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Toxicity (album)

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Toxicity
Cover features the words "System of a Down" in place of the Hollywood sign
Studio album by
ReleasedSeptember 4, 2001
Recorded2000–2001
StudioCello Studios, Hollywood, California
Genre
Length44:01
Label
Producer
System of a Down chronology
System of a Down
(1998)
Toxicity
(2001)
Steal This Album!
(2002)
Singles from Toxicity
  1. "Chop Suey!"
    Released: August 13, 2001
  2. "Toxicity"
    Released: January 22, 2002
  3. "Aerials"
    Released: June 11, 2002

Toxicity is the second studio album by Armenian-American heavy metal band System of a Down, released on September 4, 2001, through American Recordings and Columbia Records. Expanding on their 1998 eponymous debut, it incorporated more melody, harmonies, and singing than the band's aforementioned album. Categorized primarily as alternative metal and nu metal, Toxicity features elements of multiple genres including folk, progressive rock, jazz, Armenian music and Greek music, including prominent use of instruments such as the sitar, banjo, keyboards, and piano. It contains a wide array of political and non-political themes, such as mass incarceration, the CIA, the environment, police brutality, drug addiction, scientific reductionism, and groupies.

Toxicity was recorded at Cello Studios in Hollywood, California. Over 30 songs were recorded, but the band narrowed the number of songs on the album to 14. The album peaked at number one on both the Billboard 200 and the Canadian Albums Chart, sold 220,000 copies in its first week of release, was certified triple-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America in November 2002, and has sold at least 2,700,000 copies in the United States. All of Toxicity's singles reached the Billboard Hot 100. The final single, "Aerials", went to number one on both the Mainstream Rock Tracks and the Modern Rock Tracks charts. Toxicity received mainly positive ratings and reviews from critics, among them perfect ratings from AllMusic, Kerrang!, and Blabbermouth.net. Many critics praised the album's sound and innovation.

The promotional shows for Toxicity resulted in a number of controversial incidents. A six-hour riot ensued at a free concert in Hollywood the day before the album's release as a result of the show's cancellation due to an overcrowded show; the crowd in attendance was estimated to be at least twice the size which was expected. Another scheduled System of a Down performance was canceled to prevent a similar riot, and the band then toured with Slipknot. Bassist Shavo Odadjian was harassed, ethnically insulted, and physically beaten by guards when he tried to enter backstage at a concert in October 2001. Regardless, the tour was successful, and System of a Down later co-headlined a leg of Slipknot's Iowa World Tour.

Music, writing, and recording[edit]

"Going into it, I knew Serj wanted to sing more, so I guess that was a kind of a progression and an evolution for the band. I wanted to do all that, yet not lose the heaviness of the band and I guess the hard, punk, metal aspect. You could lose that sometimes when you get a little too eclectic. So we were just trying to balance that fine line and not lose the fans."

Daron Malakian, speaking about Toxicity's sound.[1]

Categorized as alternative metal,[2][3] thrash metal,[4] art metal,[5] hard rock,[6] progressive metal,[7] heavy metal,[8] and nu metal,[8][9] the album features elements of multiple genres of music: folk,[10] progressive rock,[10] jazz,[10][1] Middle Eastern music,[1] and Greek music.[1] System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian said that he "wanted to add a bit more harmony for" himself "in the songs and that required tastefully mixing in some softer guitars between the really heavy parts".[1] Malakian also cited the Beatles as an influence on Toxicity.[2] Sounds of instruments other than drums, vocals, electric guitar and bass guitar, such as sitar, banjo,[11] keyboards and piano,[12] are also featured a little bit on Toxicity. The majority of the album's music was written in the tuning of drop C.[13]

