Queensryche – American Soldier (2009, Rhino Records)
- Hundred Mile Stare
- At 30,000 Ft.
- A Dead Man’s Words
- The Killer
- Middle Of Hell
- If I Were King
- Man Down!
- Remember Me
- Home Again
- The Voice
Geoff Tate – Vocals & Horns
Michael Wilton – Guitars
Ed Jackson – Bass
Scott Rockenfield – Drums
Emily Tate – Vocals on ‘Home Again’
Jason Ames – Vocals on ‘Sliver’ and ‘If I Were King’
A.J. Frato – Vocals on ‘Sliver’
Vincent Solano – Vocals on ‘A Dead Man’s Words’
Randy Gane – Keyboards
Kelly Gray – Guitars
Damon Johnson – Guitars
Producers: Jason Slater & Kelly Gray
Total Time = 60:31
I have been a fan of Queensryche since the beginning. I remember hearing the QUEENSRYCHE E.P. (1983) and THE WARNING (1984) on a local record store turntable when they came out and I remember waiting in line for EMPIRE (1990). Queensryche has been a band I have followed for a long time…..but time has taken it’s toll! I loved every album through PROMISED LAND (1994) and I rush out to get HEAR IN THE NOW FRONTIER (1997) when there was a resurgence in Metal with all the reunions. By ’97, the band’s sound had changed, especially Geoff Tate’s voice, to a more modern and darker sound. Gone were Tate’s soaring vocals and blistering guitar solos, instead we got a more subdued Queensryche, concerned more with the storytelling of concept albums and a modern sound. There has still been good songs on some of their later records but the last three studio albums (including 2006’s OPERATION: MINDCRIME II) and the TAKE COVER (2007) covers album (that I actually liked) have left a bitter taste with most fans. So can Queensryche make us believe again? Personally, I wasn’t sure. I ran out and bought the album the day it came out in March but I didn’t really give it much of a listen. I think I was prejudging the album based on previous poor efforts but I’ve given this more time and the album has grown on me.
AMERICAN SOLDIER is another concept record, this time centered around the experiences of U.S. soldiers during war. Geoff Tate spent months interviewing veterans of WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East conflicts to get a better understanding of how a soldier thinks and how war effects them. Obviously, this topic is actually relevant to the times we live in. Queensryche believes in a certain formula and conceptual albums are what they will probably continue to do. I wasn’t sure if another concept album would be the formula for success considering every album gets compared to the landmark OPERATION: MINDCRIME (1988). The other concern was the sound. The band abandoned Heavy Metal a long time ago for a darker, layered, modern Progressive Rock sound that has more to do with multi-dimensional mid-tempo epics than an all-out Metal assault. For me, I liked the album concept but I wasn’t sure how it would translate musically because Heavy Metal and war usually go hand in hand with a more brutal sound.
I was right about the overall sound. Most of the songs fall into the epic mid-tempo and ballad category with an emphasis on multi-layered instruments and orchestrations. Tate’s voice retains his post-EMPIRE sound with his lower register being the focal point instead of his high screams. I think Geoff Tate has lost a little as far as range (see the band in concert to see what I mean) but he still has a strong singing voice that suits the material well. For this concept and these songs his voice is a perfect fit…..it has that low, dark, brooding sound that comes alive with a few higher flourishes here and there. For once in a long time, I think Tate has done a solid job. The songs’ music falls into a progressive style with a lot of different layers but simpler than say a Dream Theater or a Shadow Gallery, it’s almost like Queensryche is going for a harder, more epic Pink Floyd style. There’s plenty of guitars, bass and drums but there is orchestration and strings, as well as, spoken word and voiceovers from veterans and soldiers. Even Geoff Tate adds in his saxophone playing to a few songs!
