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Serj Tankian has always sat in a juxtaposition to the rest of the metal world. He is an artist first and a member of the metal community second. Tankian has always had his own world vision, his own set of beliefs and musical ideals. The growth of System Of A Down proved that as did his solo efforts and side projects. Tankian doesn’t rest; he creates constantly and then puts his creations on display for the world to look at. To be honest I don’t think he cares what critics think simply because by the time we catch up he’s focused on the next thing.
Harakiri,the latest solo work from Tankian, is quite possibly the best thing he’s put out since System released Toxicity. Don’t get me wrong; those who don’t like what Tankian does will find no shelter in Harakiri, but those who embrace the ride will get more than they bargained for. This is a political statement record, a concept album and the rattling off of words from a man who connects them in his own way. Tankian loves language and he loves putting words together to paint pictures in the mind’s eye.
“Cornucopia” begins with a light guitar before opening up with a bright guitar hook. As serious as Tankian is with his vision, he opens Harakiri on the upswing with “Cornucopia” though it is a warning of how our excessive abuse of the Earth will lead to our demise. “Cornucopia” is a world party, an invitation to all of us to dance and worship the Earth as opposed to rape it for financial gain.
“Figure It Out” brings us back to the metal world with a riff that comes right from the System Of A Down bank. Even the breaks and sudden time changes are reminiscent of the musical tricks System were known for. Lyrically Tankian rattles off his usual chain of what seem like random words stuck together. He wants you to think when you hear his lyrics.
“Ching Chime” brings the world music feel and cues up some of the epic melodrama Tankian makes happen by swelling his voice almost to the same height as the guitars. The title track is a mellow affair, a slow tempo jam that shifts the attitude of the record into introspection. Tankian allows the slower movements to hold fast for the next few songs. “Forget Me Knot”, to me, is the most effective and one of my favorite songs on the entire album. You can feel Tankian’s sincerity burn through the musical movements that range all over the place. “Forget Me Knot” builds to such a crescendo that when its over you feel physically drained.
“Reality TV” and “Uneducated Democracy” are the two most clear-cut indictments of the current world situation. “Reality TV” is thoughtful, almost more of a storyteller accompanied by music than a song. The acoustic guitars, sitars and light drums hold up the vocals as opposed to competing with them. “Uneducated Democracy” is a punk inspired full throttle rock number. The rest of Harakiri stays up-tempo but with a darker atmosphere to it. Tankian is taking us on a journey with this record, one that he wants us to feel through the changes in each song.
The boos and hisses are definitely going to come with Harakiri. Some will mock Tankian’s nasal delivery, some will say he’s trying too hard to be different and then there are those who just wish he’d stop being so “artsy” and record a new System Of A Down record. The latter will be especially hard to escape now with System reforming to play dates with the Deftones. Harakiri is not really a metal record or world music album or a rock jam or an avant garde experiment. It’s all of those things and that will piss people off. There’s no way around it.
Is Harakiri a perfect record? No. The production tends to be too uniform for my taste and at times the crispness of the album kills some of the dynamics. I love that Tankian connects words in his own way but not every line needs to come across like Dr. Seuss on steroids. That being said, Harakiri is an excellent record made by a man who has never deviated from his own vision. There are not as many true artists out there as there could be. Serj Tankian is definitely one of them.