In the build up to its release, Daron Malakian stated that ‘Dictator’ was being held back incase there was a new System Of A Down record on the horizon, but over the years since their 2010 reunion, the likelihood of a new record to follow ‘Hypnotize’ has becoming increasingly unlikely.
So, instead of sitting in a vault and collecting dust any longer, Malakian has put them into his side-project Scars On Broadway, and put it all into a full-length that was recorded and ready to go in just ten days.
The record itself is structured impeccably, with variation coming in from all angles. Whether this is through 80s pop style lead lines in ‘Never Forget’ or Malakian‘s signature tremolo picking adding flourishes and grooves in equal measure. Indeeed, the guitar work is one of the two driving forces on this effort.
Tracks such as ‘Fuck And Kill’ effortlessly switches between Middle Eastern lead lines to chugging riffs in a drastic fashion. The skill involved with crafting a record with so many influences and compositional changes is by achieving unity, one that is preserved in the most part by the guitar tone on display.
Another unexpected highlight is shown with the instrumental heavy ‘Talkin’ Shit’. The guitar melodies create not only an immersive experience, but also a strong narrative tone – an art form seldom heard in commercial releases.
As mentioned earlier, this collection was created in ten days and it is shown in glimpses. The choice in a cover of Skinny Puppy‘s ‘Assimilate’ as the finale proves this. Granted the song has its highlights, but after eleven strong tracks with an eclectic choice of influences shown throughout, it feels like an unsatisfying end to an otherwise streamlined record.
Despite such a long time away (Scars On Broadway hasn’t released anything in a decade until now), Malakian has not lost his political edge, whether it’s with tracks such as the album’s title-track showcasing a coda of “Your politics will never corrupt me”, or the refrain of “Ignorance should be a crime / All religions stand in line” displayed in ‘We Won’t Obey’ reinforcing this.
Compositionally, this record is a lesson on how to write a heavy pop song on a guitar. Using a variety of techniques coupled with interplay between the guitar and vocals summons unexpected hooks. Whether it’s finger picking, lingering on notes to create tension, or allowing a narrative to play out makes it a listen with hardly any dead space.
‘Dictator’ is a very strong and riff dense record, but with the recent statements surrounding its release, it’s hard to not think how much more this could’ve been if it had been used as a basis for a System Of A Down record.
That being said, with the recent surfacing of the artistic clashes within System Of A Down, it’s becoming more of a reality that Scars On Broadway will be shifting from the side-project passenger seat into the driving main focus for Daron Malakian.