SYSTEM OF A DOWN albums ranked: From worst to best | Revolver

SYSTEM OF A DOWN albums ranked: From worst to best

A critical look back at the alt-metal weirdos' catalog
system of a down 2020 PROMO NEW, Clemente Ruiz
photograph by Clemente Ruiz

System of a Down don't sound like any other band in music history, and yet somehow, despite how freakishly weird, unpredictable and provocative their politically charged nu-metal sound is, they've earned several Grammy wins and boast several of the most recognizable rock songs of the 21st century.

System of a Down have accomplished a lot during their time as a band, and they've done it by releasing just five full-length albums. Much to the fan's chagrin, they haven't dropped one since 2005's Hypnotize (which arrived just a few months after Mezmerize), and according to band members themselves, they might never release another.

Regardless, the five SOAD have to their name make up an imposing catalog that fans have spent decades debating the merits of. Below, we rank all of their albums, from best to worst.

5. Steal This Album!

System of a Down's leftovers are better than most band's greatest compositions, but compared to the rest of their catalog, Steal This Album! is the obvious weak point.

Comprised of outtakes from the vast Toxicity sessions that leaked online, the band decided to officially repackage them and call it their third album, and there're certainly some tasty scraps in this smorgasbord. "Chic 'N' Stu," "I-E-A-I-A-I-O," "Boom!" and "Fuck the System" are as zany and thrilling as anything from their first two releases, but the record suffers from its lack of cohesion and occasional dips in quality.

Simply put, SOAD set the bar too high on everything that came before and after. Steal This Album! just doesn't match up.

4. Mezmerize

The first half of System of a Down's quasi-double-album has some of their most beloved material on it, but as a full body of work, there's a lot to be desired here. Forged in the heat of intra-band tension between Tankian and his bandmates, the record saw Malakian taking on way more singing duties, making System's sound significantly more dynamic — which could be both a strength and a weakness.

Of course, "B.Y.O.B" is one of the band's biggest and, no matter how many times you've heard it, endlessly enjoyable songs. "Revenga" and "Sad Statue" are late-career highlights that flex their melodic muscles, and the klezmer chaos of "Radio/Video" is a ton of fun, if not a little silly.

Otherwise, Mezmerize is a mixed bag. Closer "Lost in Hollywood" is a haunting meditation on fame, but its sibling track, "Old School Hollywood," fumbles with instantly dated synths and grating vocoder. "Cigaro" and "This Cocaine Makes Me Feel Like I'm on This Song" fail to match the gut-punching intensity of System's older, heavier songs, and both of those — along with the borderline cringey "Violent Pornography" — are plagued by nonsensical and/or desperately edgy lyrics.

Fortunately, in most every way that Mezmerize fails, its companion piece succeeds.

3. System of a Down

System of a Down's self-titled debut is one of the nu-metal era's most iconic albums. The open-hand cover (a nod to anti-fascist German protest art) is a brilliant distillation of SOAD's whole vibe, and songs like "Suite-Pee," "Spiders" and "Sugar" are three of the best they've ever released.

While the band's politics got muddied by sophomoric humor and nonsensical language on later releases, Tankian was crooning, shrieking and growling about some serious fucking shit on this album, delivering righteous sermons on genocide, religious extremism and other human moral failings, while his bandmate's playing teetered on the precipe of madness without ever falling over the edge.

Is this a perfect album, though? Musically speaking, no. At 40 minutes, it's only one track's length shorter than Toxicity but it feels longer, dragging during its back-half when the incendiary push-pull of Patton-gone-grindcore starts to lose its edge and blur together. At this point in their career, System knew how to write spectacular songs, but they hadn't yet mastered the album format.

2. Hypnotize

Yes, we know. Placing Hypnotize above their self-titled — and hell, even above Mezmerize — is sacrilege to some SOAD fans, but hear us out. Hypnotize is easily the band's most melodic and eclectic album, and in almost every instance, the band succeed at what they're going for. The majestic "Holy Mountains" rivals the epicness of "Aerials," and as opposed to the clumsiness of Mezmerize, Tankian and Malakian's dueling vocals actually contrast in interesting ways on songs like "Dreaming," "Hypnotize" and "Stealing Society." Moreover, "U-Fig" and "Vicinity of Obscenity" are high-voltage bangers that effectively rekindle the rage of their early work, unlike some of the duds on Mezmerize.

Unfortunately, the juvenile lyrical whiffs make their way on here, too, tainting otherwise catchy tunes like "Kill Rock 'n Roll" and "She's Like Heroin." Then there's "Lonely Day," a sentimental ballad that became one of System's biggest hits despite not sounding like anything else they've ever released. To some System fans, the polarizing ditty sounds like saccharine radio-courting crap; to us, the emotionality rings true and the earworm hook is undeniable.

Will Hypnotize forever remain System's final album? If so, it's an underratedly great way to go out.

1. Toxicity

It had to be Toxicity. This is SOAD's magnum opus, a pinnacle of alt-metal that more than satisfied heavy music's need for lyrical nuance and political valence at the tail-end of the vapid nu-metal era. The fact that a song like "Chop Suey!" — with a chorus about "self-righteous suicide" and angels who deserve to die — became the cultural phenomenon it did is a minor miracle, and while that Grammy-winning hit stands as System's best song, hands down, the album that surrounds it is similarly breathtaking.

The jump-scare heaviness of "Prison Song. The chanting-chugging "Needles." The Kool-Aid-man-crashing-through-the-wall intensity of "Bounce," "Shimmy" and "Psycho." The screaming-toward-the-sky gravitas of "Forest," "Toxicity" and "Aerials," the latter being System's second-best song (sorry, it just is). And crucially, the way all these songs gel together into one compelling call to action against senseless violence, environmental destruction and capitalist exploitation. Toxicity is a masterpiece. Period.