The roots of System of a Down lie in the band Soil (not to be confused with the current band SOiL), a group from Los Angeles that included Serj Tankian on vocals and Daron Malakian on guitar, as well as Dave Hakopyan (Bassist for The Apex Theory) on bass and Domingo Laranio (Local Hawaii Drummer) on drums. Shavo Odadjian joined Soil near their end as a guitarist. After three years, only one live show, and one jam session recording, the band split up.
 In the beginning (1995-1997)
After Soil split up, Serj and Daron formed a new band, System of a Down, based on a poem that Daron wrote. The poem's title was "Victims of the Down", but Shavo Odadjian, who was originally the band's manager and promoter, didn't like the word and thought the word System sounded better. Ever since Shavo joined as bassist, managerial duties have been undertaken by the highly successful Velvet Hammer Music and Management Group and streetwise founder David "Beno" Benveniste. The band then found a drummer, Andy Khachaturian. SOAD quickly made what is known as their early Untitled 1995 Demo Tape, which had very early recordings of "Mr. Jack" (called "PIG"), along with songs called "Flake," "Toast" and an early recording of "The Metro," a cover of the Berlin song of the same name. It is rumored that there are other tapes made, which contain early recordings of "Friik", "36" (called ".36"), and "Roulette" Two other songs, "X" (called "Multiply") and "Honey" were live demos at the time and were played at very early shows. After this, the band recorded Demo Tape 1, which had early versions of "Sugar," "Suite-Pee," and "P.L.U.C.K.," as well as "Dam." Demo Tape 2 was released in 1996 and had a rough demo of the song "Soil" as well as the most known unreleased tracks such as "Honey" and "Temper." At the beginning of 1997, SOAD recorded their final publically-released demo tape, Demo Tape 3, which had rough versions of "Peephole," "War?," and "Know." In mid 1997, Ontronik Khachaturian left the band due to a hand injury. Soon after playing at the Whisky-A-Go-Go and Viper Room with new drummer John Dolmayan, producer Rick Rubin caught the band's attention and told them to keep in touch with him. Showing great interest, they recorded Demo Tape 4 near the end of that year. This demo, however, was made only to be sent to record companies. The tape was not released to the public until years later when it was leaked onto the Internet. After Rick helped them get signed onto American/Columbia Records, SOAD began to record in his studio. In 1997 SOAD won the Best Signed Band award from the Rock City Awards. Prior to 1998, SOAD's live shows were called "The Dark Red Experience".
 Debut album (1998-2000)
System of a Down's "Sugar"
24 second sample from System of a Down's "Sugar".
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In the summer of 1998, System of a Down released their debut album, System of a Down. They enjoyed moderate success with their first single "Sugar" becoming a radio favorite, followed by the single "Spiders". After the release of the album, System of a Down toured extensively, opening for Slayer before making their way to the second stage of Ozzfest. Following Ozzfest, they toured with Fear Factory and Incubus before headlining the Sno-Core tour with Puya, Mr. Bungle, The Cat and Incubus providing support. System was scheduled to play the 1999 Family Values Tour, but were kicked off by Fred Durst over his inability to sign the band Taproot. Fred Durst has since admitted that he was a "complete wanker" in relation to this "oversight". The band have yet to comment on Durst's involvement or commentary. In 2000, the group contributed their cover of the Black Sabbath song "Snowblind" to the Sabbath tribute album Nativity in Black 2.
 Toxicity / Steal This Album! (2001-2003)
The group's big break arrived when their second album Toxicity debuted at #1 on the American and Canadian charts, eventually achieving multi-platinum certification. The album has since sold 6 million copies worldwide. It was still on top in America on the week of the September 11, 2001 attacks and the political environment caused by the attacks added to the controversy surrounding their hit single "Chop Suey!" causing it to be taken off the radio as it contained politically sensitive lyrics at the time such as "(I don't think you) trust in my self-righteous suicide." Regardless, the video gained constant play on MTV as did the second single, "Toxicity". Even with the controversy surrounding "Chop Suey!" which earned a Grammy nomination, System of a Down still received constant airplay in the United States throughout late 2001 and 2002 with "Toxicity " and "Aerials". In May of 2006, VH1 listed Toxicity in the #14 slot in the 40 Greatest Metal Songs.
In 2001, the band went on tour with Slipknot in the United States, Mexico and Colombia. After seeing the success of the tour, System and Slipknot went on a Pledge of Alliegance Tour with Rammstein in 2002. In late 2001, a few unreleased tracks made their way onto the Internet. The group released a statement that the tracks were unfinished material. Soon after, the band released the final versions of the songs, which were recorded at the same time, but hadn't been used for Toxicity. The result was Steal This Album!, released in November 2002. Steal This Album! resembled a burnable CD that was marked with a felt-tip marker. 50,000 special copies of the album with different CD designs were also released, each designed by a different member of the band. The name of the album is a reference to Abbie Hoffman's counter-culture book, Steal This Book and as a message to those who stole the songs and released them on the Internet. Dolmayan said in an interview "I don't care if fans download our songs from the internet but I don't like it when fans get our songs before the release date". The song "Innervision" was released as a promo single and received constant airplay on alternative radio. A video for "Boom!" was filmed with director Michael Moore as a protest against the War in Iraq.
