Serj Tankian


Serj Tankian (Credit: Fábio Nascimento)

Pizza toppings, tongue-twisters, raucous screeching, turkey-calling, political word-salad, and a tragic coincidence. All of these come back to the heavy metal band, System of a Down. Most metal bands craft their image from edgy lyrics and hard noises, which albeit a very stylized artform, is not what System of a Down stands for. Their uniqueness comes from their own band members, who yearn to convey suffering and bring a voice to those who cannot speak loud enough. While the band itself has an interesting history, and the rest of the bandmates respectably, the story of their frontman is fascinating.

Serj Tankian was born to Armenian parents in Beirut, Lebanon. When he was only eight years old, his family picked up to move to Los Angeles, of all places. There, he attended a bilingual Armenian American school and learned more of his heritage, for his four grandparents were all survivors of the Armenian genocide, which only ended in 1923 and is considered the third worst genocide in the history of the world. Due to this, when he entered adulthood and his college years, Tankian worked endlessly to try and garner awareness of the Armenian genocide; many people either don’t know about the genocide or flat-out deny it.

How does one raise awareness for an unrecognized period of misery and unrelenting death? Tankian somehow thought about metal music, while not being a fan of the genre in the first place. In college, Tankian learned how to play the keyboard and wrote songs which resulted in his forming his now-most famous band, System of a Down, after his first band disbanded. The band’s name stemmed from a fellow bandmate’s poem titled “Victims of a Down” also about the genocide his family was deeply affected by. From there on, he and his fellow Armenian bandmates worked vigorously at their musical career. Live shows were how they climbed to fame in California, which attracted much attention from metal fans who were utterly confused at their different style and deep messages conveyed. It was there that Tankian really shined when giving monologues about what he likely believes is his true calling. System of a Down also began to dabble in politics by writing songs that Tankian and his mates also deemed important, including the mistreatment of prisoners, anti-war sentiments, and criticisms of elitism. He would go on to display a real talent for music with a wide vocal range, along with what can only be described as “organized chaos”. But of course, the chaos was his.

Of course, Tankian also pursued an independent career and later wrote independent scores for, most famously, Game of Thrones. However, aside from his political activism and his musical career, Tankian has also pursued artwork. While glancing at his art, many heads are turned sideways. It’s confusing and colorful, and that reflects the entity that Tankian shows the public eye. Yet, for some of his art, it can be seen as meaningful, and they make more sense. It’s art to make the viewer feel, which is sometimes achieved through unconventional means which in his case may contain a white violin.

For all of the work that Tankian has done to try and bring more awareness of the history of Armenia, Tankian was graciously awarded the Armenian Prime Minister’s Medal. Most of what he chooses to stand for is the gruesome history that millions of people have suffered through,  which still remains ignored to this day. It’s a simple purpose, but it would be a lie to say that it’s not impressive that he has stuck to it. A dismal tale is often told of people who rise to fame, one of a person losing themself along the way. For Serj Tankian, however, he used his gritty climb to recognition as a means to say everything he needs to be said, which happens to be the voice of the silenced or silent.