ABC, Glasgow, Tue 1 Apr
System of a Down were a singular prospect in metal – intelligent, intricate and unique. Now vocalist Serj Tankian has released his first solo album, Elect the Dead, and, as you’d expect it’s as distinctive as his former band. Classical pianos morph into vitriolic rants against pollution and war. There are longing odes to love as musical genres come together to create a multifaceted whole.
Writing, recording, producing and playing nearly all the instruments, Tankian has created a very personal record. ‘I’ve never seen it as complex. It’s just more efficient to do it myself because I knew in my gut what I wanted,’ he explains from a hotel room in Salt Lake City.
Tankian wasn’t even sure it was going to be a rock album when he started the recording process. ‘A lot of the songs were written on piano or acoustic instruments and some electronically through this system I’ve designed for myself,’ he says. ‘But I realised that the dynamics of the operatic vocals really lent themselves to a more layered rock sound.’
This is far from your average rock interview. Tankian talks knowledgeably about politics, art and literature with a wry intelligence. For instance: ‘Any climate scientist will tell you that, based on the accelerated rate of population growth, coupled with the accelerated rate of destruction of natural resources, our civilisation is scientifically unsustainable. So that’s what I’m really talking about in a very personal way.’
This is all expressed in his music, particularly current single ‘Sky is Over’. ‘I like having songs that go from the personal to the universal, because everything comes back to micro/macro,’ he says. ‘A nucleus is our universe, the universe is our nucleus.’
As well as a writer of poetry and folk music, Tankian is also a fierce activist who, alongside Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, formed the Axis of Justice, a grassroots non-profit organisation fighting for social justice. ‘I want to try one of everything; I don’t necessarily have to keep on doing everything but I want to at least try. That’s what life is about.’
With System of a Down on ‘indefinite hiatus’, thankfully we still have the prodigious Tankian to plug the gap in the market for intelligent, thought-provoking rock.