System of a Down has sold over 16 million albums since it broke into the music scene in 1998 with their self-titled debut album. The album vibrates with a unique sound and musical pieces that really went outside of the box in terms of what many metal fans were listening to. Fast paced guitar, loud drums and bass were all familiar, but the timing was strange and the lyrics were stranger. Serj Tankian’s unique voice, ranging from harmonious to cacophonous, was rather new. System of a Down is an album that you can listen to and enjoy the fun tempo and smashing vocals, but if you take interest into the lyrics, you may be surprised about a few things.
Yes, due to the nature of METAL! There will likely be some explicit language.
I wouldn’t consider myself an atheist because I believe that everything is connected, whatever you want to give that name. I like calling it the Spirit-That-Moves-Through-All-Things. But I mean you can give it any name you want. But at the same time I don’t believe in the typecast god of the Judeo-Christian faith. I don’t know where that lands in that spectrum. – Serj Tankian, Interview 2012.
System of a Down begins with a fast paced, fun sounding song titled “Suite-Pee.” The lyrics imply some criticism of religion, and how it manages to launch a discussion on just how dangerous religion can be. There is a narrator to this song, and while we can say it is Serj, it is easier to just say it is a person who is likely a victim of his own meandering thoughts. This idea helps explain some things about most System of a Down songs, because none of the band members really talk about meanings of songs, because they want the listener to come up with their own meanings.
The song begins with our narrator’s realization that he has had an out of body experience. He gave this experience a gender – Female, and a name – Jesus. This female Jesus yearns for attention in the repetition of the lyrics:
Try her philosophy
Try her philosophy
Try her philosophy, try!
You die for her philosophy
Die for her philosophy
Die her philosophy, Die!
This statement cements the song’s meaning – the narrator has bought into this experience, to the point of fanaticism. Afterwards, the song mentions “crossed and terrored ravages of architecture” with some violent descriptions of swords and spades. The song is deep into the narrator’s mind now and he has witnessed the violence and slavery all in the name of those crossed, terrifying structures, churches, or to say, the Church. This thought is interrupted by our female Jesus and the song steps another level lower.
The tempo of the song changes slowly and we are hit with the line “Lie naked on the floor and let the Messiah go through our souls.” This is perhaps the subconscious yearning to live naturally and experience what nature means us to experience. “I want to fuck my way to the garden” is indicative of that yearning to go back to the garden of Eden, which is a nice place to be. Sex is also a nice place to be.
The following and falling of Christ lines echo the trying and dying for her philosophy. Ultimately, religion is an unnatural state of mind when it is organized behind a single figure, and should be only a thought.
Death is life, and life is death, depending on how you live it. It’s good to die every moment to the past, so you can live it in the present. – Serj Tankian, Interview.
“Know” is a song that explores ideas of the afterlife, and how getting to the afterlife will free us from our mother’s Earth. It begins by painting a psychedelic image of “evergreen luster of your heart” and “peaking from the windows [of unmentioned people’s] mouths,” ending with chanting women who “fly up to the sun.” All of this implies that we are trapped on Earth and even though we hear certain people speak of the afterlife, we know that they know nothing. They paint images in our minds that we are flying up, into the heavens after death, but are we really?
The chorus repeats “You never think you know, why?” While many people believe this is stating that people do not know, it asks people to think about their own beliefs of the afterlife. No one knows, and either consciously, or subconsciously, we don’t think we know the answer.
The most important part of the song that gives a deeper understanding of the meaning comes after the chorus:
Books all say different things while people flap their yellow wings
Trying to soar by being a whore
of life and almost everything
The sheep that ran off from the herd
may be dead but now’s a bird
Able to fly, able to die, able to break your cursed earth
Fuck your mother’s earth!
So books with yellow pages are being turned furiously as the religious groups struggle to know everything about what comes after death. These people are whores to their religion, as they sell their minds and bodies to proselytize their religion. Sometimes, a person manages to get away from this line of thought and leave the “herd.” To the mainstream religious folks, the person is dead to them, but the independence he has found allows him to fly and allows him to find his own beliefs through his own means, regardless of his peer’s beliefs.
Later mentions of the other side, wanting to fly, etc, are the death and afterlife processes being explained in a similar way to the rest of the song – the most confusing way possible.