 Mezmerize / Hypnotize (2004-2005)
From 2004 to 2005, the group produced a double album, Mezmerize/Hypnotize with the two parts released six months apart. The first album, Mezmerize, was released on May 17 2005, to favorable reviews by critics. It debuted at #1 in the United States, Canada, Australia and all around the world, making it System of a Down's second #1 album. First week sales rocketed to over 800,000 copies worldwide. The Grammy Award-winning single "B.Y.O.B.", which questions the integrity of war, worked its way up the Billboard Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock charts. The next single, "Question!" was released with Shavo Odadjian co-directing the music video. Following the release of Mezmerize, the band toured extensively throughout the United States and Canada with The Mars Volta and Bad Acid Trip supporting.
The second part of the double album, Hypnotize, was released on November 22 2005. Like Mezmerize, it debuted at #1 in the US, making System of a Down, along with the Beatles, and rappers 2Pac and DMX, the only artists to ever have two studio albums debut at #1 in the same year.
In February of 2006, System of a Down won the Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance for "B.Y.O.B.", beating out other established artists such as Nine Inch Nails and Robert Plant. Their second single off the Hypnotize album, "Lonely Day" was released in March in the United States. System of a Down released "Kill Rock 'N Roll" and "Vicinity of Obscenity" as their next promo singles. The band headlined Ozzfest 2006 in cities where tour founder Ozzy Osbourne opted not to appear or wasn't playing on the main stage.
 Hiatus and future of the band (2006-present)
In May of 2006, the band announced they were going on hiatus. Daron Malakian has confirmed the break will probably last a few years, but insists that the band would not be splitting up. He told MTV, "We're not breaking up. If that was the case, we wouldn't be doing this Ozzfest. We're going to take a very long break after Ozzfest and do our own things. We've done System for over ten years, and I think it's healthy to take a rest."
During their performance in Houston, Texas, Malakian also took a moment to say, "There's been a lot of rumors about us breaking up. Well don't fuckin' listen to them. Us four right here, we will always be System of a Down!" However, Malakian announced he was forming a band called Scars on Broadway, which has since been joined by Dolmayan, and will work on its debut album during the fall. Odadjian will be working on a project with RZA of Wu-Tang Clan as well as his UrSession website/record label. Tankian plans to keep recording as a solo artist/producer with his first single being The Unthinking Majority off his first album Elect The Dead which will be released in Fall of 2007, while Dolmayan, on top of Scars on Broadway, plans to open a comic book store online, which should be up online in November 2007.
System of a Down's final performance before their hiatus took place on August 13, 2006 in West Palm Beach, Florida. "Tonight will be the last show we play for a long time together," Malakian told the crowd during Sunday's last performance. "We'll be back. We just don't know when." It was stated by Sharon Osbourne that System of a Down were paid "about $325,000 a show."
System of a Down's songs were used in the 2006 film "Screamers" by Carla Garapedian. They appeared in the movie, in an interview talking about the importance of helping create awareness and recognition of the Armenian Genocide. "Screamers" debuted in theaters in large city markets such as New York City, Detroit, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Fresno, Providence, and Boston. An earlier engagement started exclusively in Los Angeles on [December 8], 2006.
System of a Down was honored at the USC v. Cal game at the Los Angeles Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA in 2006. The Spirit of Troy also known as the Trojan Marching Band performed three System of a Down songs. John Dolmayan and Shavo Odadjian were kind enough to play "Toxicity" along with the marching band.
Tankian recently said that he has wanted to work on his "solo record for years". As for the future of the band, he said that he does not know whether System of a Down is over or not. He also stated that "maybe in a few years" the band would "want to make another album. It's impossible to tell right now. It'll be later down the line; then we'll be able to tell what might happen."
Bassist Shavo Odadjian was recently revealed to be directing the first video for the comeback of the hardcore punk band, Bad Brains.
For the 2007 Grammys, System of a Down was nominated for Best Hard Rock Performance for "Lonely Day", but lost to Wolfmother and their song "Woman".
Shavo Odadjian recently told Launch Radio Networks that System of a Down is "alive and well". "We're just not working together right now. We kind of like split up at first, but you know, we're brothers, man, we'll take bullets for each other. So it's like, you kind of miss each other after a while and you, one guy makes the first move, then another starts making phone calls....this is a juggernaut, man. System of a Down is my lifeline. It'll never go away. We could not make a record for 10 years — that's not gonna happen, but I'm just saying we could — and we'll come back strong."