
Another “Steal this Album” cut and a song that can either be construed as annoying or hilarious.
This song, unlike many other SOAD songs of its ilk, has an important message in it: advertising is omnipresent in America and it’s not very healthy.
Tankian gets his point across through ravenous, off-key chanting of the chorus “Advertising causes me/therapy, therapy” and there are some other moments of assorted weirdness in here that make this song quite interesting.
This is a one minute, 54-second rollercoaster of a song that finds a few more ways to describe that staple of American songwriting, sex, and does it in the weirdest way possible. It’s delightfully quirky.
Tankian’s opening vocal on this song is so off-key and grating that you might turn it off the first time you hear it, but stick with it and you’ll discover a funky blend of craziness the likes of which you won’t find on many other albums.
Tankian and backup vocal man Daron Malakian sound as if they’re having simultaneous nervous breakdowns at the end as they scream out noises that sound as if they came from the mouth of Godzilla.
2. Viscinity of Obscenity-
Consider this song as a veritable sequel to “Bounce,” only weirder and a little more graphic.
The opening sounds like an evil version of the surf song classic “Wipeout” and then, for no apparent reason at all, Tankian kick things off by yelling out “Liiiiiiiiaaaaaarrr!” with all the conviction of an angry lunatic.
That’s just the beginning of this bizarre gem, as things soon descend farther into the depths of madness.
I remember watching the video for this song come on “The Box” music network quite often and usually changing the channel because it was just too out there for me at the time, not to mention because of the ear-splitting, thrashing guitar in the middle.
But the funky 70’s bass and calculated outbursts of schizophrenic lyrics by Tankian are downright hilarious and the guitar is playful and bouncy.
The lyrics are from as far out of left field as humanly possible. But that’s a big part of this band’s appeal, at least in my eyes.