Good evening, I’m Eric Alost [America Lost]. NATO forces bomb Serbia and Kosovo. An unidentified man is being held for questioning by the FBI for suspected links to last month’s biological virus deaths. In local news, a dog named Hero takes the grand prize at the annual- I wish I could tell you more pertinent news, but we’re in a rating system here, and the key factor is ‘sensationalism’. They’ve got you running in circles, 9 to 5, and 5 to 9 – you’re mine! I tell you what they want you to know, and you consider it the truth. Nobody is opening their eyes! Our global economy is depleting the world of our lives and natural resources! AND ARE YOU HAPPY?! COME ON! I WORK FOR THE SYSTEM! – From the video for Sugar.
“Sugar” is the first major hit for System of a Down and for good reason. It has an extremely catchy riff, lyrics that are both fast and snippy, with a little bit of a comedic delivery, and it’s unbelievably short. A great deal of the song’s meaning is influenced by the controversial video that begins with a newscaster speaking the truth about news. This sets up the song’s overall meaning of distraction. “The kombucha mushroom people” that sit around all day are those that simply watch TV and gather all of their information from television. As stated previously, the song bases all of its meaning in distracting. The only time we should pay mind to the song is at the chorus and the end, where the narrator eventually loses his mind. Insanity, Russian Roulette, domestic abuse, fantasizing about different realities, and religion all leads to the narrator going a bit crazy.
I sit, in my desolate room, no lights, no music,
I’ve killed everyone,
I’m away forever, but I’m feeling better,
How do I feel,
What do I say,
Fuck you, it all goes away
This is the final words of the song – ultimately, our guy has been put away, his thoughts are a mess and he has committed some crime, perhaps he killed everyone. Now he has been put away, and feels better, but he is still out of his mind.
The trick to deciphering this song, for me, is that you have to look at the world as we live in it. We play games, we watch TV. We spend money on shit that is killing us slowly and we panic about things that ultimately wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans at times. We buy into whatever the talking box in the corner of our living room tells us, and we fall into line. Breaking away from this takes either us going completely mad, or finding a better way to handle the stress.
The video occasionally flashes the words “Aspartame kills!” which may allude to the song’s title, but I cannot find any references connecting any opinions of the band to Aspartame (a semi-controversial artificial sweetener). I would assume that it’s just more of the distraction that the song is attempting to wake us up from.
We first fought the heathens in the name of religion, then Communism, and now in the name of drugs and terrorism. Our excuses for global domination always change. – Serj Tankian, Various Quote Sites
This song’s meaning is basic, but I am going to go ahead and throw something down right now, because I want to address this as there is no solid source that I can find of it’s validity. Some folks have stated in the past that Serj has claimed the song is about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I am calling for a source on that, because I feel like I have read this somewhere in an official capacity. However, the song’s meaning falls well into the idea of globalism and corporatism.
Explaining the idea that the leaders watch from up high, and that the ships are far away, gives us the idea that government and corporate leaders are able to monitor us from afar. Identifying the light post as the owner’s of the working class gives us the idea that they are better, brighter and more important than the workers. Then the first verse ends with “But if you want the answers, you better give a piece of ass.” In other words, if you are a neglected member of the working class, and you want to know why certain things are happening, like, the failing economy, war, famine, whatever problems are going on, then you better be ready for a long, arduous process of trying to get answers, and you better get ready to go through hell to get it.
The mention on posthypnotic suggestions comes up. A post hypnotic suggestion is hypnotizing someone to do something at a later date, the Kennedy assassination would be the result of Oswald being supposedly hypnotized by the CIA to pull the trigger. In regards to our current analysis, a post hypnotic suggestion can lead to a disruption of society, and then, perhaps, a new group will take over – and they will be worse, they will ultimately proclaim themselves to be God. Now, if you question them, they will likely kill you, and you better get ready for the fire
The end of the song leaves us with hope, perhaps, as the working class grows larger, and they grow more frustrated with the leaders, as they are “coming close to the shore.” Eventually, they overtake the shore, and the light post is evacuated. For better, or worse? I guess we can then go back to the Kennedy assassination if we must and ask – Is the country better off that Kennedy was killed, or are we worse off?
Your thoughts and dreams are no longer sacred as they are exposed to a weapon known as remote viewing and monitoring. – Album Notes
Put yourself in 1998, USA. The idea of the government funding and designing a program to monitor everything its citizens do is becoming a slow reality, along with the popularity of a growing Internet. “Spiders” explores this idea of a government monitoring its people through word and video. The video is strange indeed, employing some form of techno shamanic scenery. It’s very hard to pull meaning from the video because the imagery is so strange, but the implication here is that the video is so far in the future, that we do not understand what we see.
