Review Summary: Serj goes Soft, while giving his most Rock solid vocal performance in ages.
On March 16, 2009, former System of a Down front man Serj Tankian took to the stage of the Auckland Town Hall in New Zealand. Though this was not for an ordinary mosh-pit inducing rock performance as he had been a part of hundreds of times before. Serj was backed by the 70 piece Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra (along with guitarist Dan Monti of The F.C.C) for a one-time orchestral interpretation of his solo debut Elect the Dead. This performance was planned from the start to be recorded and subsequently released as a live cd/dvd package.
Many a musician have gone down a similar route as the one taken on this album. Whether it be having an orchestra play their rock/pop songs almost verbatim or the artist taking their old songs and making them ‘new’ again with different arrangements. To those who have witnessed the abundance of cover songs come and go over the years, it’s not too hard to see why most of these re-imaginings have failed. It’s hard to improve the classics, even when their your own. Which makes Elect the Dead Symphony all the more surprising. While the occasional song suffers because of the inevitable comparisons to the original, much of this live album actually improves on 07’s Elect the Dead. While not all of the praise can be directed at Serj, for it was John Psathas who arranged the songs to fit into the traditional orchestral format and the 70 players who brought the songs to life, this is his best vocal performance to date, System or no System. Also, let’s not forget that these are originally his songs which he wrote solely on his own, so credit must be given to the fact that they work better as orchestral music then they do as rock or metal. He must have known somehow when he wrote them ….
“Feed Us” opens up with a short guitar intro courtesy of Dan Monti which leads us into a full blown explosion of various horns and other instruments. This is one the heaviest tracks on the album and is a good opener as it immediately shows how well Serj’s music can fit into this new style. The extended instrumental outtro allows the listener to collect their senses after the overwhelming first few minutes and prepare for what is to come. What that ends up being is much less brash but much more unnerving. “Blue” is an unusual choice to follow up the previous track, as it slows the pacing of the show down to a creepy crawl (emphasis on creepy). If this were a traditional live set it wouldn’t work but here it greatly displays the traditional ebb and flow of orchestral music. It also shows the true highlight of the concert which is the violinist. Each song that features a violin lead immediately jumps out at you. Most notably they appear at the ending of “Baby” and occasionally throughout “Lie Lie Lie”, the latter of which uses the instrument to replicate the screaming woman whom the character lets go of in the studio version (a great effect).
As mentioned before, Serj’s vocals are at a career best here, at least in terms of live performances. While on a few tracks he does falter (“Sky is Over”, “Empty Walls”) those are mostly the songs that don’t work as a whole anyways being that they either didn’t transfer well into orchestral form or they sound to similar to the originals. Though the rest of his work more then makes up for those few faults. He shows his fragile side on “Blue” and the title track, his chaotic side on “The Charade”, and his out-of-this-world falsetto on more than a few tracks. Throughout “Money” we’re waiting for him to do something unexpected just like on the album version, and just when all hope seems lost, at the end he screams out “Fuuuck your money! *** *** your money…..oh yeah” in his signature falsetto as the crowd roars with excitement. Equally cathartic is the ending of “Lie Lie Lie” (“Baby she smiles. BADA BA BA BA BA baaaaa….”).
There are a couple minor complaints that don’t really ruin the album but are more preferences that would have been nice to see changed. First thing on the cutting board should have been Dan Monti, whom could be nicknamed “the poor man’s Daron Malakian”. While his acoustic guitar playing is good, just like Daron, his vocals detract more than add to the songs, also like Daron. Except that Daron does good harmonising with Serj while Dan does not. Serj would have done better to hire a female choir then to utilise his guitarist’s ‘vocal abilities’. It would have also been better if there were a no noise policy for the crowd during the performance or if they could have just edited it out. Not a major complaint but slightly distracting for the type of performance it is. Though with Serj’s planned Orca tour coming up, hopefully he can iron out those kinks. As Elect the Dead Symphony proves, maybe it’s time for Serj to hang up his title as ‘Alt-Metal Poster Boy’ and pursue his new muse in orchestral music. At least until System of a Down releases a new album that is.
Lie Lie Lie
Elect the Dead