Scars on Broadway’s ‘Dictator’ Has Shades of System Of A Down
Let’s face it. There’s not going to be a new System of a Down album until the band members agree that compromise is the only solution for a project that involves multiple creative entities. Right now, there’s too much head-butting to enable them to lock into some serious headbanging. So, for now, fans will how to rely on the next best thing -- the second album by System guitarist Daron Malakian's project Scars on Broadway, Dictator.
It has been almost a decade since Malakian released the eponymous Scars on Broadway album, which featured System drummer John Dolmayan. While the project had elements in common with System of a Down, it wasn’t as aggressive and featured more left-field rock influences, including David Bowie and Talking Heads. Dictator has way more in common with latter-day System. And this time around, not only did Malakian compose and record completely on his own, he played all of the instruments and sang everything himself. And he did it all six years ago then shelved the whole project, in the hope of releasing another System album first.
Even so, Dictator sounds contemporary and it addresses current issues. The already-released first single “Lives,” is a Systemic, chuggy, head-bobbing, semi-political song that addresses the failure of some nations to recognize the Armenian genocide. “We are the people who were kicked out of history,” he sings. “We are the people who exist in victory/ You will deny, we will verify.”
As with System, vocal and lyrical contrasts abound on Dictator. While Malakian sings in glorious harmonies about partying, betrayal, war, and oppression, he also rambles about completely unrelated subjects and sometimes sheer nonsense. Most of the songs are euphoric and upbeat, loud and aggressive, but are more energetic than they are angry. Even on the prescient title track, in which Malakian sings, “Oh, I don’t need a dictator,” then screams, “Your politics will never corrupt me,” the chunky, distorted rhythm is laden with earworm hooks.
Malakian clearly had fun with the arrangements on Dictator, which are filled with creative instrumentation. On “Fuck and Kill,” Malakian wraps a Middle Eastern flute and guitar passage around a blasting riff, and in “Angry Guru” he inserts a Greek-sounding guitar melody, not unlike System’s “Deer Dance” (among other songs). While he often adheres to major key rhythms, Malakian tosses in minor key segments to surprise listeners. And the way he balances distorted, metallic passages with more temperate parts adds to the diversity of the album.
Much of Dictator is rooted in Anthrax-style string-muted thrash, while other sections seem more informed by punk acts like Bad Religion, Green Day and Offspring. Defying expectations seems to be the only goal. “Guns Are Loaded” features a lengthy, arpeggio reminiscent of Nirvana then segues to a bouncy rock riff reminiscent of Faith No More played by Black Sabbath, while “Till the End” includes cheery, syrupy passages that sound like Weezer.
It’s too bad Malakian waited so long to release Dictator, since doing so at the height of a System of a Down will-they-or-wont-they press battle will undoubtedly cause listeners to compare it to System. There’s no question that a lot of the album is reminiscent of System, but why shouldn’t it be? Malakian has always been the band’s main songwriter and handles many of the vocals. But with Dictator, Malakian also twists his roots to create songs that are whimsical, relevant, creative, metallic and poppy in slightly different ways. And he did it on his own, expertly playing drums, handling an abundance of vocal parts and tackling a diverse range of guitar passages without even a producer for guidance.
While some members of System continue to jam together, Malakian is working on solo material for the next Scars on Broadway album. Given his diverse range of influences – funk, black metal, hardcore, soundtrack music, classic rock, World music, jazz – the resulting songs could leave a mark as indelible as the one Malakian routinely left when he and Serj Tankian were on the same page.
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