Recap: System of a Down and Korn Dial it Back to the Early 2000s with Sold-Out Banc of California Stadium Gig

Adrian GarroCategories:Latest News

Rock Cellar Magazine

The once-inescapable “nu-metal” scene of the early 2000s was a sight to behold, as bands with aggressive, abrasive and genre-defying repertoires hit it big. Two of the most successful groups of that era, System of a Down and Korn, recently teamed up for a handful of stadium concerts, and judging by the reception both received you’d think it was 2002, rather than 2022.

That is to say, two concerts at the spacious Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles were sold out this past weekend (Feb. 4 and 5th), with Korn providing main support for System of a Down on a bill that also featured Helmet and Russian Circles. Faith No More was to participate in the shows as well, though the band ceased all touring engagements due to ‘mental health reasons’ pertaining to front man Mike Patton.

Both Korn and System of a Down are active bands, albeit on drastically different terms. Korn just released its 14th studio album, Requiem, on Feb. 4, and keeps a steady touring schedule in between album releases, which tend to come every two or three years.

System of a Down, on the other hand, hasn’t released an album since 2005’s Mezmerize/Hypnotize, and retains a sporadic performance schedule as its members devote more of their time to other projects. (For what it’s worth, drummer John Dolmayan told Rock Cellar in 2020 that “it’s really stupid that we haven’t made an album.”) The band did finally release a pair of new songs late in 2020 in response to conflicts that had recently taken place between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

Despite the difference in their paths taken over the years, both bands effectively turned the dial back a few decades at Saturday’s Banc of California gig, to the delight of the thousands in attendance. Many came to the show adorned in shirts of either band, making their lifelong allegiance shown, with several Korn fans opting for a variation of a shirt that said “Still a F R E A K” on the back, a reference to the group’s breakout 1998 album Follow the Leader and its smash-hit single, “Freak on a Leash.”

These concerts were twice-delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic after first being scheduled for Spring 2020. In October 2021, System of a Down front man Serj Tankian’s positive COVID diagnosis prompted another postponement, but thankfully this last week of gigs were finally able to take place.

Russian Circles was tasked with warming up the still-arriving crowd with a short set of heavy instrumental songs, and though the performance was typically solid from the Chicago-based band, it was apparent few in attendance were familiar with the band, which released its seventh album, Blood Year, in 2019 on Sargent House Records.

Up next was Helmet, which seemed to spark a tad more familiarity in the audience. The Page Hamilton-led band powered through a 45-minute set of songs from throughout its career, with “Unsung” unsurprisingly receiving the best reception from the crowd.

After a short break, the anticipation was reaching its apex for Korn and System of a Down. This wasn’t a co-headlining situation, as Korn played for a bit more than an hour and System for a little over an hour and a half, but it felt like a co-headlining set. The mutual enthusiasm between bands and audience was readily apparent, and gave both performances an electrifying energy.

Korn opted only for one song from Requiem, its lead single, “Start the Healing,” opting for more of a fan-friendly set list of songs from all over its career. Front man Jonathan Davis commanded the stage as he always has, rousing the crowd to attention between songs and obviously enjoying the moment. He even brought out his trusty bagpipes for “Shoots and Ladders,” the band’s ominous reworking of classic nursery rhymes that was a single from its 1994 self-titled debut album.

Absent from this album cycle and recent Korn performances is bassist Reginald “Fieldy” Avizu, who stepped away from the band as to deal with some personal issues. Revolver Mag noted that Avizu’s work is featured on the Requiem album, though he is still not considered an “active” member of the group at this time and was replaced for the live shows by Suicidal Tendencies’ Roberto “Ra” Díaz.

Korn’s set leaned heavily on the “old and new” dynamic, with the band backing up recent single “Start the Healing” with “Clown,” from its 1994 debut, and touching on other memorable songs that helped the band maintain its status over the years and outlast many of its peers in the “nu-metal” scene. “Shoots and Ladders” even transitioned seamlessly into a bridge of Metallica’s “One,” which Korn played in tribute at the 2003 MTV Icon: Metallica show:

“Coming Undone” also tagged a bit of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” in its bridge, another perfect stadium-ready moment from a band that simply knows how to entertain. Korn may have emerged from the dusty streets of Bakersfield as twisted “outsiders” with a style of music that was a few years ahead of its time, but the band’s dynamic approach solidified its place in history. Decades later, they’ve endured — and as they showed at Banc of California Stadium, remain a can’t-miss live band.

Korn set list:

Here to Stay
Falling Away From Me
Start the Healing
Shoots and Ladders (With snippet of Metallica’s “One”)
Got the Life
Coming Undone (With snippet of Queen’s “We Will Rock You”)
Y’All Want a Single
Freak on a Leash
It’s On! / Trash / Did My Time

System of a Down’s headlining set was met with feverish excitement from the crowd, which had waited nearly two full years for these concerts. That anticipation was rewarded by the band with a marathon, 27-song set that included almost all of 2001’s Toxicity, the band’s breakthrough second album.

The band — vocalist Serj Tankian, guitarist Daron Malakian, bassist Shavo Odadjian and drummer John Dolmayan — has always played lengthy live sets, but the fact that they still do that at this stage of their existence is a marvel.

That existence is, admittedly, uniquely erratic — they only come together for occasional live concerts, save for those two surprise songs last year that only sprang up in response to turmoil in their homeland of Armenia. They could very well gather for these concerts and “play the hits” nothing more, a result of the undying love they’ve received from fans since Toxicity blew up and the band graduated to stadium-filler status.

But they don’t, opting instead to play nearly every song a dedicated fan could want to see live, and doing so with the precision of a band that still actively records and tours, rather than one that is  occasionally active. The songs from their five studio albums still translate especially well live, with Tankian’s voice alternating between shouts and spoken-word warnings about social/political issues (such as on “Prison Song”) and Malakian’s occasional shrieks playing foil to one another:

It’s clear, watching a set from System of a Down in 2022, that the band still has the same chaotic energy and creative spark that led to such memorable releases and explorations of what a “rock and roll band” can be.

Indicative of the never-ending interest in the band, Scott Ian of Anthrax made it to one of the Los Angeles shows and practically begged the group for more activity in the future:


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A post shared by Scott Ian (@scottianthrax)

Whether they’re able to get back into the studio together and craft new material (or even play more shows together in the future) remains to be seen, but there was a sense of euphoria on all sides of Saturday’s concert that was impossible to deny.

Tankian made note of it in an Instagram post to fans:


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A post shared by Serj Tankian (@serjtankian)

Catching both Korn and System of a Down on the same concert bill in 2022 felt like a lightning-in-a-bottle opportunity, and everybody that was there will no doubt cherish the memory.

System of a Down set list:

Prison Song
Holy Mountains
Mind (Intro only)
Deer Dance
Soldier Side – Intro
Soldier Side
Genocidal Humanoidz
Chop Suey!
Lonely Day
Lost in Hollywood
Dreaming (Middle breakdown only)
Chic ‘N’ Stu
Protect the Land

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