System of a Down recorded over thirty songs during the recording of Toxicity but narrowed the number of songs on the album to fourteen.[14] Several of these recorded songs that didn't make it onto Toxicity were re-recorded for System of a Down's next studio album Steal This Album!, an album released in 2002.[15] Toxicity was recorded at Cello Studios in Hollywood, California, mixed at Enterprise Studios in Burbank, California, and mastered at Oasis Mastering in Studio City, California.[12] According to System of a Down bassist Shavo Odadjian, the song "Chop Suey!" is "about drug addiction, but [System of a Down took] something really serious and made it a little quacky".[16] "Prison Song" is about mass incarceration.[16] System of a Down vocalist Serj Tankian said: "It's about the unfairness of mandatory minimum sentences and how there are about 2,000,000 Americans in jail, and a lot of them are in there for marijuana possession and things of that sort. [...] Instead of rehabilitating men who have drug problems, they're throwing them in prison. That's not really solving anything."[17] Tankian said that "Prison Song" also addresses "how drug money is used to rig elections in other countries by the CIA".[17] "Bounce" is about group sex.[16] "Psycho" is about groupies.[8][17] "ATWA" is about Charles Manson's beliefs on the environment. Malakian has said that "[Manson is] in jail for the wrong reasons. I think he had an unfair trial".[14] "Deer Dance" is about the protests surrounding the 2000 Democratic National Convention.[18][19]

Promotion and touring[edit]

On September 3, 2001, System of a Down had planned on launching Toxicity at a free concert in Hollywood, California as a "thank you" to fans. The concert, which was to be held in a parking lot, was set up to accommodate 3,500 people; however, an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 fans showed up. Because of the large excess number of fans, the performance was cancelled by police officers just before System of a Down took the stage. No announcement was made that the concert had been cancelled. Fans waited for more than an hour for the band to appear, but when a banner hanging at the back of the stage that read "System of a Down" was removed by security, the audience rushed the stage, destroying all the band's touring gear (approximately $30,000 worth of equipment) and began to riot, throwing rocks at police, breaking windows, and knocking over portable toilets. The riot lasted six hours, during which six arrests were made. The band's manager, David "Beno" Benveniste, later said that the riot could have been avoided if System of a Down had been permitted to perform or had they been allowed to make a statement at the concert regarding the cancellation. System of a Down's scheduled in-store performance the next day was cancelled to prevent a similar riot.[20]

Later that month, System of a Down embarked on tour in the United States and Mexico with Slipknot. During their concert at Grand Rapids, Michigan's Van Andel Arena in October 2001, Odadjian was harassed, ethnically insulted and physically beaten by some guards when he attempted to enter backstage. After the attack, he received medical help from the arena personnel and the police in place. Odadjian then filed a lawsuit against DuHadway Kendall Security, the company the guards were working for.[21] Despite this incident, the tour, as a whole, was a success and System of a Down later co-headlined the Pledge of Allegiance leg of Slipknot's Iowa World Tour.[22]

Reception[edit]

Critical[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
SourceRating
Metacritic73/100[23]
Review scores
SourceRating
AllMusic5/5 stars[8]
Alternative Press9/10[24]
Blabbermouth.net10/10[25]
Entertainment WeeklyB−[10]
Kerrang!5/5[26]
Los Angeles Times3/4 stars[27]
Pitchfork8.2/10[28]
Q4/5 stars[29]
Rolling Stone3.5/5 stars[30]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4/5 stars[31]

On review aggregator website Metacritic, Toxicity holds a score of 73 out of 100, based on reviews from nine critics, which indicates "generally favourable reviews".[23] AllMusic writer Eduardo Rivadavia called Toxicity "hands down one of 2001's top metal releases" and wrote that the album "may well prove to be a lasting heavy metal classic to boot".[8] Toxicity is one of only 21 albums to achieve a perfect rating from Blabbermouth.net, with writer Don Kaye praising System of a Down in a contemporary review of the album as "one of the few bands that people may still be talking about ten years from now".[25] Drowned in Sound writer Don Kaye praised the band as "probably the most vital band around in the big, wide world of metal right now".[32] Ben Myers of Kerrang! stated that the band had "gone and bettered" their debut album and hailed Toxicity as "metal album of the year, hands down".[26] Q wrote that Toxicity "matches Slipknot for manic intensity while employing a freeform approach to songcraft which invites comparison to the lunatic-fringe rock of the '60s".[29]