With that being said, Spiders, is a song about a government run rampant over the privacy of its people.
The piercing radiant moon,
The storming of poor June,
All the life running through her hair,Approaching guiding light,
Our shallow years in fright,
The moon mentioned is the government, or the person/group that is monitoring people. “Spiders” uses a lot of imagery that indicates this is all taking place in darkness. The storming is identifying a girl named June (See in the video with the wires running into her body). The mention of life running through her hair is information traveling along its determined routes. June is also very young, and the idea of the guiding light, may be a light she sees in the process of the spying character, as she is implanted with technology that monitors her every move and thought.
Your lives are open wide,
The V-chip gives them sight,
All the life running through her hair,The spiders all in tune,
The evening of the moon,
The song then turns to the listener, and makes a statement that our lives are open wide as the government passes more and more legislation encroaching on our privacy. The V-Chip is a chip inside of a TV that allows parents to restrict certain content. This could imply some governmental monitoring through allowing the spying character to use the V-Chip to check up on what we are consuming from our TV. Creepily enough, a few years after this song, the FDA approved the VeriChip, which is, in fact, an actual chip implanted into humans for tracking purposes. They were discontinued in 2010. The spiders all in tune in the evening (more darkness here) tells us that the spy is very quiet and meticulous, and they are waiting as they filter information through their web.
A couple of lines deal with consciousness. “Before you know, awake” and “Dreams are made winding through my head,” are both lines leading us to a conclusion that this may all be a dream, or, it may feel like a dream, because when we wake up, it’s as if everything is normal.
This song applies to us today, now more than ever, as the Internet continues to grow and gain speed. Nanotechnology is improving and wireless transfer of data is beginning to take hold of society. The government is funding programs to spy on the world (NSA, CIA), and even though we know this, we do not know how deep it is. We are monitored on the Internet by what we buy, what we look up and what we read. Our dealings with businesses are actively tracked and our health information is shared amongst different groups of people. We are now, more than ever, at the behest of those spiders, and as time passes, it will only get more intrusive. How far will the spying character go in our lives? Who knows, but they are not afraid to go into our bodies.
For those that control the central nervous system,control society, and the world. – Album Notes
So this song is a conglomeration of confusing lyrics that are hard to follow without the album’s description. The song deals with independence, and how we are controlled by so many things. The first verse, dealing with “writers of the word” deal with the many religions we have in the world that people live and die for. These works are plagiarized, in that we do not know the original writers, we just keep copying and writing our own versions as time goes on. The spear line may be an accusation that the only words we should be reading are religious scriptures, and that Shakespeare, invoking thought, is dangerous. The next part about refrigerators gaining independence is about our reliance on technology, which is only getting worse, to the point of where technology is used to control us. The verse about stupid and smart people are about how intelligent people merely work for themselves, and ignore everyone else, including other smart people. This is a type of control that we call selfishness.
The chorus merely celebrates the chaos that ensues from all of this control and the battles for control. This is from the perspective of the devil, or perhaps, a demon. The rest of the song just embellishes the work that the devil has done to successfully allow us to control others. Looking at the song musically, you will notice much of the song is structured so rhythmically you could march to it, up until the chorus, where it is chaotic. The harshness of the end of the song implies pure ecstasy of the narrator, as if he is extremely excited to see the world fall apart because of our battles to control people.
What is the “official” meaning behind the song Soil of System of a Down ? What is it truly about ? A friend who committed suicide. – serjtankianofficial, from Reddit.com
“Soil” is one of those extremely violent songs with a personal meaning for the artist. Serj Tankian stated that the song was about a close friend who committed suicide. The song begins with a description of a boy raised in a broken, abusive home. Tired of the abuse, he kills himself with a .45.
The chorus of the song is as snappy as it is violent:
Friends for years images in red,
Blew off his own motherfuckin’ head,
Confidence, death, insecurity,
Men fall unrealized,
The narrator restates the suicide of his friend who shot himself in the head. The line about confidence may be the narrator’s own beliefs. He was confident, after his friend’s death, he was insecure, because he did not realize his friend was at a point where he wanted to end his own life. Also, even with the suicide, his friend’s death is largely unrealized. The second verse of the song is a bit of a plea, but done so in a very poetic manner:
Making a decision of death,
While everyone around you pled,
Now you fly in peace,
I hope, my friend,
A man can’t avoid what he’s meant to do,
When he’s meant to do it,
Even if he doesn’t really want to,
My memories are of fun and friendship,
Of weakness within the strength of youth,
For reasons undefined, reasons undefined,
Reasons undefined, reasons undefined.
