System Of A Down's Serj Tankian on what the Toxicity era was like for him: "It was f**king stressful as f**k"

Serj Tankian in 2001
(Image credit: Getty)

System Of A Down frontman Serj Tankian has opened up on the chaotic environment that greeted the release of the band's legendary second album, Toxicity. Despite the record's immense success - it peaked at Number 1 on the Billboard 200 and went on to sell more than 12 million copies worldwide - some of Toxicity's lyrics, namely those on mega-hit single Chop Suey! , received negative publicity in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in New York City, which occurred just a week after the album's release in 2001.

Following the attacks, Tankian posted a divisive essay titled Understanding Oil on System Of A Down's website - something which was meant to offer some unbiased analysis of the background behind the tragic attacks, but which caused outrage amongst some of System Of A Down's US fans.

An infamous riot in Los Angeles after a planned Toxicity release show was cancelled the day before the album's release also caused controversy for the band, leading to Tankian having mixed emotions about that whole period to say the very least.

"Just being on tour the week after 9/11 for months at a time by itself, even if you weren't a political band, would be challenging because there's these daily kind of threats right, that were on TV and the orange, the red threats, all those different calibers of terrorism threats and stuff," he tells Metal Injection in a new interview. "And yet we were also being threatened by many elements because of our outspokenness. So it was a very, very difficult time.

"And the release of Toxicity itself was a riot in L.A. We unintentionally ended up having a riot in Hollywood because of our release event that, basically, we had too many people. And the fire marshal closed it down and people reacted and fights ensued. We lost our equipment, our crew was punched, and then L.A. riots occurred and we had to explain what was going on to the media, and it was a fucking mess. 

“So when I think of Toxicity," he adds, "everyone thinks, 'Oh, it's your kind of best record or your best selling record', whatever you want to call it. And they're like, ‘How was it? How did it feel?’ Like they expect some really positive kind of memory or response. It was fucking stressful as fuck. That's what I remember. I didn't feel like a musician. I didn't feel like I was doing music. It was fucking stressful as fuck. It was really, really dicey. That's what I remember, that's the emotion that prevails."

Despite insisting he has no interest in touring with System Of A Down any time soon, Tankian is very much still active with his solo career, having recently released new EP Perplex Cities

Merlin Alderslade
Executive Editor, Louder

Merlin moved into his role as Executive Editor of Louder in early 2022, following over ten years working at Metal Hammer. While there, he served as Online Editor and Deputy Editor, before being promoted to Editor in 2016. Before joining Metal Hammer, Merlin worked as Associate Editor at Terrorizer Magazine and has previously written for the likes of Classic Rock, Rock Sound, eFestivals and others. Across his career he has interviewed legends including Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Metallica, Iron Maiden (including getting a trip on Ed Force One courtesy of Bruce Dickinson), Guns N' Roses, KISS, Slipknot, System Of A Down and Meat Loaf. He has also presented and produced the Metal Hammer Podcast, presented the Metal Hammer Radio Show and is probably responsible for 90% of all nu metal-related content making it onto the site.