Considering System of a Down's wild, free-wheeling sound, it should come as no surprise to fans how diverse guitarist and songwriter Daron Malakian's musical tastes are. The musician, who also fronts Scars on Broadway, has been shaped by all kinds of music over his lifetime and career — from Death to the Grateful Dead. Count among that list the trailblazing thrash of Slayer. When we talked to Malakian about the albums that have shaped him as a person and an artist, he included Show No Mercy, the "Big 4" OGs' classic debut LP, high among his picks. Below are his thoughts on its profound impact on him.
When I was 14 years old, I went to Iraq. I was there for a month and a half and I got to see the whole Saddam cult of personality. I took a bunch of my cassettes and heavy-metal magazines just to keep me occupied. Show No Mercy was the one I would listen to the most — on an old Sony Walkman with headphones, and a Mötley Crüe T-shirt on. All my family there were like, "What the fuck is this that you're listening to?" I might have been the first person to take heavy metal to Iraq. I can't prove that, but they had no clue what heavy metal was in 1989 in Baghdad. I was just in love with it.
It was heaviest stuff that I could get my hands on. It was a great time in heavy metal because there was an evolution happening in the Eighties. When I first bought that cassette, I didn't like it. But I kept putting it on, and it clicked for me when I took it to Iraq: "Wow, this is really great shit. This is heavier than anything else." Slayer was a harder sell for some of my friends in those days. They all liked Metallica. All my friends who were trying to play like Yngwie Malmsteen and all that shit, they were really not into Slayer.
[Slayer's] early stuff was happening when I was just starting to learn to play guitar. Slayer is one of the bands that taught me how to play the guitar. I would sit there and listen to Reign in Blood, Show No Mercy and South of Heaven. It was like religion to me at that time of my life — when I was like 14 years old. When System first came out, people asked me to explain our music, and I would say, "It's as if Slayer and the Beatles had a baby. [Laughs]