Touring constantly, you learn certain things. You become adept at spotting a decent 24-hour greasy spoon and at putting up with your bandmates' annoying habits. And quite often, as System of a Down learned over the past two years, you become a better performer.
The group's second album, Toxicity, reflects that growth, and its August 14 arrival in stores precedes yet another road trip, the Pledge of Allegiance tour with co-headliners Slipknot (see "System Of A Down, Slipknot Join Up For Fall Tour").
System of a Down singer Serj Tankian, guitarist Daron Malakian, bassist Shavo Odadjian and drummer John Dolmayan recorded the album in February with producer Rick Rubin, committing more than 30 songs to tape before narrowing it down to 14 (see "System Of A Down Overdosing On Songs For New LP").
"The band wanted to feel like they grew past their last album, which we're all very proud of," said Rubin, who in addition to working on the last System record has also handled albums for bands like Slayer and Danzig. "As musicians, the biggest improvements have been with John and Serj. There's not so much singing on the last album it's more characters and yelling and different great vocal things. But something happened over [the two years they spent on tour] where Serj has become a tremendous singer."
Tankian said recently that the album offers greater extremes than the band's 1998 self-titled album did. "Certain points are more classic, though I don't mean in the sense of classic rock. ... The heavy is really heavy, and the mellow goes to some beautiful places."
The album's themes range from heavy political and social issues, such as "Prison Song"'s attack on the U.S. prison system, to quirkier topics like the cocaine-loving groupies of "Psycho" (see "System Of A Down Hope To Shatter Stereotype").
"ATWA" is about convicted murderer Charles Manson's beliefs on the environment. "He's in jail for the wrong reasons," Malakian said. "I think he had an unfair trial."
Other songs on Toxicity whose title comes from the lyric "toxicity of our city" in the song "Version 7.0" include "Deer Dance," "Jet Pilot," "Needles," "Aerials," "Shimmy," "X," "Science," "Forest," "Bounce" and "Suicide."