After two years of being rejected from the steel genre, mechanism of a under is getting more love this days. In ~ the start of your career, the band had actually this misfortune to be lumped along with that short-lived 90’s fad “nu metal” (System of a down never embraced the label, though). Mechanism of a Down continued to have actually a contentious relationship through genre, yet especially through metal. Metal fans lambasted device of a down for gift paradoxically also commercial and too weird, as well political and also silly.1 But more recently, the band appears to it is in getting more favorable treatment, placing fine on number of lists of “best steel of the 21st century” and that type of thing.

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This can be due to the fact that people who were farming up when mechanism was popular (like myself) are currently in their late 20s and early 30s and working their way into absent journalism jobs. Another factor might be their enduring success as among the most heavy bands to proceed to sell out stadiums. I mean, how many other metal(ish) bands can efficiently attract a headline spot and an specialized crowd in ~ a significant festival favor Download as soon as they haven’t released an album in much more than a decade?

But it’s additionally because your music actually has actually a same amount of steel in it. component of what connects mechanism of a Down’s song to the metal genre is that components of your songs frequently sound choose or recall assorted styles and subgenres from various moments that the history of rock and metal. (And that course, there’s generally something in the same song that is weird and original and alien to those various other styles). And also System that a down isn’t the just band that reuses or returns to ideas and materials and styles native metal’s past. It’s becoming really common this days, together a glance at the recent winners that the best metal power Grammy (Ghost and Mastodon, I’m looking at you here…).

In music theory, a comparable idea has actually been quite famous in current years, in which these “commonplaces because that musical discourse” are referred to as “topics” (Ratner 1983).2 Music philosophers often explain topics together a details kind that musical symbol or symbol, yet some authors including Raymond Monelle (2006) have used the hatchet “topic” in a an ext conventional sense, an creative or literary principle like “pastoral” or “storm” the is a part of wider culture and rhetoric as much as that is “just” a musical idea.3 A recent publication by wilhelm Echard (2016) has used many the the framing ideas of topic theory to define the object of “psychedelia” in rock, metal, and electronic run music.4 This short article will be my an initial in a series applying the concept of “topics” in steel music.

What adheres to is a dive into the musical details the a couple of System that a under songs. Among the biggest categories of topics in studies of classic music is the “importation” of various other genres for use out of context in a item that correctly belongs to another genre. I’m hoping to to convince you that some of the raw products which system of a Down offers come indigenous thrash metal and also black metal styles, and also that this makes system of a Down vital part the metal’s legacy. Even if friend aren’t convinced that mechanism of a Down have to be considered component of the metal genre proper, ns hope this will provoke a discussion of what makes metal sound prefer metal, and also how facets of metal and rock styles like “hardcore punk” “black metal” or “thrash” have the right to be heard in other contexts.

1. “Suite Pee” from System of a Down  (1998)

I’ll begin with one of device of a Down’s most difficult songs, “Suite Pee.” This song starts with a super hefty riff, developed from alternating between C and Db (see the riff below). This riff is sort of ~ above the straightforward side because that metal, but I can see a band choose Sepultura using it. Then the bridge riff is a half-time sport on the very same C-Db-C idea, a failure strategy you will view in lots of mosh-y too much metal songs. On the various other hand, the upbeat, dance-y feel of this key riff feels more like a hardcore punk band like Black Flag.

The bridge supplies a much more plodding, metallic sport of the main riff. And also it opens up with part real death growls, which makes this most likely one that the moments in system of a Down’s catalogue that most sounds like death metal.


The comparison System of a down creates between this soft sound (clean vocals, acoustic guitar, melancholy boy key) and the substantial loud city riff (see below) is a strategy provided throughout the background of metal—although generally the larger riff is the chorus and also the quieter part is the verse. Sure, there could be some middle-eastern folk instruments in the background, which not many metal bands would use. However it functions as a metal ballad in the heritage of Metallica’s “Fade come Black” or Pantera’s “Cemetery Gates.”

The city riff itself, a combination of chugging, palm-muted open-string power chords (the eighth notes) and also the descending minor melodic scale (F-Eb-D-C), is right out the the thrash metal playbook, or even early death metal. For example, death uses a comparable descending range figure throughout the intro to “Evil Dead” from their very first album Scream Bloody Gore (1987).

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3. “Revenga” from Mesmerize (2005)

Revenga is full of the same kind the galloping, frenetic riffs that are offered by nearly every thrash metal band. I m sorry isn’t to say the this tune “sounds like thrash metal,” because it doesn’t. The falsetto vocals by Daron Malakian and Serj Tankian, and much more importantly your earnest melodicism, would be out of ar in any thrash song by Metallica or Slayer.