Toxicity (album)

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Studio album by System of a Down
Released September 4, 2001
Recorded February - July 2001
Studio Cello Studios
Length 44:01
Label Columbia
System of a Down chronology
System of a Down
(1998)System of a Down1998
Steal This Album!
(2002)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 the American rock band System of a Down. The album was released on September 4, 2001, by Columbia Records and peaked at number one on both the Billboard 200 and the Canadian Albums Chart. Certified triple-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, the album sold at least 2,700,000 copies in the United States.

All of Toxicity's singles were on the Billboard Hot 100 and one of those singles, "Aerials", went to number one on both the Mainstream Rock Songs chart and on the Modern Rock Tracks chart. Toxicity received mainly positive ratings and reviews from critics, getting a 5 out of 5 star rating from AllMusic and a 10/10 rating from Many critics praised the album's sound and innovation. Categorized as alternative metal, thrash metal, hard rock, art metal[disambiguation needed], heavy metal, and nu metal, Toxicity features elements of multiple genres of music: folk, progressive metal, progressive rock, jazz, thrash metal, Middle Eastern music, and Greek music.

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.
System of a Down guitarist Daron Malakian, speaking about the band's change in sound on Toxicity.[1]

Categorized as alternative metal,[2] thrash metal,[3] art metal[disambiguation needed][4], hard rock,[5] heavy metal[6] and nu metal,[6][7] the album features elements of multiple genres of music: folk,[8] progressive metal,[9] progressive rock,[8] jazz,[8][1] thrash metal,[3] Middle Eastern music,[1] and Greek music.[1] 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] System of a Down recorded over thirty songs for Toxicity but narrowed the number of songs on the album to fourteen.[10]

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".[11] "Prison Song" is about overpopulation in prisons.[11] 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".[12] Tankian said that "Prison Song" also addresses "how drug money is used to rig elections in other countries by the CIA".[12] "Bounce" is about group sex.[11] "Psycho" is about people who are considered "groupies".[6][12] "ATWA" is about Charles Manson's beliefs on the environment. Malakian said about Charles Manson: "He's in jail for the wrong reasons. I think he had an unfair trial".[10] "Deer Dance" is about the protests surrounding the 2000 Democratic National Convention.[13][14]

Critical reception and commercial performance[edit]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Source Rating
Metacritic 73/100[3]
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[6]
Alternative Press 9/10[15] 10/10[16]
Entertainment Weekly B−[8]
Kerrang! 5/5[17]
Los Angeles Times 3/4 stars[18]
Q 4/5 stars[19]
Rolling Stone 3.5/5 stars[20]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 4/5 stars[21]
Slant Magazine 3.5/5 stars[22]

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".[3] Toxicity is one of only 21 albums to achieve a perfect rating from, 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".[16] 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".[23] 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".[17] 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".[19]

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".[20] 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".[8] Robert Christgau of The Village Voice cited "Prison Song" and "Bounce" as highlights and later assigned the album a one-star honorable rating.[24][25] Spin's Joe Gross wrote that the band "have an undeniable nerd-prog charm".[26]

Uncut, on the other hand, panned Toxicity as "virtually unlistenable: thrash metal splintered into a million pieces by unnecessary time changes, topped off with excruciatingly theatrical vocals".[27]


The album is listed on Blender's 500 CDs You Must Own.[28] 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.[29] The album is ranked number 44 on Rolling Stone's 100 Best Albums of the Decade for 2000s[9] and 27th on the magazine's "100 Greatest Metal Albums of All Time".[30] Spin named the album one of The 300 Best Albums Of The Past 30 Years, with Toxicity being one of the highest-listed metal albums on the list.[31] 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.[32][33] Kludge ranked it number five on their list of best albums of 2001.[34] Alternative Press ranked it number nine on its 25 Best Albums of 2001 (Feb 2002, p. 64). Mojo ranked it number 93 on its 100 Modern Classics (p. 54). The album won a 2001 Metal Edge Readers' Choice Award for Album of the Year.[35] 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.[36][37][38] NME listed the album at number six on its list of 20 Greatest Metal Albums Ever.[39] Metal Hammer declared Toxicity the best album of 2001.[40] The Observer ranked Toxicity as one of the Top 50 Albums Of The Decade, at number 34.[41] In 2007, The Guardian placed the album on its list of the 1000 Albums To Hear Before You Die.[42] Entertainment Weekly also put Toxicity on its list of the 100 Best Albums of the 1983–2008 Period, at number 90.[43] Revolver named Toxicity the eighth greatest metal album of all time on its list of the 69 Greatest Metal Albums Of All Time.[44] The album was included on The A.V. Club's list of the best metal records of the 2000s.[4]

Commercial performance[edit]

Toxicity peaked at number one on the Billboard 200,[45][46] selling 220,000 copies in its first week of release.[47] The album also peaked at number one on the Canadian Albums Chart.[48] Toxicity sold at least 2,700,000 copies in the United States,[46] and at least 12,000,000 copies worldwide.[49] On November 27, 2002, the album was certified triple-platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.[50]

