Though most musicians see a solo album as a chance to experiment, Serj Tankian has used Elect the Dead to get back to the basic System of a Down sound. Fans who complained about guitarist Daron Malakian stealing Tankian's vocal spotlight on recent records will love it.
All the trademark ingredients show up – the tense, minor key melodies; the abrupt changes in dynamics, feel and mood; the quirky, spastic outbursts; the punky, breakneck tempos. Tankian's unique voice, bizarre personality and leftist views hold it all together.
What stands out most about Elect the Dead is its remarkable consistency in every sense of the term; virtually every track impeccably showcases the aforementioned strengths. Beautiful melodies, clean guitars and piano backgrounds run headlong into zany blasts of distortion and crazy lyricism everywhere – but this is especially true on "Money," the best composition here.
The record commences energetically with the dark, operatic "Empty Walls" and the furious "The Unthinking Majority." The former emphasizes Tankian's preference for drums that change patterns in counterintuitive ways, so one never knows what the next measure will bring. In the latter the vocals take center stage, with an odd cadence and lyrics that often accent the wrong syllables.
Another standout is the title track, which closes the record. It's a love song (there are surprisingly many of them here) that, for a change, never breaks out of its somber mood. The song rests on a gentle bed of piano chords, and it's a fitting conclusion.
Problems are few and far between. One is Tankian's tendency to build songs to busy climaxes that too often sound cluttered – multiple vocal lines, frantic guitars and wandering drums start to clash in a hurry. Another is "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition," which amounts to little more than a Korn pastiche.
Elect the Dead may not break much new ground, but it's a statement of conviction from one of modern rock music's brightest talents.
Robert VerBruggen (http://robertsrationale.blogspot.com) is Assistant Book Editor at The Washington Times.