No one would ever call System Of A Down’s music’ ‘normal’, even though their idiosyncratic, polystylistic and straight up bizarre sound has helped them sell millions of albums and bagged a shelf-ful of awards. Yet the LA band sometimes take things to a whole new level of strange even by their own out-there standards. Here are the ten weirdest songs they have ever unleashed on the world.
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The opening seconds of Mezmerize’s B.Y.O.B. are filled with Daron Malakian’s refusal to fully lull us into the security of straightforward metal, as he sandwiches the body of the intro between a gruff grunt and that now-trademark warble of “why do we always send the poor?”. Amidst the politically charged chaos of the rest of the track, a falsetto-laden chorus is the last thing we expect. It leaves us in tranquil, almost soulful territory, filled with Serj’s giddy vocalisations and John Dolmayan’s funky off-beat hi-hats.
An instrumental version of Bounce, with its drop C tuning and tearing low fretwork, would have all the intensity of a Slayer track. In this particular scenario, however, Serj sings the word “pogo” 95 times, which has to be some kind of record. As its title might imply, Bounce doesn’t exactly sit still, hopping from the energy of the chorus into an atmospheric freak-out of a bridge and back again without taking a breath- it’s impressive that one of the band’s most eccentric tracks has become such a staple of their live shows.
8. This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I’m On This Song
The confusing cries of “I hope your stepson doesn’t eat the fish” and “gonorrhoea gorgonzola” are enough to land This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I’m On This Song on this list. However, between the dynamic contrast of the intro and the unsettling piano that enters towards the end, there is also a lot of weird stuff going on here musically. Serj’s voice in particular is getting quite the workout, diving from the pseudo-rap of the verse into the three different voice types he presents in the chorus. He even sneaks beatboxing in- how many times can you say you’ve heard that in metal?
The introductory riff of ‘CUBErt’ is made up of a single repeating note that makes it hard to figure out where the first beat of the bar is going to land. The following alterations between thudding, tribal drum patterns and a jubilant Serj singing staccato about canned humans clear that particular issue up, but we’re left with a barrage of rolled Rs and chromatic melodies to comprehend.
Only System can disguise a commentary on the inflated egos of corporate bosses beneath a track ostensibly about stinky shits and big cocks. This diverse vocabulary stretches into their compositional style, too, with a death growl to rival Corpsegrinder Fisher himself appearing eight seconds in, and, exactly a minute later, a twinkling melody that (played slower, and probably minus the distortion pedal) could find a home on a Van Morrison album.
System Of A Down are a band of contrast, and this track from their universally underrated Steal This Album! is exactly that. The verses jump seamlessly from some serious nu metal grooves into an alternate reality nursery rhyme (“Peter's pecker picked another pickle bearing pussy pepper”) supported by a hip-hop beat. If that wasn’t enough, the chorus is an arena-friendly singalong, complete with a Coldplay-esque final line that temporary tips things into unexpected accessibility.
Despite being just 46 seconds long, System manage to cram a full song structure into 36. They also hit just about every SOAD stylistic trademark: crunchy dissonances, surprising catchiness, acrobatic vocals, surreal lyrics, and, of course, moments of sheet brutality. It’s like a demo version of everything that makes up the band for those without a moment to spare.
3. Chic ‘N’ Stu
Chic ‘N’ Stu is the first thing we hear from Steal This Album!, and it’s the perfect way to remind listeners that they shouldn’t be waiting for anything straightforward. Instead of a memorable melody, System immediately fill our left ear with jarring tritone dissonances; instead of dropping us smoothly into the bridge, they tease it by hiding bitesize chunks of softness within the intense second chorus. It’s a strange way to start album, but it works perfectly. Plus, nobody in the history of Earth has or ever will say the line “butter’s getting hard” with as much anger as Daron Malakian.
Johnny is a SOAD obscurity, buried on the b-side of the Chop Suey! single release. That might have something to do with how truly unhinged it is. The first thing we hear is unsettling tritone, but no attempt to make things any less disconcerting follows. The dissonances are unrelenting, as are Dolmayan’s late-on-the-beat drum patterns and Shavo Odadjian’s deceptively syncopated bassline. Above this intentional (possibly metaphorical) mess, Serj looks at multiple personality disorder via an unexpected British accent, leaving the finished product somewhere between comedic and creepy.
1. Vicinity Of Obscenity
It’s hard to imagine Serj Tankian writing Vicinity Of Obscenity without the pre-meditated intention of creating one of the strangest things ever put on record. The track is filled with juxtaposition, cutting directly from the thick walls of distorted guitar that support Serj’s manic screeching, to the whisper-rap in unison with Dolmayan’s bell cymbal and the wah-soaked disco of the chorus. Even then, everything is overshadowed by Serj’s Dadaist lyrics: “Do we all learn defeat, from the whores with bad feet? Beat the meat, treat the feet, to the sweet milky seat”. This is System at their strangest.