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Serj Tankian - "Elect the Dead Symphony" (CD)

Serj Tankian - "Elect the Dead Symphony" CD cover image

"Elect the Dead Symphony" track listing:

1. Feed Us
2. Blue
3. Sky Is Over
4. Lie Lie Lie
5. Money
6. Baby
7. Gate 21
8. Charades
9. Honking Antelope
10. Saving Us
11. Elect The Dead
12. Falling Stars
13. Beethoven's Cunt
14. Empty Walls

Reviewed by on March 1, 2010

"'Balls-out' isn't usually a term you'd use to describe classical musicians, but that's how the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra plays these songs."

Serj Tankian's "Elect the Dead Symphony," on first listen, seemed to me what it would be like if you took all of the electric instruments out of Metallica's "S&M" album. You essentially have one of metal's most distinctive vocalists singing over a classical interpretation of his songs, only without the heavy, distorted guitars and thundering drums.

It took a few back-to-back listens to this and tracks from the original "Elect the Dead" album — from which all but a couple of songs on this live disc came — for me to realize just how much of the energy of the original actually translated well into the symphonic format. "Balls-out" isn't usually a term you'd use to describe classical musicians, but that's how the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra plays these songs. Credit also has to go to arranger John Psathas.

Of course, there's also the fact that with a voice this big and a style this unique, Tankian not only doesn't get lost among the instruments, but generally dominates them. "Feed Us," the opening track begins with bombast before quieting down to just piano and guitar, with Tankian gently singing the verses. Then, suddenly, he's belting out the chorus in an operatic style with orchestral sturm and drang thundering behind him before collapsing into a quiet falsetto.

I particularly like the Russian sailor's dance feel of "Sky Is Over," as Tankian delivers his rapid-fire "la-la-las" over the lush orchestration and racing piano. Another highlight is the weird trip into 1920s jazz in "Lie Lie Lie." I'm also partial to the huge opening of "Beethoven's Cunt" (OK, you can stop giggling like 14-year-olds now).

On the other hand, even though only one song breaks the five-minute mark, the album still feels longer than its 55 minutes. Part of it is definitely because of all of the twists and turns the songs take, but it's still a hard album to get through. A few tracks in the middle — "Baby," "Gate 21" and "Charades" — seem to blend together to me.

Those expecting to rock out in the same way you would to System of a Down or even the first "Elect the Dead" record are, frankly, going to be disappointed. But, if you go in with a mind open to discovering how rock can be translated into a classical format, you'll be thrilled to join the "Elect the Dead Symphony."

Highs: "Sky Is Over," "Lie Lie Lie" and "Feed Us."

Lows: The album takes a bit of effort to get through.

Bottom line: An intriguing musical journey that nearly completely transforms rock into symphony.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)