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System Of A Down
Down the ages, in times of difficulty, music has served as the voice of a generation. Rebel music has always questioned the decisions made by people in power, whether they were parents and school authorities or governments and political parties. From the protest songs made famous by the likes of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and John Lennon to the rebellion that defined the punk generation, music has played a significant role in giving voice to millions, through the lyrics of a few.

The most recent example of musicians uniting to get politicians to enforce change was the Live 8 concert organised around the world for the purpose of getting global pressure to bear on the leaders of the G8 countries. The world’s musicians shepherded by Bob Geldof and U2 frontman Bono were asking for the erasure of Africa’s debt so that the continent could use its scant resources to fight the debilitating effects of natural disasters and years of internal conflict.

In recent years, the costly wars that the United States of America has waged on Afghanistan and Iraq have also galvanised musicians into taking an active interest in raising awareness among the people about the way these conflicts affect the common man. One band that has been constantly involved in the politicising of music towards making the world a better place is System Of A Down. Ever since the release of their self-titled debut album in 1998 this quartet comprising of guitarist/songwriter Daron Malakian, singer Serj Tankian, bassist Shavo Odadjian and drummer John Dolmayan have created material that redefines and revitalises music, genre definitions and the kind of audience a hard-rocking band can command.

Their unique blend of speed guitars, thudding drums and hauntingly wistful Eastern melodies has had critics and fans struggling to adequately define the band. While it wouldn’t be inappropriate to imagine that one was listening to a supercharged version of Fiddler on the Roof as the band charges through one testosterone-soaked anthem after the other, it would be short-sighted to dismiss the band as a novelty act. Their disparate tastes that include Jaco Pastorious, Slayer, The Beatles, Faith No More as well as their passion for incorporating traditional Armenian folk influences into their music has guaranteed that the band has a definitive and hard-to-slot sound.

One may wonder, why, in a time of such diversity, a quartet of Armenian-American rockers should be seen as the voice to rally behind. Perhaps it is that very Armenian ancestry that gives them a unique perspective. Some of the destruction of their family histories dates all the way back to the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire during World War I. "Because so much of my family history was lost in the Armenian Genocide," says Malakian, "my grandfather, who was very young at the time, doesn't know his true age. How many people can say they don't know how old they are?"

The relegation of the Armenian Genocide to a footnote in the world’s history causes Malakian to bristle, “Had the Armenian Genocide been acknowledged as a Crime Against Humanity as it was, Hitler might not have thought he could get away with the Jewish Holocaust. History does and will repeat itself, unless we stop that cycle." Their history clearly fuels the fire that burns bright in their lyrics about political manipulation, the evils of television, corporate mind control and the mysteries of life and death.

The band toured hard for two years after the release of their debut album, playing the circuit that would allow them to develop a grassroots fan following. In 2000 they went back into the studio to work on what would emerge in August 2001 as the six million plus-selling album, Toxicity. When the band headlined Ozzfest in 2002, bassist Odadjian had this to say about playing at Ozzy Osbourne’s touring hard rock circus – "It's time for the bands these kids are listening to, to deliver something deeper than just 'let's party.'" Political awareness was ready to make its presence felt right above the mosh pit. The band had something to say and their eager fans were all ears.

You can read the rest of our feature on System Of A Down in the July 2005 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.

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