5. System of a Down (1998)
This is most likely not a very controversial opinion as System’s debut record is largely considered their least impressive outing. It’s certainly not without it’s bright points, including some of the group’s most daring cuts to date, but many of the risks don’t pan out in the slightest and we’re left with a record that varies wildly in quality from track to track.
The most recognizable track on this album is, of course, “Spiders,” which is one of SOAD’s earliest hits and still a favorite for longtime fans. The album’s other lead single, “Sugar,” is one of the band’s heaviest works to date and contains some fascinating Eastern influences. The record’s best quality is the heavier, more chaotic style on tracks like “Soil,” and “Suite-Pee,” which make this a necessary listen for any true System fan.
4. Hypnotize (2005)
The last official studio release from SOAD, Hypnotize will always suffer from comparisons to it’s sister album, Mezmerize. In fairness, it’s quite enjoyable. Much of the guitar work is fantastic and Serj’s vocal is as manic and unpredictable as ever. Much of the songwriting is quite strong, but unfortunately, the album just lacks the replay value of other records on the list.
That being said, there’s quite a few fantastic cuts to be found. The title track is incredible and captures Serj’s appreciation for cinematic music well. “Lonely Day,” is one of the group’s best known songs and a surprisingly accessible track for a band with such a bizarre catalog. The folksy guitars on “Dreaming,” are a nice touch and the track as a whole is a nice call back earlier, heavier sound. Overall, it’s an enjoyable listen, but lacks the hits and deep cuts to stand up to earlier releases.
3. Steal This Album! (2002)
Coming quickly on the heals of their 2001 smash hit, Toxicity, System went, in many ways, back to their roots. Steal This Album is equal parts heavy and bizarre and is fairly reminiscent of the debut. However, the experience gained and additional voices allow the bands to make the most of risks which they just couldn’t pull off on the debut. There is a lack of true hits on this record, and it’s not for everyone, but if you want to hear SOAD at their most insane, this is the place.
There are a few tracks that I definitely find myself coming back to regularly. “Mr. Jack,” is a brutal refutation of the police which features some of the best guitar riffs of the entire catalog. The spoken word sections of “Boom!” Are extremely enjoyable, as is the eerie harmony on the chorus. Perhaps my favorite is the pure insanity of “F**k the System,” which is purely bizarre and a testament to the strangest edges of SOAD’s sound.
2. Mezmerize (2005)
One of the more chaotic entries to this list, Mezmerize has quite a bit to love. The riffs and general songwriting are absolutely fantastic and the variety of vocalists, while a bit of a mixed bag here, allows SOAD to reach entirely new places, particularly when it came to rhythmic and style changes, which happen constantly on this album. Unfortunately, Mezmerize suffers from a problem that plagues much of the band’s catalog, that being inconsistency.
That being said, there are more than a few bright spots on this tracklist. “B.Y.O.B.” is yet another incredible piece of protest music with a remarkably dynamic performance from Serj. “Radio/Video,” and “Sad Statue,” are some of the most melodic tracks SOAD has ever recorded. Perhaps the most consistent highlight is the almost comical tone on cuts like “This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I’m On This Song,” and “Violent Pornography.” It may not be their strongest effort, but it has some of the brightest points of their career.
1. Toxicity (2001)
The cherry at the very top of a fantastic catalog, Toxicity is one of the best metal/hard rock albums of all time. Rick Rubin’s influence is felt much more on this album, and though I have generally mixed opinions on Rubin’s work, he’s able to strike the perfect balance between brutal chaos and melodic breakdowns. The additional vocals make a big difference and the larger instrumental pallet makes the album feel entirely unpredictable at every moment.
Of course, this album contains “Chop Suey,” which is the band’s biggest hit to date, but “Aerials,” is nearly as well known and, for my money, a much better cut. The heavier pieces on this album include the fantastic, “X,” and the brutal but hilarious “Bounce.” The band also dives headlong into outspoken leftist politics on songs like “Prison Song,” and “Deer Dance.” It’s an absolutely iconic record and one of the few memorable and respectable efforts from the early 2000’s nu-metal boom.