Because there is a set formula, most of the songs on AMERICAN SOLDIER sound the same. ‘Sliver’ starts the album out with a modern sound and ‘Unafraid’ sounds definitely like Hard Rock but the song is made up mostly of sound effects and voiceovers from soldiers. I like ‘Unafraid’ because it lends a personal element to the song/album with the soldiers’ voices, the chorus is simple but one of the heavier ones on the album. The slower epic style begins with ‘Hundred Mile Stare’, a song that I find repetitive but decent, and ‘At 30,000 Ft.’, probably my favorite song of the album. ‘At 30,000 Ft.’ is about pilots delivering their payload and being high above the skynot seeing the carnage that results. It’s a very peaceful ballad styled song that contrasts the subject matter perfectly and moves into a harder edge with the bridge and chorus. You can almost feel the emotion of a pilot alone in the sky simply flying and pressing a button to unload bombs, never seeing what happens when they hit the ground. Best song on the album. A close second would be the haunting ‘Dead Man’s Words’, it’s almost hypnotic in it’s brooding dark delivery.
‘The Killer’ is an uptempo modern Rock song that could have easily come from Q2K (1999) or TRIBE (2003) but it’s a little repetitive for me, it sounds like the rest of the album. Same thing with ‘Middle Of Hell’ with it’s almost soothing trippy sound that contrasts with the subject matter and song title, it’s almost like experiencing battle in slow motion? ‘If I Were King’ has more soldier voiceovers starting the song by telling the horrors of seeing a buddy die in combat. The song stays in that mid-tempo/ballad style Queensryche has perfected with the guitars and tempo getting heavier just for the chorus. ‘Man Down!’ is almost a repeat of ‘If I Were King’ with the soldier voiceover starting the track but this is actually the heaviest and better songs on the album! It reminds me of parts of HEAR IN THE NOW FRONTIER or Q2K, definitely a welcome sound to hear a heavier uptempo song. Usually the ballads are used to break up the hard rocker, Queensryche flips that formula for better or worse. ‘Remember Me’ is another ballad with a soldier voice over to start the song, it’s too similar to other songs on the album. Same thing wirth ‘Home Again’, another quick spoken word intro but this song is the best ballad on the album. Geoff Tate’s daughter Emily makes her vocal debut on this song and it fits well with the image of a father and daughter exchanging letters while he is stationed away at war. Definitely one of the more emotional and beautiful songs on the album, this would be a single if this were back in the late ’80s/early ’90s. It’s definitely one of the more mellow songs on the album, as well as one of my favorites. I have two daughters, and I have two nieces who lost their dad during combat times, so it tugged on the heartstrings for me. Last song is ‘The Voice’ and it is thick with orchestration and sounds like the other epics on the album…..it’s a decent song with some heavy guitar flourishes but not enough to make it stand out.
My review above may not reflect it but I actually enjoyed AMERICAN SOLDIER, the first Queensyrche album I have liked since 1997. I have given the album a serious critical listen and also just let the album play. Sometimes you can hear something you missed if you just let the album play in the background and flow rather than sit on top of the stereo and pick out every detail! If you are expecting the Metal version of Queensryche and go looking for it in AMERICAN SOLDIER then you will be disappointed. If you just play the record, forget old songs like ‘Queen Of The Reich’ and ‘Take Hold Of The Flame’, and let the music flow then you might appreciate the album more. The Queensryche we knew was great but they are never coming back, the Queensryche of today still makes good music but it’s just different…..slower and layered. I think that more people will like this album if they forget about the old Queensryche sound and OPERATION: MINDCRIME. One of the major problems the band has had has been songwriting and the concept of seeing war through soldiers’ eyes is a good one. The songs are good although some are repetitive in style and the music is definitely epic and grand with plenty of different styles. Overall…..a better effort than I expected but not much Metal. Definitely worth a try, the album continues to grow on me and I enjoy it more as a full album as I hear it.
‘Unafraid’, ‘At 30,000 Ft.’, ‘Dead Man’s Words’, ‘Man Down!’, ‘Home Again’