System of a Down's 2001 album, Toxicity, was a huge victory for fans of adventurous music. It stretched the boundaries of hard rock and heavy metal, employing frenetic stop-and-start beats, crunching guitars and offbeat, hyper vocals.
The chaotic, careening, left-of-center sound hardly was a recipe for mainstream success, yet that's exactly what Toxicity became. The CD debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart and spawned four hit singles (including the chart-topping "Aerials") en route to going multi-platinum.
With the prospect of even bigger success within reach, many fans undoubtedly wondered if System of a Down would rein in some of the unpredictable and unconventional tendencies that characterized Toxicity. But to hear guitarist/singer Daron Malakian tell it, fans never had anything to worry about. As the band's chief songwriter, Malakian clearly is driven not by financial reward, but by his creativity.
"That's what makes you wealthy, man, not money," he says from his home base of Los Angeles. "Money doesn't bring me happiness. We've done well. I've bought myself a house and a car and stuff. That stuff doesn't bring me happiness. For me, it's all about the next song, or taking what I've done to another level. That's what gets me high."
System of a Down have been following their unique musical path since 1994, when Malakian and singer/keyboardist Serj Tankian -- who'd started a group called Soil the year before -- added Shavo Odadjian on bass and changed the band name to System of a Down.
Drummer John Dolmayan came on board in 1996. Two years later, after landing a deal with American Recordings, the band released a self-titled debut, then followed it with Toxicity in 2001.
From the start, Malakian says, he and Tankian -- who shares lyric-writing duties and helps shape the final form of a song -- made musical development their No. 1 priority.
"When we were a club band, we always used to say, 'Man, if we ever see success, we'd like to open doors for other people, to push the boundaries and fully contribute something to art, to music, that is going to help it evolve, instead of doing stuff for the sake of money or doing stuff for the sake of being popular or whatever," Malakian says.
It's not surprising, then, that musical growth remained a key goal for Mezmerize, released in May, and Hypnotize, set to release later this fall.
Mezmerize is System of a Down's most approachable album yet. That's because many of the songs are even more melodic than the group's past work. "Revenga" and "Violent Pornography," and "Radio/Video" in particular, feature soaring vocals from Tankian and Malakian, plenty of catchy instrumental riffs and other nifty sonic twists.
Malakian, who wrote most of the music for Mezmerize and Hypnotize, pushed out voluminous material for the albums. In fact, he wrote so many songs that, for a time, System of a Down considered making a double CD. In the end, the band opted to split the material into separate discs.
"As a writer, I kind of go crazy," says Malakian. "I even had like at least 20 or 30 more songs to bring into the band. But we had to stop and get into the studio at some point. I mean, what I do is I write a lot of songs, just a lot of stuff, and hopefully pick the best out of the bulk. There are so many things that I still didn't bring into the band that probably could have made the record. So it's not unusual, though. That's just the way I work."
-- Alan Sculley
System of a Down with The Mars Volta
Pepsi Center, 1000 Chopper Circle, Denver
Sunday, Oct. 2, 7 p.m.
Tickets: $28.50-$41; call 520-9090 or visit ticketmaster.com.