Everyone pled for this character to not kill himself, but the narrator wants his friend to now rest from his broken life. He then realizes that a man cannot avoid fate and will do something, even if he doesn’t want to (Such as committing suicide). He has fond memories of his friend, but realizes even in the “strength of youth” there are still many weaknesses, and we will never know why they exist. The idea that fate is unavoidable is also bolstered by the lines “Don’t you realize that evil lives in the motherfucking skin?” All of these bad thoughts, things we do, it’s all inside of our bodies.
“We first fought the heathens in the name of religion, then Communism, and now in the name of drugs and terrorism. Our excuses for global domination always change.” – Album Notes
It’s no secret that System of a Down is directly opposed to war. In this song we are presented to that opposition by the lyrics of “War?” The music begins with a patterned guitar rift, a bit scratchy, and the track explodes into noise. As noted in the album notes, the song criticizes the role of religion in war:
Dark is the light
The men you fight
With all your prayers, incantations
Running away, a trivial day
of judgment and deliverance
to whom was sold, this bounty soul
A gentile or a priest?
Who victored over, the Seljuqs,
When the holy land was taken
This verse begins strangely, bringing into the idea that one group is always fighting an evil group. The insistence on saying God would want this implies the entire idea of religious war is trivial, and that judgment and deliverance are all null here, because everyone likely believes they are right, that they are the light. “To whom was sold” alleges that the real reason for the religious wars were for riches, hence the word “bounty.” The Christians victored over the seljuks, therefore, this song is directly linking war waged by Christians in the name of God, since these things were going on when this album was recorded and still are.
We are then hit with the line “We will fight the heathens.” A heathen is a person who does not belong to a widely held religion, but in the context of this song, a heathen is a person who does not worship the God of Israel. Essentially, they will declare war on nonbelievers. Don’t worry, other religions were guilty of the same crimes. Or do be concerned, because much blood has been shed over religious warring.
Next we get a clear picture of what happens. The nobility of Christian nations move east to fight the heathens and to take their stuff. The next verse, which is closer to a speech or sermon of sorts, does not paint a better image either:
We must call upon our bright darkness
Beliefs, they’re the bullets of the wicked
One was written on the sword
For you must enter a room to destroy, destroy, destroy
Call of the righteous man
Needs a reason to kill man
History teaches us so
The reason he must attain
Must be approved by his God
His child, partisan brother of war
I can’t simplify the message here, but I can deduce that this verse is painting religious beliefs as bullets of the wicked. An interesting line about beliefs written on the sword refers to an age old practice that we still engage – writing bible verses on weapons. The verse also explains that righteous men need a reason to kill other men, and that it must be approved by his God. The most sobering line of the song, however, must be “Of war, we don’t speak anymore of war.” This simply means, of all the bloody wars in history waged by using religion, we ignore this today, leaving us to repeat the process, ending the song with us still fighting the heathens.
Mind control technology has been used by the CIA since the 1950s as part of their non-lethal, covert weapons program. – Album Notes
“Mind” starts out slowly, sounding like a love song with its twangy guitar riff and the lines “Oh baby come close to me, let me love you” and the repetition of “Look at each other.” about 1:40 into the song the peace goes away with the music blowing up and Serj screaming “Go away! Go away! Go away! Go Away!” So, apparently, there is something peaceful, then that peace is expressed, and then it goes away. The mutual and mental molestation of children, the beatings that took a child under and broke the skin are mentions of punishment being enacted by a totalitarian government who wants to control them. This is heavily supported by the line “Free thinkers are dangerous.”
The next part of the song speaks about loved ones that you need and bleed, along with lives being rearranged. These are merely threats by the same government. They will destroy the people around you to get you to see things the way they want you to see. At the end of the song, we have “Gonna let you motherfuckers die,” screamed and repeated. The subject fought back, he determined he would not conform and he would let everyone be destroyed. Unfortunately, he still loses, because he lost his freedom, friends, and family. The song ends with “Look at each other,” which may imply the song’s main character has lost his mind.