Referring to Toxicity as "both manic and schizoid", Keith Harris of Rolling Stone noted Tankian's ability to veer "easily from sing-rap rhythm to Korn-ish hysterics to demonic baritone growl to doomily ruminative" and that "the music insists on forward motion without trapping itself in a thrashy lock-step rut".[30] Tom Sinclair of Entertainment Weekly called the album "strange and engaging", with a wide variety of sounds which "all adds up to bizarro type of metal that has a warped majesty and strength".[10] Robert Christgau of The Village Voice cited "Prison Song" and "Bounce" as highlights and later assigned the album a one-star honorable rating.[33][34] Spin's Joe Gross wrote that the band "have an undeniable nerd-prog charm".[35] Uncut, on the other hand, panned Toxicity as "virtually unlistenable".[4]

Commercial[edit]

Toxicity peaked at number one on the Billboard 200,[36][37] selling 220,000 copies in its first week of release.[38] The album also peaked at number one on the Canadian Albums Chart.[39] Toxicity sold at least 2,700,000 copies in the United States,[37] and at least 12,000,000 copies worldwide.[40] On November 27, 2002, the album was certified triple-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.[41]

All of the album's singles reached the Billboard Hot 100; "Chop Suey!" peaked at number 76, "Toxicity" peaked at number 70, and "Aerials" peaked at number 55. "Aerials" would remain the band's biggest domestic hit until "B.Y.O.B." surpassed it, reaching number 27 in 2005.[42] "Aerials" peaked at number one on the Mainstream Rock Songs chart[43] and number one on the Alternative Songs chart.[44] "Chop Suey!" and "Toxicity" were both top ten hits.[44] In 2005, Toxicity went to number one on the Catalog Albums chart.[45] Added to the 2001 Clear Channel memorandum,[46] "Chop Suey!" was pulled from playlists of just about every radio station after the September 11 attacks in 2001. "Chop Suey!" features some lyrics that were considered inappropriate in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. The song returned to the airwaves when things settled down.[47][unreliable source?]

Accolades[edit]

The album is listed on Blender's 500 CDs You Must Own.[48] MusicRadar held a public poll and Toxicity was ranked as the 28th greatest heavy metal album on its list of The 50 Greatest Heavy Metal Albums of All Time.[49] The album is ranked number 44 on Rolling Stone's 100 Best Albums of the Decade for 2000s[7] and 27th on the magazine's "100 Greatest Metal Albums of All Time".[50] Toxicity was voted the 27nd best album of the year in The Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop critics poll for 2001.[51] Spin named the album one of The 300 Best Albums Of The Past 30 Years, with Toxicity being one of the highest-listed heavy metal albums on the list.[52] Spin also named Toxicity the Album of the Year in 2001, and finally ranked it number 38 on its list of The 40 Greatest Metal Albums Of All Time.[53][54] Kludge ranked it number five on their list of best albums of 2001.[55] Alternative Press ranked it number nine on its 25 Best Albums of 2001.[38] Mojo ranked it number 93 on its 100 Modern Classics.[56] The album won a 2001 Metal Edge Readers' Choice Award for Album of the Year.[57] Loudwire listed the album at number one on its list of Top 11 Metal Albums of the 2000s, number two on the Top 100 Hard Rock + Metal Albums Of The 21st Century, and number 11 on its list of Top 50 Metal Albums of All Time.[58][59][60] NME listed the album at number six on its list of 20 Greatest Metal Albums Ever.[61] Metal Hammer declared Toxicity the best album of 2001.[62] The Observer ranked Toxicity as one of the Top 50 Albums Of The Decade, at number 34.[63] In 2007, The Guardian placed the album on its list of the 1000 Albums To Hear Before You Die.[64] Entertainment Weekly also put Toxicity on its list of the 100 Best Albums of the 1983–2008 Period, at number 90.[65] Revolver named Toxicity the eighth greatest metal album of all time on its list of the 69 Greatest Metal Albums Of All Time.[66] The album was included on The A.V. Club's list of the best metal records of the 2000s.[5] PopMatters ranked Toxicity at 62 on its Best Albums of the 2000s list.[67] "Chop Suey" was nominated for Best Metal Performance at the 44th Grammy Awards in 2002.[68] Spice Girl Melanie C picked it as one of her favourite albums.[69] In 2020, the album was included at the 100 Best Albums of the 21st Century list of Stacker, being ranked at 85.[70]

