System Of A Down’s self-titled debut album was an instant hit when it was released in 1998, taking the band from the clubs of LA to the main stage of the US Ozzfest. Unsurprisingly, anticipation was high for its follow up, Toxicity, in the weeks building up to its release on September 4, 2001.
British fans got an early taster of what was to come. The week before the album was released, System made their return to the UK for the first time since a one-off show at the London Astoria in December 1999, performing on the main stage of the Reading and Leeds Festival.
Looking back, it’s disorientating to see System sandwiched in a mid-afternoon slot between industrial-metal warhorses Fear Factory and hip-hop midcarder Xzibit on a bill that they would headline today. But the band were on a roll, and they knew it.
System’s set at Reading would be a key step on their journey to superstardom. To be precise it was the moment they stepped onto the damp stage in front of a soggy, rain-soaked field to deliver a day stealing performance at Reading on Sunday the 26th of August. Despite the crowd not being familiar with the new material the likes of Prison Song, Psycho (dedicated to Fear Factory guitarist Dino Cazares, ) and Ariels all received as rabid a response as more established cuts from the debut album.
But there was one song that stood out from them all. Thrown in toward the latter half of the set we saw the UK debut of Chop Suey. This moment has gone on to become the definitive moment of the bands career and, as the video shows, it arrived perfectly formed. It’s weird not to hear a huge roar go up as Daron Malakian picks outs that iconic clean guitar riff that signals in the now infamous “Wake up...” from vocalist Serj Tankian, the enthusiastic Reading crowd start moshing regardless, but as the song progresses you can see the movement slow up and be replaced by something approaching open-mouthed awe. As that final soaring chorus hits and the song fizzles out, System Of A Down have delivered a new bar for metal to reach.
They were half way down the bill, they only played a handful of songs people knew, it pissed down the entire time, yet, come the end of the day, System Of A Down were all anyone that had been stood in that field were talking about. A week later those same people would have rushed on mass to pick up Toxicity, and SOAD would never see the lower half of a festival line up again.