A Serj of Energy
“Don’t you see their bodies burning / desolate and full of yearning / dying of anticipation / choking from intoxication” is belted in unison with staccato piano chords. It is the apex of tension in Elect the Dead’s first track “Empty Walls,” the first official solo album from System of a Down’s primary vocalist Serj Tankian. A searing indictment of global political apathy, the song commands attention as each note of the chorus is held longer than the drum-roll delivery of the verses. This template helps almost all of Elect the Dead soar.
Each song benefits from either a striking classical piano or acoustic guitar backbone filled out by a full band and a front line of heavy metal guitars that, as with the album opener, build tension into manic release. “Saving Us” starts to get nuts amidst thunderous drums and the blistering refrain, “Forever alive / forever alive / forever / forever,” each syllable enhancing the melody and crescendo. Similarly, the anti-consumerist “Money” and the questioning “Feed Us” gather climactic energy, Serj passionately singing with snarls, operatic falsettos or whimpers. The conviction in his voice gives credence to the content.
When all of the elements connect, the results are inspiring. The ultra-personal “Baby” finds Tankian laying bare his remorse for a lost love (“Baby / oh baby / Baby / my babe / Baby / ooh babe / I miss you”), shifting between acoustic strums in the verse and ferocious riffs during the chorus. There’s a melancholy feeling to the song that is ultimately squashed by regret, anger and confusion; the final chorus is enough to make hair stand on end.
Even with a misstep or two–Tankian loses some momentum on tracks like “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition”–this is a marvelous achievement. Nearly everything is written and played by the man himself, save some drumming from Primus’ Bryan “Brain” Mentia and System’s John Dolmayan. Whether System of a Down are finished as a group or not, Elect the Dead is assurance of a spectacular solo career to come.