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Artist: Serj Tankian & Arto Tuncboyaciyan
Label: Serjical Strike
Length: 16 Tracks, 44:04 minutes
Ah, the side project! Often the downfall of many an artist who wanders away from the pack to explore some interesting musical nook or cranny … only to discover that there was in fact a good reason why they were successful as a member of a band and not a solo artist in the first place. (Enter your favorite band’s member’s disappointing side-project name here.)
In a nutshell, Serart is a collaboration between Serj Tankian, charismatic vocalist for progressive thrash metal band System of a Down, and Arto Tuncboyaciyan, the avant-garde Armenian folk artist who contributed the outro and a few other Middle Eastern flavored musical moments to SOAD’s acclaimed multi-platinum album Toxicity. It sounds like a recipe for something very unorthodox and very weird. That it is, dear reader, that it is.
The “band,” whose members share a common Armenian heritage and a penchant for trying something different in their respective fields, apparently made this album in six days of free spirited experimentation and creativity. The result is a scattergun sonic landscape, a post-modern meets primal world music manifesto of vocal acrobatics; virtually unlistenable, yet pleasantly bewildering.
Like psychotic fairies flitting about the head, Serj and Arto dip and dive through Armenian folk music, primitive percussion rhythms, Chinese harps, chunky thrash riffs and techno beats to produce these “songs”. At times, they sound like two kids running around a kitchen with chopsticks playing rhythms on any pot, can or plate they see, all the while hollering and bantering in a secret playful tongue (eg. “Cinema”) Then they let loose and launch into a full-bodied, unintelligible tribal chant (“Devil’s Wedding”) that’s as stirring as it is bizarre.
Sometimes, it’s just a barely whispered poem from Tankian over a haunting aural backdrop (“Claustrophobia”) or a maudlin, solo acoustic guitar with an Armenian lyric from Arto (“Love is the Peace”). At other times they are well in control of trippy beats that lay the foundation for some of the more pop-leaning tracks (“Narina,” “Facing the Plastic”) creating tunes reminiscent of Massive Attack or the east-meets-west collaborative work of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Michael Brook.
As is usual with Serj Tankian, the few decipherable lyrics that permeate these aural happenings are, like his three albums with SOAD, spiritually aware and searching. Immediately, his words appear to address the same God with whom he always seems to be seeking connection. (Do you want me to believe in faith? / Do you want me to believe in you? … Hear me!) Elsewhere, his social conscience speaks out in oblique reference to environmental destruction at the hands of big business. It wouldn’t be a SOAD side project without such content.
An appreciation for the kinds of world music made accessible through Peter Gabriel’s efforts with his Real World label would certainly assist in accessing this album. Needless to say, the kids that mosh to nu-metal today and are expecting something SOAD like, will probably hear this and just think, “Huh?” However, where some side projects merely sound like bad derivatives of the musical mothership, Serj Tankian has taken the risk and created something fresh, challenging and fun, with this first release on his new label Serjical Strike.
Tankian hasn’t embarrassed himself at all by venturing away from SOAD for this stint with Tuncboyaciyan. The fact that I can’t help but hear an undeniable spiritual heart beating strongly throughout these tracks makes it all the more intriguing with each listen. I still don’t know if I’m enjoying it, but I can’t seem to stop listening to it.
Brendan Boughen 8/31/2003