System Of A Down emerged from Hollywood in the late 90s as part of nu metal’s second wave to become one of the most unlikely bands ever to notch up a string of Number One albums. From the juddering freakouts of 1998’s self-tited debut to 2001’s blockbusting Toxicity and beyond, the Armenian-American four-piece made a name for themselves as one of the era’s most idiosyncratic and unique bands.
Sadly, they’ve been stuck in a creative stand-off with each other since the one-two of 2005’s Mezmerize and Hypnotize, though the still convene every few years to headline the festival circuit. It briefly looked like a pair of surprise-released 2021 singles Protect The Land and Genocidal Humanoidz would break the deadlock, but they soon settled back into studio inactivity, leaving the world with a slim but hugely influental catalogue that amounts to just five full-length records. Here’s every System Of A Down albums ranked from worst to best.
5. System Of A Down – Steal This Album - (2002)
It’s a debate that has been going for well over a decade now; is Steal This Album a ‘proper’ System Of A Down album or not? The band claim that it is, and that, rather than the collection of outtakes and B-sides that many assume it to be, it’s of the same quality of the rest of their back catalogue. Sorry to disappoint you lads, but Steal This Album definitely feels way more like a collection of curios and unfinished ideas than it does a proper record. That’s not to say that there are many moments of greatness on here; opener Chic ‘N’ Stu is batshit brilliant, the groove on I-E-A-I-A-I-O is undeniable and Highway Song is a lost anthem. But the fact that the majority of songs don’t even tick over the three minute mark means Steal This Album isn’t really System at the top of their game.
4. System Of A Down – Hypnotize (2005)
The last album released under the System name to date is the weakest official studio album the band have put their name to. The fact that it is still an incredibly strong collection of songs goes to show just how consistently excellent SOAD have been throughout their career. The opening salvo of Attack is a wonderfully dizzying way to start the record and the ingenious dual vocal tradeoffs between Serj and Daron have arguably never been stronger than they are here on the epic likes of Holy Mountains, Lonely Day and Dreaming. A very good album in a run of exceptional ones.
3. System Of A Down – Mezmerize (2005)
The first half of the Mezmerize/Hypnotize set is certainly filled with the more well-known and iconic songs from that era, hence it just pipping the follow-up. B.Y.O.B. can stand shoulder to shoulder with Chop Suey! or Sugar when it comes to the very biggest moments in the bands back catalogue, Violent Pornography and Lost In Hollywood are massive fan favourites, and System have arguably not sounded as ‘wacky’ as they do on Cigaro and Radio/Video since their first album. Pretty much bulletproof.
2. System Of A Down – System Of A Down (1998)
In 1998 the nu-metal freight train was already running out of ideas, after the explosion of new sounds that Korn and Deftones brought in the middle of the decade, the bandwagon-hoppers were out in full force. It’s no wonder that System Of A Down’s self-titled debut album was so lauded in a scene that had come to rely on the likes of Coal Chamber and Spineshank, but that only really tells half the story.
System Of A Down is an absurdly brilliant record whoever you put up against it in competition. Spawning the anthemic likes of Sugar, Suite Pee and War, SOAD’s debut is one of metal’s finest opening statements, punkier and rawer than they would ever sound again (clearly owing a great debt to The Dead Kennedys) it still has moments of fragile beauty, likes Spiders, that pointed to where they could go next.
1. Toxicity (2001)
What else was it ever going to be? Toxicity remains one of the most essential releases made by any band in the history of metal. Debuting at number one on the US Billboard 200, it turned System from hot new cult band to one of the biggest names in the world of music, that it managed this feat without sacrificing one iota of the bands quirks and oddness is a stunning achievement. Now that songs like the title track, Prison Song, Ariels and the career dominating Chop Suey! are so deeply woven into the fabric of metal it would be easy to forget just how bizarre and challenging those compositions are, but the fact they turned them into genuine generational anthems is a trick that maybe no other band can claim to have done. Do yourself a favour and listen to this album with fresh ears in 2020, the evidence is staggering, Toxicity has refused to age, unlike so many of their nu-metal peers, and still sounds as weird, as wild and as inhumanly massive as it did 19 years ago. The work of pure genius.