System Of A Down, Live in London

Armenian-Americans make a stand for their forebears

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The doors have been open for an hour and the arena’s floor is heaving as more and more bodies try to edge an extra foot further forward. The urge to be a part of the sweaty throng near the barrier simply takes hold of you on nights like tonight. This isn’t just any old rock’n’roll show; this is one of the greatest, oddest and most vital bands metal has produced in the past two decades.

System Of A Down have long since thrown off the shackles of early-00s weirdos and escalated into icons for a generation that grew up alongside nu metal. SOAD’s quirks and eccentric arrangements have become their calling card with a signature sound no one’s dared to emulate. Of course, lyrically the political and social commentaries are what really separate the band from their peers, and tonight is arguably the culmination of their career’s hard work as this tour is in tribute to the 100-year anniversary of the Armenian genocide.

Three short films about the atrocities of the Ottoman Empire split the show into three acts and are as essential as they are important thanks to the band delivering a whopping 35-song set over nearly two hours. Carefully selecting tracks from all fifive albums in their arsenal, ranging from global smashes to the deepest of cuts, the communal choir of Wembley is at full force from Sugar to Needles to Cigaro. And it’s this sense of community that elevates SOAD and makes their live shows really special.

They were never metal’s ‘coolest’ band, but have attracted an almighty following that tonight equates to more than 10,000 in London. Sure, there’s the odd circlepit, but this evening is about standing tall with friends and strangers alike as the men onstage rattle senses with Bounce yet keep it sombre with an emotional rendition of Lonely Day.

The stage is stripped back with a simple backdrop as all eyes are focused on Serj Tankian’s skulking, Daron Malakian’s jittery dancing and Shavo Odadjian’s unwillingness to be anything other than the coolest motherfucker alive.

The videos do the talking as it’s strictly business from the veterans, but everyone knows why they’re here: not just for the band, but for what this show represents and why SOAD want recognition of their country’s plight. And if anyone can do it, it’s them.


Luke Morton joined Metal Hammer as Online Editor in 2014, having previously worked as News Editor at popular (but now sadly defunct) alternative lifestyle magazine, Front. As well as helming the Metal Hammer website for the four years that followed, Luke also helped relaunch the Metal Hammer podcast in early 2018, producing, scripting and presenting the relaunched show during its early days. He also wrote regular features for the magazine, including a 2018 cover feature for his very favourite band in the world, Slipknot, discussing their turbulent 2008 album, All Hope Is Gone.