Though it’s been ten years since the release of Daron Malakian and Scars on Broadway’s self-titled debut album (in those days known simply as Scars on Broadway), it’s unsurprising in the days of Trump, Putin and Brexit that the punk-infused Nu Metal group should re-emerge with a new offering. Malakian is well-known for social and political commentary in his music, both in Scars on Broadway and more prominently as a member of the on-again, off-again Nu Metal powerhouse System of a Down. While the prospects of a new System of a Down album seem grim following statements from former frontman Serj Tankian about the difficulties of working together to record new music, some consolation might have been afforded by Malakian’s new music. Unfortunately, while there are certainly some notable highlights to the album, much of it seems to have been phoned in, and lacks the impact either of System of a Down or the previous Scars on Broadway album.
The album opens with the chunky, rocking, Metal riffs of Lives. Malakian’s distinctive vocals are instantly recognisable, and his style certainly hasn’t changed over the last decade or more as his approach carries a sense of the melodies of the last two System of a Down albums, ‘Hypnotize’ and ‘Mesmerize.’ This in itself is unsurprising, as Malakian had a strong creative influence on that duology. Malakian’s bass is low and throbbing beneath his guitars; indeed, it’s something of a misnomer to refer to Daron Malakian and Scars on Broadway in terms of this studio album, as Malakian is responsible for the music in its entirety.
The guitars become heavier and harsher with Angry Guru, while there is a distinct punk influence to the drums. Malakian performs a fun guitar solo over the top of his chunky, tuned-down rhythm section, while his vocals and lyrics are pointedly taunting: “Real connections / Sometimes I need spiritual protection / He said, ‘Nobody hates you more than I do / Nobody loves you more than you do.’”
By contrast, Dictator is catchy and melodic, and is an early standout on the album. In this track, Malakian’s vocal lines become quite reminiscent of Tankian’s in the chorus; and indeed, Tankian’s spectre continues to be felt as the song wanders into a very weird, idiosyncratic space before leaping into heavier riffs and more aggressive vocals that speak to earlier System of a Down material.
Low guitar and bass tones build the tension of Fuck and Kill, which surprisingly also picks up something of a Middle Eastern flavour in the guitar and synth work, while at other times focusing on pure, fast-paced riffing. The approach of early suspense is continued in Guns are Loaded, with its slow, mournful beginning very much reminiscent of the System of a Down song, The Soldier Side. Even as the heaviness kicks in, the song remains slow and reflective.
The energy picks up again with Never Forget, though it must be said that Malakian’s vocal lines in this song are not particularly inspiring. The instrumentation however stands out, with the pumping beat, cool reverb on the low guitars, and some interesting synth work.
Talkin’ Shit features chunky guitars and upbeat drums, and this time the vocal lines are catchier, with almost a touch of The Kinks’ Ray Davies to them. The drums also carry plenty of hooks to support the lead guitars. The track steadily builds into what feels like will be a massive climax, but instead opens out into a more emotive lead guitar piece over the heavy riffs.
Slow, heavy riffs form the basis of Till the End, a grooving track with quite a jazzy swing about the riffs and vocal lines. The verses are again reminiscent of Tankian, particularly given his own interest in jazz, and overall the song becomes quite emotive and surprisingly depressive. The pace however picks up again in punchy, System of a Down style with We Won’t Obey.
Sickening Wars continues the fast pace with rolling punchiness, and there is definitely some old school punk influence in the vocals, even bringing to mind The Sex Pistols. By distinctive contrast, the guitar work in Gie Mou “My Son” has quite a Country feel to it, carrying the listener smoothly through the mournful, instrumental track.
The surprising closer is a cover of first-wave Industrial icons Skinny Puppy’s Assimilate. Along with heavy reverb in the vocals nodding to the Industrial style, Malakian incorporates lead riffs that actually seem to reach all the way back into the 70s, sounding more like Black Sabbath’s Children of the Grave. This is one of the coolest tracks on the album, if only for being so unexpected. Malakian’s delivery of the lyrics is fresh and original, while paying a fitting homage to the Skinny Puppy classic.
GET YOUR HANDS ON DARON MALAKIAN AND SCARS ON BROADWAY’S ‘DICTATOR’ FROM THEIR WEBSITE HERE!