Track listing[edit]

All songs are produced by Rick Rubin, Daron Malakian, and Serj Tankian. All lyrics by Serj Tankian, except where noted. All music written by Malakian, except where noted.

No.TitleLyricsMusicLength
1."Prison Song"Tankian, MalakianMalakian3:21
2."Needles"Tankian, MalakianTankian, Malakian3:12
3."Deer Dance"Tankian, MalakianMalakian2:55
4."Jet Pilot"TankianOdadjian, Malakian2:05
5."X"TankianMalakian1:57
6."Chop Suey!"Tankian, MalakianMalakian3:30
7."Bounce"TankianMalakian, Odadjian1:54
8."Forest"TankianMalakian4:02
9."ATWA" ("Air Trees Water Animals")Tankian, MalakianMalakian2:56
10."Science"TankianMalakian2:42
11."Shimmy"TankianTankian1:50
12."Toxicity"TankianMalakian, Odadjian3:40
13."Psycho"Tankian, MalakianMalakian3:48
14."Aerials[+]"Tankian, MalakianMalakian6:11
Total length:44:01

^ + "Aerials" contains a hidden track referred to as "Arto" because it features Arto Tunçboyacıyan.[71] The track is actually an adaptation of "Der Voghormia" (meaning "Lord Have Mercy"), a traditional Armenian church hymn.[72]

French special edition bonus CD[73]
No.TitleMusicLength
1."Sugar" (live)Odadjian, Malakian2:27
2."War?" (live) 2:48
3."Suite-Pee" (live) 2:58
4."Know" (live)Odadjian, Malakian, Tankian3:03
5."Johnny"Tankian2:07
Japanese edition
No.TitleMusicLength
8."Johnny[*]"Tankian2:27
Blue Edition bonus DVD
No.TitleLyricsMusicLength
1."Toxicity" (Malakian, Odadjian) Malakian, Odadjian2:27
2."Chop Suey!" (live)Tankian, Malakian 2:48
3."Prison Song" (live)Tankian, Malakian 3:21
4."Bounce" (live) Malakian, Odadjian1:54
Red Edition bonus Computer Media
No.TitleLength
1."Behind the Scenes / Making of the Record"9:54

^ * "Johnny", the Japanese bonus track, is put as the eighth track on Toxicity on the album's Japanese Edition, pushing all tracks 8–14 on the album's normal track listing one track number forward.[74]

Personnel[edit]

Adapted from Toxicity's liner notes.[12]

Charts[edit]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Argentina (CAPIF)[123] Gold 20,000^
Australia (ARIA)[124] 5× Platinum 350,000double-dagger
Austria (IFPI Austria)[125] Gold 20,000*
Belgium (BEA)[126] Gold 25,000*
Brazil (Pro-Música Brasil)[127] Gold 50,000*
Canada (Music Canada)[128] 2× Platinum 200,000^
Germany (BVMI)[129] Gold 150,000^
Italy (FIMI)[130]
sales since 2009
Platinum 50,000*
Mexico (AMPROFON)[131] Gold 75,000^
Netherlands (NVPI)[132] Gold 40,000^
New Zealand (RMNZ)[133] Platinum 15,000^
Poland (ZPAV)[134] Gold 10,000double-dagger
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[135] Gold 20,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[136] 2× Platinum 600,000double-dagger
United States (RIAA)[41] 3× Platinum 2,700,000[37]
Summaries
Europe (IFPI)[137] Platinum 1,000,000*

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

References[edit]

Citations[edit]

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Bibliography[edit]