Friday, April 30, 2010

Scars On Broadway - S/T

When Scars On Broadway was originally released in 2008, I was surprisingly apathetic towards it. My feelings towards the project surprised me a bit, especially considering that I had thoroughly enjoyed the last three System of a Down releases so much. I mean, I played the hell out of Toxicity and Mesmerize/Hypnotize gave me a greater appreciation for the band. The social commentary was borderline crass, and the political statements were laced with the kind of venom that would make the most radical activist blush. Then of course, there was the Serj Tankian solo effort, Elect the Dead, from the year before that had seen plenty of attention from my CD player. It only seemed natural that I would have immediately gravitated towards Scars On Broadway, but maybe I had enough of being pissed off at the world and needed my angst battery recharged. So, Scars just had to wait.

When I did eventually breakdown and buy the album, Scars On Broadway suddenly became the sound de jour, with that de jour being a constant two week stint on the turntable. I realized, Daron Malakian is a bit of a madman genius, and Scars On Broadway is his latest vehicle for the conveyance of his ideas. Where he seemed to be countered by a more focused and grounding energy brought in by Serj Tankian while with System of a Down, Daron’s crazed psycho ramblings fly unfettered on Scars. His unique perspective on life is foremost in these recordings, but he also injects lyrics of introspection throughout and we get a better sense that his views are his alone, and we can interpret them anyway we see fit. Just don’t hurt anyone in the process. The music, much like that of System, is all over the place . . . punk-y, metallic, poppy, avant garde . . . the dude’s musical vision is as frightening and exciting as any psycho-thriller movie in existence. Heavy rock, fast punk, melodic classic rock portions, tasteful guitar licks . . . at times, shocking, other times simply breath taking. Seeing as he had full artistic control of this project, all successes and failures are firmly planted on his shoulders. He played all of the instruments, with the exception of the drums, a responsibility that he left in the more than able hands of longtime SOAD drummer, John Dolmayan.

Blasting out in a punk rock frenzy, “Serious” is simply explosive. Daron’s vocals have that manic quality to them, shifting between hopped up tirade to metallic, melodic crooner as he tells the world that it’s being way too serious. The song is fun, but there’s an underlying sense of despair and darkness creeping around in there . . . heavy and moving, cleaner and quieter at the chorus. The guitar work is great, particularly in the outro as he begins this wild alternative double picking technique. The tune is a great, upbeat way to kick off the album, setting the tone for what would appear to be a classic punk infused collection of songs. But the album takes a turn on the follow up track, “Funny.” The song comes across as a poppy surf number filled with synthesized textures and ambient melodies. The tempo is slowed down a bit and the aggressiveness is all but nil . . . though that darkened undertone is still there and has a feel of a personal narrative as if we’re riding shotgun with Daron as he makes his way through the city of Santa Monica.

“Stoner Hate” may be my personal favorite on the album and that feeling is powered by the chorus melody as much as the double time beat and heavy guitar riffing. My God, that’s a powerful groove! Plus, any song that can work “super-cala-fra-jalistic-expi-ela-docious” into the lyrics is alright by me. I’m a sucker for Mary Poppins. In all seriousness, the song is as ballsy and heavy as they come . . . it’s short, to the point (whatever the point may be,) has some great dynamic shifts in tone and tempo, and the vocal melody is infectious. Served up with a cup of coffee, “Stoner Hate” is the kind of song that incinerates the cobwebs rather than brushes them away. And order up a side dish of “Kill Each Other/Live Forever,” and you have a morning cocktail to face the day with reckless abandon. Again, as is the case with all of the songs on the album, the melodies are strong and memorable . . . and the sarcastic lyrics performed in an even more sarcastic voice create one of the more poignant moments on the album. This last song has some striking similarities to latter day System of the Down material . . . jarring and somewhat bizarre musical breaks, and huge melodic choruses, in particular.

“Chemicals” irreverently dances in the no man’s land of rebellious and crass, “Enemy” shakes it’s ass in modern disco fashion while constantly reminding us that the human race is a parasitic organism whacked on drugs, and “Universe” comes out of the gates sounding like Bob Dylan in a uber-paranoid mood before exploding into open chords of distorted sound. “3005” is Daron Malakian spreading his wings and soaring over the concrete mountain tops of downtown Los Angeles . . . the song borders on epic, filled with great musical passages, emotional tones, and an overall cool fucking performance. It has a kind of Beatles-esque experimentation going on with the melodies and the textural nuances, and that guitar solo! Damn! It’s subtle, understated, somewhat reserved and held back, but damn . . . that tone and the phrasing is cool as hell!

Manic and overcharged, Scars On Broadway is a chaotic frenzy of music . . . but that statement alone doesn’t tell the whole tale of what’s going on there. In fact, this review pretty much just skims the surface of what you may find tucked within the grooves of this record. There’s so much going on and the infectiousness of the melodies makes further exploration fell more worthwhile. If the melodies weren’t there, it would be like trading brains with a schizophrenic. The melodies are like a safety barrier from the raw insanity, a protective bubble of rich sounds. There’s nothing I would change about this album, or my experience with it. In hindsight, I’m glad it took me so long to finally include it to my collection, otherwise, it would have been too much in conjunction with all of the aforementioned bands and side projects. Daron Malakian is a nut, but it’s the crazy one’s who seem to create the most interesting music and Scars On Broadway is fantastic journey to the doorstep of institutionalization.  -  Pope JTE

Buy here:  Scars On Broadway [Vinyl]

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