Review Summary: Toxicity is System's breakout record. While feeling similar in some areas, it is still a truly compelling record and a wonderful place to start off when first listening to this band.
1998, the year in which a strange yet thought-provoking metal band called "System of a Down" unveiled their first record of the same name. Fast-forward a few years to 2001, in which this band has released their sophomore record "Toxicity". They started off with their first record, but really blew up with this one. Toxicity was becoming a cultural phenomenon, with songs such as "Chop Suey!" becoming staple metal songs of the early 2000's and years to come. When it was released, it was such a big deal that even people who didn't like the genre would still be digging it. It's weird to see some hip-hop fans blast this in their car radios. But even as it was a massive album, is it any good? Is it anything compared to their debut? What is it that made this album so huge in the media? There's got to be something here. I have taken the opportunity to dissect and analyze the good components and the bad ones of this album.
Firstly, when this album gleams, it gleams greatly. Songs like "Chop Suey!" with it's brutal verse, whispering hushes about suicide, fast near-gibberish lyrics and a piano filled chorus make it a wonderful composition. System wanted to capture raw energy and compacted emotions and it does so brilliantly, even if it may seem angsty now. But I really can't say it's generic and cliche at all. To be honest, the best performance on this entire album is Serj. Using elements he used in his past, he was for sure at his highest here. He lost most of the quirky and silly noises and voice techniques he used on the debut, and that is apparent on the epic opener "Prison Song,". At the time, no singer really sounded like him. He honestly sounds like a mix between a goat, a monster and Geddy Lee, which is a strange but interesting combination. The lyrics are simple, but are loaded with metaphors that are used to provoke thought. In all honesty, a lot of these songs are driven by his voice. "ATWA" starts as a ballad, but bursts into fast-moving rage, which fine instrumentation and is all fit together by his voice. "Psycho" even seems like a song that shines most with Serj's voice, with a catchy chorus and fitting musicianship. The best part of that song is the slow part and the end, that mostly give the musicians a time to shine. Deer Dance is also an interesting and fun song, that while has intriguing musicianship, is still mostly steered by Serj's vocals.
Speaking of instrumentation, the musicianship on this record is pretty outstanding. Daron has driven away from the more technical playing and has shifted to more of a thrashy sound. Some of the guitar lines are odd, yet are mostly simplistic. They are performed well though, and Daron is a phenomenal guitarist. John is a great drummer, and still performs ultimately well here. However, he has lost a bit of the force he used to hit with, and again has relegated to the thrash sound along with Daron. Shavo is mostly inaudible, as unfortunate as that is, as he is mostly drowned out by Daron and John's brutal and dark musicianship (but aren't most bassists in metal bands drowned out by everything else?). However, when he is audible, he is pretty excellent. His basslines are still fun and compelling, and add a lot to the sound, and act as an underlying sound to the songs. While all excellent musicians on their own, they each bring a lot to the table when working together to make very compelling music. While some of it does feel generic at times, and isn't as experimental as later albums.
Some of the feel can kill the album in ways. While each song has it's own interesting components, they each all sound similar in vein. Some songs on this album are underwhelming at best, such as "X" which is a highly repetitive and uninteresting song, and not repetition done right either. "Jet Pilot" is also a repetitive song, and while it's not bad, it is not near the best song on the album. They have kept a small portion of their weirdness on the album, with fun songs like "Bounce" and just straight up strange ones like "Shimmy". While the heaviness of the album is there in all songs, some like "Toxicity" and "Aerials" (both big songs for the band) do tone it down a bit to a slower and nicer-sounding song, but reverts back to the brutality and thrashy noise the album mostly experiments. While the album is mostly similar in vein, it can reach some experimental levels. "Science", which is one of the best songs here, start normal but go into a Armenian traditional feel in the middle which is highly intriguing. Forest is the best song on the record, and one of my favorite SOAD songs of all. Starting with an interesting drum lick and going into a very compelling song in all, it becomes a staple song for the band. The album goes into being strange and heavy at the same time, to make a unique sound such as "Needles" that is an eerie, but brutal track. While feeling similar in many ways, the album still shines brilliantly.
So, does this album live up to all the attention it got? Well, yes, it does. Each song on this album run together and fit to make a brilliant record. Serj was at his best here and is the high point to this album, with the instrumentation driving along with his vocals. The instrumentation is different with a thrashy feel and similar in vein, but it truly fits together to make compelling sounds and interesting songs. There isn't much negative to write about this album, as they don't really detract any of the songs values. This album really is equal to their debut, which are both experimental and out there, and both fun to listen to. The lyrics are packed with metaphors, and while simple, they are made to provoke thought in the end. This album is a very good place to start for someone who is looking to get into System, and is a good introduction to their discography and sound. In the end, while sometimes feeling generic in some areas, Toxicity is a truly invigorating record that is an adventure to listen to from the start to the finish. Now what is up with that secret track?
Favorite Track: Forest
Least Favorite Track: X