System of a Down’s Toxicity Turns 20.

System of a Down dropped “Toxicity,” its 2nd studio album, in September of 2001, introducing the world to a unique concoction of hard rock with strong Armenian influences and Middle Eastern melodies.  A powerful assault of crushing drop tuned guitar and bass riffs, intricate and powerful drumming with dynamic vocals ranging from frantic guttural screams to tasty and complex harmonies, the album is arguably among the best hard rock/heavy metal albums to be released over the last twenty years

And it stands the test of time, sounding as urgent and poignant as it did in 2001, while lyrically, it touches on political and non-political themes that could be considered even more relevant today than they were when released.

“Toxicity” began atop the Billboard album chart, moving 225,000 copies its first week, but with the terrorist attacks devastating New York City, impacting Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania and shocking the country and the world, the band had no time to celebrate that morning. Two days later, despondent frontman Serj Tankian wrote a truth bomb  titled “Understanding Oil,” which he posted on the band’s official website. He hadn’t breached the topic with the group prior to its publication, but in the essay, Takian essentially blamed the attack on the U.S. on the country’s longtime interference in the Middle East. He wrote: “Bombing and being bombed are the same things on different sides of the fence,” and, “What everyone fails to realize is that the bombings are a reaction to existing injustices around the world, generally unseen to most Americans.”

At the time the country was united in grief and swelling patriotism, and his rhetoric was poorly timed. While the essay was quickly taken down by Sony Music, parent company to Columbia Records, which had signed System, the damage was unrepairable. The rest of the band, and many Americans, were furious with Tankian.

The events surrounding the album’s release played a major part in the trajectory of the group. Rewinding slightly, System was set to play a free show for Los Angeles radio station KROQ the day before the release in a parking lot in Hollywood. Promoters expected about 2,000 fans, but over 10,000 showed up, which forced police to cancel the concert. After learning the show was off, fans rushed the stage, destroyed the band’s gear and a riot broke ensued. CNN and other news outlets went live covering the turmoil, which lasted hours and resulted in multiple arrests. At the time, it was considered a complete disaster, but thrust the group into the global spotlight and suddenly System of a Down became a household name.

The news coverage of the riot, along with the success of their single “Chop Suey,” released earlier that year, propelled “Toxicity” to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart on September 11, 2001. But in the aftermath of 9/11, Clear Channel Radio compiled a list of songs that were deemed “lyrically questionable” — and them banned from airplay in fear of triggering listeners. “Chop Suey” was among them and quickly disappeared from the airwaves, thanks to the lyric in the chorus: “I don’t think you trust in my self-righteous suicide.”

The attention, both negative and positive, created a perfect storm to propel the band into the stratosphere. The band played on and hit the road to support the album. Eventually radio and television came around and began airing the tracks and videos for “Chop Suey,” “Toxicity” and “Aerials.”

“Toxicity” went on to sell three million copies in the U.S. and over 10 million worldwide. It changed everything for the band, including laying the groundwork for creative differences and an uncertain future.

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