The February 18 edition of Britain’s NEW SCIENTIST Magazine reports that the Geneva-based World Health Organization suppressed, under political pressure,a report which confirmed that marijuana is safer than either alcohol or tobacco. – Album Notes
This track in an exploration into the world of psychedelic experiences through drug use. The words paint an image of impossibilities, similar to a trip on caused by drugs. The biggest lyrical constant of the song is that we should be aware of being in the sky, particularly, not getting stuck in the sky when we’re high. This could mean beware of doing too many drugs, or, keep doing drugs and be on that separate realm of consciousness where you see things differently.
This song is a celebratory diddy talking about how high a person could get. Similar to some statement that resembles “Man, I got so high I swam with mermaids in the swimming pool.” I like to refer to this meaning because it makes the song a little humorous, amongst an album of songs that are creepy and gloomy (lyrically).
If you consider the album notes on the song, then we may conclude the song simply implies that using marijuana to reach a different threshold of understanding, to use it to enjoy life better, should be encouraged. This is because society clearly encourages the more deadly options of tobacco and alcohol products. Also, learning that the World Health Organization suppressed this information shows the listener that even the most “neutral” seeming organization can be influenced by poor political opinions.
Most people in America don’t read! And the education system is great. I think it’s not just enough to have a democracy, it’s important to have an educated democracy, because without an educated, literate democracy, you can have a George Bush as your leader. And that can be maybe as dangerous as having Assad as your leader in some cases! – Serj Tankian, Interview with 3 News, New Zealand
“Darts” is a catchy little track that starts with a catchy and high pitch guitar riff, followed by thunderous drums and bass. The lyrics are a bit hard to follow, talking about a society in disarray, then singing about Popcorn being everywhere, and canned human organs. It is a strange song. Perhaps we can obtain some meaning here by the mentions of things being cliches, and linking the idea of watching too many movies by having all of this popcorn. Society seems to be getting dumber as the “pyramid mind fuck” expands as the population booms.
We should be a society that has cured many diseases, or has successfully created a way to replace body parts with artificial parts. We should be superior now to what we have, but we sit around and we just let ourselves get more dumb. The last line of the song “Cliche people cannot dare,” shows us the idea presented. Most people who are here, just living, dare not to work toward the betterment of mankind, we just follow a path when we should be chasing down our dreams and making the world better.
Why do old societies hold the pantheon of 12 gods to be true,while modern societies generally have one God? – Album Notes
Songs that really pull a mind into their meaning are powerful. “Darts” does this in spades as Serj energetically lays into the world with its strange, hypocritical attraction to religious beliefs. “May I please remain in this space, for darts screech by my desires” tells us that the narrator of the song does not want to leave the world, because his desires have consumed him and he realizes that perhaps, an afterlife is waiting for him that is not enjoyable.
Then, the most powerful part of the song, repeated in such a manner that it is hard to hear what is being said: “Art thou not human man.” This line is visiting the idea that our narrator may have done some things that may have broken his humanity. His lifestyle is threatening, and perhaps, he could be a hitman, who has fallen in love with a nun of all things. The hitman and nun connection is also evidence of the song attacking our hypocrisy as a society.
The next energetic push tells us about the Sumerian gods Ishkur (God of Storms) and Ninti (The first woman, we know her as Eve) arising, as if the narrator is summoning them. We are then warned not to fear the gods that come from the sky (God as worshiped today) and not to long for the gods who have lost their way (Pagan gods and other gods from polytheistic religions). In other words, religion in modern society is safer than old religions, which at times, were responsible for very violent and terrifying beliefs and practices.
System of a Down would like to dedicate this song to the memory of the 1.5million victims of the Armenian Genocide, perpetrated by the Turkish Government in 1915. – Album Notes
The song’s title stands for Politically Lying, Unholy, Cowardly Killers. Frankly, the meaning of the song is easily linked to the Armenian Genocide if you read the album notes. System of a Down is a band that, in my opinion, seems to exist to urge the world to recognize the 1915 genocide that Turkey committed upon 1.5 million Armenians. Instead of hitting you with my opinions and reading of the song, the lyrics of the song speak its meaning.
A whole race, genocide
Taken away all of our pride
Watch them all fall down
Revolution, the only solution
The armed response of an entire nation
We’ve taken all your shit, now it’s time for restitution.
The plan was mastered and called genocide
Took all the children and then we died
The few that remained were never found
All in a system
That concludes a very long project exploring the deeper meanings of System of a Down’s first studio album. If you want, please complete the poll below!