Review Summary: The message behind the music only goes so far when the music itself is subpar.
Poor Serj, it's understandable how difficult it can be for him to not only differentiate himself from his brainchild System of a Down, but to also escape the shadow that SOAD's influence and impact casts over everything he is associated with.
When you're the frontman, and voice of a band, and you pour the ideas that are most true to your character into leading that band, how different are you expected to be on your solo work when you've already been as much of yourself as you can be in your original band? Artists who make the switch from being in a band over to solo work usually do so for the purpose of either making music that is more about who they truly are outside the band, or for experimenting new territory that they couldn't explore with their band.
Of these two, Tankian is the experimenter, he loves working with unfamiliar genres and boldly venturing down those avenues of sound alone. This shows in how in the near future he plans to release an entirely classical album, an entirely jazz album, and an entirely electronic album after Harakiri, with Harakiri being classified by Tankian as "another solo record", which is an appropriate description, because for a man who is all about adventurous and interesting musical pursuits, Harakiri falls flat as a tired retreading of old and shallow waters for Tankian.
His past solo work didn't necessarily lose the grit that his vocal performances had when leading System of a Down, Tankain was just aware that he was aging. To not let this weaken him when he went solo, he made the wise choice to drop the signature "death growl" he toted in his SOAD days, opting to go for more symphonically-driven poetry than the metallic hostility of System's "thinking man's metal". This retracted intensity in his sound and voice kept his established character while showing a lighter side of it, it was familiar while also fresh, and he's stayed loyal by this alteration on Harakiri. Here Tankain doesn't sound a year older than he did on SOAD's Toxcicity an entire decade back, but unfortunately this defiance of age is probably the most redeeming quality about Harakiri.
The huge issue isn't that it's bad music, it's that it's simply mediocre music. Casual music that is of unremarkable standards is passable without much complaints, but when an artist as ambitious and creative as Tankian has been for so many years, puts out an album of merely acceptable quality, the disappointment is amplified as expectations have been set so high.
Serj seems to be going through the motions of his past outings, styles that were once as infectious as they were intriguing, but don't stand out too much as they did the first and second time around. The quirky sounds and predictable messages are presumed before the tracks even start, and the more emotional piano numbers sound more angsty and preachy then they do melodic, hammering into listener's heads the same croons that concentrate on what still hasn't been resolved since he belted out harmonies about it at the start of his solo career.
Those willing to give into this self-indulgence have every right to call his lyrics noble. It's a valid argument that the message behind his lyrics still needs to be addressed because the issues they detail are unfortunately still relevant, but before these loyal followers spew their over-pretentious praise, one should take into consideration how well these themes are presented. What made Tankian's lyrics both fun and powerful in the past was the artistic merit behind them, the metaphors, how fascinatingly cryptic they could be, and the interpretations one could draw from them, the clever and creative wit about his poetry and how accessible it was. Here, lyrics like, "Why pretend that we don't know CEO's are the disease" are so thin, lack any elaboration or uniqueness about them, and basically translates to an annoying repetition of the old "blahblahblah corruption in power blahblahblah" spiel.
The lyrics may address core themes that are powerful, but it's not bringing any new thoughts to light, and the thoughts that are here are presented in ways that are so nagging and tired for not only Tankian, but for politically-charged rock in general. The music is a streamlined version of Tankian's usual approach, a general outline/summary of the music he's known for that lacks the meat of his past work.
Since Tankian has more drastically experimental ambitions in mind for the future, it would make sense to say that when he originally intended to release a slew of 4 albums he wanted to start with an album that was what people would come to expect from a regular Tankian record, but this mutes and limits his character.
It can be hard to deem a style as one that represents who an artist truly is when that artist in particular is about experimenting with different styles. Being reliant on messages improves an artist's respectability, but not their reputation of a consistent standard of quality when it comes to an overly safe and unremarkable record from a constantly remarkable artist.