Always smarter than your average nu-metal lunkheads, System Of A Down were one of alt.rock’s true pioneers. But, over the years, what started out as a brave and righteous fusion of genres and cultures gradually became predictable. And, after the overcomplicated double-bill of ‘Mezmerize’/‘Hypnotize’, the band stayed ahead of the game and went on indefinite hiatus.
So, while catching a breath during his ongoing Axis Of Justice political campaigning alongside Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, singer Serj Tankian has recorded what amounts to his FM rock solo album. As a result, ‘Elect The Dead’ is both impressive and bewildering – almost as if SOAD’s wildest excesses have been standardised.
The album starts strongly. Single ‘The Unthinking Majority’ is framed like a dirty West Coast rock song, flitting between time signatures and musical styles (from grunge to east European folk and even baroque musical theatre) quicker than most bands get bored with photoshoots. ‘Feed Us’, ‘Saving Us’ and ‘Sky Is Over’ do much the same, all with the political axe to grind you’d expect from a man who is seeking New Zealand citizenship until US troops withdraw from Iraq. But, while ‘Elect The Dead’ keeps you on your toes, its constant darting around is disorienting precisely because of its breadth of scope. Whether it’s the more straightforward material that rubs uncomfortably against the experimental likes of ‘Honking Antelope’ or the other way round, the album is loudly schizophrenic. Meanwhile, ‘Baby’ is so uncharacteristically emotional that it simply doesn’t fit in.‘Elect The Dead’ is one of rock’s great modern mavericks on an unusual day. Whether it’s a good or bad day remains – to Serj’s eternal credit – a total mystery.