System Of A Down Work Their Way Up

With a boost from metal veterans Slayer and producer Rick Rubin, the L.A. foursome is on the rise.

System of a Down bassist Shavo Odadjian knew going into their recent
U.S. and European tours that opening for the veteran metal act Slayer
was no easy slot to fill.

But Slayer made it a lot easier for the fledgling metal quartet.

“Every show, for sure, there was a member [of Slayer] watching us, or
two or three,” Odadjian said. “That made us more confident because
their crowds are very die-hard Slayer crowds. They don’t want to see
anybody besides Slayer.”

While many established bands take little or no interest in the opening
act, Odadjian, 24, said the veteran metal outfit supported his group
every step of the way. The experience, he said, prepared System of a
Down to co-headline their current 12-date tour with fellow
metal bands Fear Factory and Spineshank.

There have been other heavyweights lending their support to System of
a Down. Superstar producer Rick Rubin (Run D.M.C.) sat behind the
boards for the group’s self-titled debut, which was released last June.

“Rick understands the vision of the band and he shares it and he lets
us be who we are in the way that we want to be,” singer Serj Tankian,
31, said. “He’s been a great supporter, producer, friend, label head,
all in one, and a very positive person. His energy is very inspiring.”

Formed four and a half years ago in Los Angeles, System of a Down’s
members — Tankian, Odadjian, guitarist/vocalist Daron Malakian and
drummer John Dolmayan — are all Armenian-Americans. It’s clear that
coming from an oppressed culture has influenced the group’s political
leanings and, in turn, their music.

One of the band’s songs — “P.L.U.C.K.” (RealAudio excerpt),
for instance — addresses the genocide suffered by the Armenians at
the hands of the Turks in the early 1900s.

“It’s absolutely overlooked,” Tankian said of the killings. “If you go
to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., there’s a
quote on the walls from Hitler that talks about what he was planning
to do. And at the end of the quote, it says, ‘Who remembers the
massacre of the Armenians?’ So it kind of gave him carte blanche to do
what he did with the Jews.”

Inspired by the convention-bashing writings of William Burroughs,
Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski, Tankian fashions lyrics that range
from direct (“P.L.U.C.K.”) to surreal such as in the song “Suite-Pee.”
And unlike traditional metal acts, many of the band’s songs are
political, delving into complex and sometimes scholarly topics.

The influence of noted political theorist Noam Chomsky, for instance,
surfaces on “War?” (RealAudio excerpt).
The singer said this song is specifically about the Crusades, but
applies to more recent wars as well.

“It’s a symbolic song about most of imperialism using either religion,
or drugs or a terrorist nation as an excuse to do whatever we want in
our foreign policy — politically or militarily,” Tankian said.

“We went against the United Nations in bombing Iraq. … We’re
advancing our economic global policies for our multinational
corporations.”

This past year, the L.A.-based foursome criss-crossed North America as
part of the Ozzfest package tour headlined by heavy-metal icon Ozzy
Osbourne.

Although its tour was interrupted recently by the theft of a truck
containing all its gear — as well as that of Fear Factory and
Spineshank — System of a Down expect to be back on the road in no time.