Elect the Dead Symphony (live with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra) - Serj Tankian Album Review
I have been a huge System of a Down (or SOAD as they are known to the metal masses) fan since the late 1990s; they brought something new and fresh to the metal scene, namely a great vocalist in the form of Serj Tankian. Tankian, a famously political Armenian American, has possibly the most strikingly original voice in the world of metal, if not the whole music scene, and it is this voice and his overwhelming political stance that makes him not only a great front man for SOAD but also a great solo artist. SOAD, who have not officially split (yet it seems less and less likely that they will play together in the near future), was formed of four amazingly talented men, but it is Tankian (rather than bandmates John and Daron who have gone on to form 'Scars on Broadway') who has really embraced this time away from SOAD.
Originally released three years ago as a studio album 'Elect The Dead' is a great debut solo album, clearly a move away from the aggressive metal produced by SOAD, this is a work of beauty (even the ominously titled 'Beethoven's C**t' is enjoyable!) with Tankian's voice being centre stage. Recording this album live with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra is a work of genius! His music and vocals lend themselves tremendously well to being accompanied by this vast orchestra. The orchestral backing adds the element of the theatrical so often associated with SOAD and Tankian. The album was good, but this live CD/DVD release promises to be something really special. Having had the good fortune to see SOAD live four times over the past decade I can confirm Tankian is one amazing performer.
This review covers the CD side of the release, the tracklisting of which is significantly different from the original studio release. Opening track 'Baby' is just perfect with the orchestra in backing, sadly it feels that Tankians vocal is a little out of pace with the music, singing too fast for the players to keep up. This may be opening track nerves, as it does take away from the music a little. Soon it is apparent that Tankian has settled in to singing along with such a massive orchestra, and some of my fears are gone! 'Baby' is fast paced and allows Tankian to show off his incredible vocal range! Serj continues straight into 'Beethoven's C**t' (possibly the most unusual name given to a song for a very long time!), it is a shame that the title is so offputting as the song is really rather lovely. Much more similar in style to late SOAD work, this song is a definite stand out track, which benefits from the string section of the orchestra. Tracks 3, 'Blue', 4, 'Charades' and 5, 'Elect the Dead' go on to show off Tankians remarkable ability with lyrics and his beautiful vocal, but it is track 6 'Empty Walls' that he suddenly seems to take off and really enjoy himself and where he is! 'Empty Walls' is a great track and a real crowd pleaser, especially when Serj announces that he would like everyone to sing along (it's not everyday you get to sing along with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra'). This is my favourite track on this release; the music, vocals and crowd all come together to form a beauty rock opera (almost!) union - 'Don't waste your time on coffins today' this song is just brilliant, and shows Serj's political leanings perfectly.
The second half of the record continue in similar style, with tracks 7 'Falling Stars', 8 'Feed Us' and 9 'Gate 21' pleasing both crowd and listener. But it is track 10, 'Honking Antelope' (another brilliant song title!) that Serj once again shines; his lyrics are poet and joyfully delivered even when he sings 'When you see that Honking Antelope': wonderful! 'Lie Lie Lie' follows, and is yet another firm favourite with the crowd who proceed to clap along with the intro piano. This is the most theatrical number, with Serj creating some very interesting vocal sounds throughout the track. 'Money', track 12 and 'Saving Us' track 13 build the audience up for the smashing finale 'Sky Is Over' - a fantastic closing song, wonderfully produced with the orchestra and Tankian's vocals.
This is such a treat of an album, which may have started on slightly rocky grounds, but truly ends on a major high and reaffirms Tankian as a leading force in the world of Metal, Music, poetry and politics. To say this man rocks is insulting, he rocks the rocks he stand on! He is a metal god for the political generation.
This could never really go wrong. Serj Tankian has achieved a magnus opus in this recording. I look forward to seeing the DVD!
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