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.[51] "Aerials" went to number one on the Mainstream Rock Songs chart[52] and number one on the Alternative Songs chart.[53] "Chop Suey" and "Toxicity" were both top ten hits.[53] In 2005, Toxicity went to number one on the Catalog Albums chart.[54]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Lyrics Music Length
1. "Prison Song" Tankian, Malakian Malakian 3:21
2. "Needles" Tankian, Malakian Tankian, Malakian 3:13
3. "Deer Dance" Tankian, Malakian Malakian 2:55
4. "Jet Pilot" Tankian Odadjian, Malakian 2:06
5. "X" Tankian Malakian 1:58
6. "Chop Suey!" Tankian, Malakian Malakian 3:30
7. "Bounce" Tankian Malakian, Odadjian 1:54
8. "Forest" Tankian Malakian 4:00
9. "Atwa" (Air, Trees, Water, Animals) Tankian, Malakian Malakian 2:56
10. "Science" (featuring Arto Tunçboyacıyan) Tankian Malakian 2:43
11. "Shimmy" Tankian Tankian 1:51
12. "Toxicity" Tankian Malakian, Odadjian 3:39
13. "Psycho" Tankian, Malakian Malakian 3:45
14. "Aerials[I]" Tankian, Malakian Malakian 6:11
Total length: 44:01

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

French Special Edition bonus CD[55]
No. Title Lyrics Music Length
1. "Sugar" (live) Tankian Odadjian, Malakian 2:27
2. "War?" (live) Tankian Malakian 2:48
3. "Suite-Pee" (live) Tankian Malakian 2:58
4. "Know" (live) Tankian Odadjian, Malakian, Tankian 3:03
5. "Johnny" Tankian Tankian 2:09
Japanese Edition
No. Title Lyrics Music Length
8. "Johnny" Tankian Tankian 2:27

^ "Johnny," the Japanese bonus track, is put as the eighth track on Toxicity, pushing every track after it one forward (I.e. "Forest is now Track 9, ATWA is now Track 10, etc.)

Blue Edition bonus DVD
No. Title Lyrics Music Length
1. "Toxicity" (Malakian, Odadjian) Tankian Malakian, Odadjian 2:27
2. "Chop Suey!" (live) Tankian,Malakian Malakian 2:48
3. "Prison Song" (live) Tankian, Malakian Malakian 3:21
4. "Bounce" (live) Tankian Malakian, Odadjian 1:54
Red Edition bonus Computer Media
No. Title Length
1. "Behind The Scenes/Making of the Record" 9:54


System of a Down

Additional personnel

  • Rick Rubinproducer, piano
  • Daron Malakian – producer
  • Serj Tankian – co-producer
  • Andy Wallacemixing
  • David Schiffman – engineer
  • Greg Collins – engineer
  • Darren Mora – engineer
  • Darrn Mora – assistant engineer
  • Al Sanderson – assistant engineer
  • Ryan McCormick – assistant engineer
  • Jim Champagne – assistant engineer
  • Rich Balmer – mixdown engineer
  • Arto Tunçboyacıyan – backing vocals
  • Kirk Hammett – guitar on "Aerials"
  • Marc Mann – string arrangements, conducting
  • Martyn Atkins – photography (studio)
  • Glen E. Friedman – photography (back Cover, water)
  • John Dolmayan – photography
  • Hallie Sirota – photography
  • Mark Wakefield – cover art
  • Shavo Odadjian – art direction, album art concepts
  • Brandy Flower – art direction, collage art
  • System of a Down – album art concepts
  • John Dolmayan – collage art
  • Shavo Odadjian – co-label art
  • Dino Paredes – A&R direction
  • Lindsay Chase – production coordinator
  • Eddy Schreyer – mastering


Preceded by
Iowa by Slipknot
Canadian Albums Chart number-one album[57]
September 22, 2001
Succeeded by
Silver Side Up by Nickelback
Preceded by
Aaliyah by Aaliyah
Billboard 200 number-one album[58]
September 22, 2001
Succeeded by
The Blueprint by Jay-Z


Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Austria (IFPI Austria)[59] Gold 20,000*
Australia (ARIA)[60] 3× Platinum 210,000^
Belgium (BEA)[61] Gold 25,000*
Brazil (Pro-Música Brasil)[62] Gold 50,000*
Brazil (Pro-Música Brasil)[63]
5-album bundle
Platinum 40,000*
Canada (Music Canada)[64] 2× Platinum 200,000^
Germany (BVMI)[65] Gold 150,000^
Italy (FIMI)[66] Platinum 100,000*
New Zealand (RMNZ)[67] Platinum 15,000^
Switzerland (IFPI Switzerland)[68] Gold 20,000^
United Kingdom (BPI)[69] Gold 100,000^
United States (RIAA)[70] 3× Platinum 2,700,000[46]
Europe (IFPI)[71] Platinum 1,000,000*

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone


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