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There's literally no other singer in the world who sounds like Serj Tankian. The System of a Down frontman has an instantly recognizable voice that can shift between operatic belts, psychotic screeches and carnival barker-esque trills within the period of a single song. He's undeniably one of the most iconic, inventive and downright crazy-sounding vocalists in all of metal, so naturally, narrowing down his best vocal performances to one hand's worth of fingers is no easy task. That said, we asked and you all delivered, and the results might surprise even the most diehard Tankian heads. Below, are the top five vote-getters.
The second single from SOAD's first opus of 2005, Mezmerize, packs everything Tankian excels at into one song. "Question!" features one of his more tender deliveries during the verse and a beautiful yet powerful croon during the hook, and he still manages to fit a couple throat-searing screams in there. It's as if his whole vocal portfolio was condensed into a tight three minutes and 20 seconds.
There are definitely other SOAD songs where Tankian's singing is more technically impressive, but "Sugar" is one of the greatest showcases of his singular style. His performance on this standout from the band's 1998 debut is soaked with the batshit personality that would set SOAD apart from any of their contemporaries. His sassy little voice cracks and tongue-twisting patterns find a bizarre middle-ground between alt-metal and avant-rap, but those guttural lows are deep and scary enough for a guest feature on a Dying Fetus album.
As the band developed throughout the early aughts, SOAD became as beloved for their titanic power ballads like "Aerials" and "Lonely Day" as they were for their zany metal collisions. "Spiders," also from their self-titled debut, was the first — and arguably remains one of their best — entries in the slower, though no less powerful, side of their sound. Here, Tankian proved that not only could he belt with godly force, but he could actually carry a melody. Not all metal vocalists can do both, and few as well as he can.
What more can be said? For most people, this is the SOAD song, and for good reason. The way Tankian belts, "Why have you forsaken me?," with the quivering pain of 1,000 widows is bone-chilling no matter how many times you've heard it. Then there're the whisper-scream verses, which require a level of breath control and precise diction that's genuinely awe-inducing to try and pick apart. You've heard him plead, "Trust in my self-righteous suicide," before, but it really does hit every time.
Many of the songs on this list are objectively more popular than "Holy Mountains," but it's hard to deny that this album track from SOAD's final record, Hypnotize, is the most breathtaking performance Tankian has ever recorded. In terms of his actual singing, the mountainous "woah-oh's" and his skyscraping delivery during the hook are unrivaled moments of bone-chilling grandeur. However, it's also worth commending him for his writing on this song, given that there are at least three vocal melodies on here that would easily be the standout chorus on any other musician's record— and he nails the performance of every single one. This is Tankian at his finest.