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Queensrÿche has had quite a roller coaster ride over the past decade. From 1999-2009, the band featured three different sets of songwriters before settling in with producer/songwriter Jason Slater in 2006 for Operation: Mindcrime II. With Slater back for round two with lead singer Geoff Tate and company, Queensrÿche has clearly found its creative legs on American Soldier, a concept record detailing the experiences of United States servicemen and women.
Starting with the "on your feet!" call of a boot camp drill instructor in "Sliver," American Soldier takes the listener on a unique journey of hard rock bombardment. Featuring a plethora of heavy riffing throughout the album, particularly on the rockers "Man Down!" and "Unafraid," American Soldier embraces Queensrÿche's heavier roots, without forgetting the epic side of the band.
"At 30,000 Ft.," a track written from the point of view of a bomber pilot will remind fans of the grand "Anybody Listening?" off of 1990's Empire, whereas the moody "A Dead Man's Words" is reminiscent of the song "Promised Land." In fact, in a nutshell, American Soldier feels like a hybrid between the darkness of 1994's Promised Land with a good injection of modern musical angst.
American Soldier was written primarily by producer Slater (with Tate responsible for lyrics), although former Queensrÿche axeman and producer Kelly Gray (Q2k, Live Evolution) contributed some tracks ("Hundred Mile Stare" and the aforementioned "Man Down!"). Additionally, Gray's other band, Slave to the System, which features Queensrÿche drummer Scott Rockenfield and Brother Cane frontman/guitarist Damon Johnson, also contributed two songs - the battle haze-influenced "Middle of Hell" (featuring Tate on saxophone dueling with Wilton on guitar) and the touching father-daughter ballad (sung by Tate and his daughter, Emily), "Home Again."
Tate (saxophone), Wilton (guitars), Rockenfield (drums) and bassist Eddie Jackson deliver dynamic musical performances, arguably their strongest in 15 years. From Rockenfield's military cadence beat behind Wilton's solo in the emotionally-charged "The Killer," to Jackson's thundering groove throughout American Soldier, the band play more cohesively than they have in years, distinctively Queensrÿche, yet modern and relevant despite being around for 28 years.
Most fans of Queensrÿche would probably agree Tate is at his best when he is inspired and writes to a theme, and that holds true with American Soldier. Crafted from the stories of soldiers (including Tate's own father), the best of Geoff Tate is on display, telling emotional stories from a number of different perspectives and delivering them with conviction.
So what's the downside? While the record features great instrumentation, including classic guitar solos by Wilton, the trademark vocals of Tate are always the first thing that people notice. Tate's delivery on American Soldier is up and down. At times, Tate sounds thin and straining (sections of "Sliver," "Hundred Mile Stare," and very noticeably on the lead single, "If I Were King"). Then on other songs, Tate sounds strong and melodic like most fans remember, particularly on the chorus of "Unafraid," and again on "At 30,000 Ft." and "A Dead Man's Words."
Further, while the soldier interview clips spliced through the record provide a necessary realism they also have a tendency to derail things. For example, "Unafraid" features interview clips serving as the actual verses to the song. Yes, you read that right. Tate wrote no lyrics, except for the chorus. It works artistically in the concept, but from a standalone song perspective, the chorus of the song screams "anthem" and "radio hit," but the eclectic decision to not have lyrics in the verses likely stifles that chance of taking the song to another level.
Additionally, American Soldier tends to lose some steam the last three tracks, with three acoustically-tinged ballads in a row. The closer, "The Voice" reminds one of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" at points, and is a step up from the previous two cuts ("Remember Me" and "Home Again"). But the darker, intense, vibe of the album is lifted for a more serene stroll to the finish line, which disrupts the flow.
Finally, while this record purports to be written from the perspective of a soldier, it's very much steered by the perception of war from Geoff Tate. It's all negative. I know many career soldiers. Many are proud to serve their country. Where are the songs about pride, honor and belief in a cause?
I note those, because those are very real sentiments among many career military folks that were noticeably absent from this record and a key part of what should have been the story. Without the balance, I find the essence of what this album was supposed to be (a look at war and the military through the eyes of a soldier) to be woefully one-sided and inaccurate.
"At 30,000 Ft."
"A Dead Man's Words"
Several years ago, quite by accident, I saw Queensrÿche perform live in support of this album. They showed up as "special guests" at the prog festival which I was attending. I was aware of the band being something of a big name in the world of progressive metal, and I was familiar with a few of their more popular songs, but that was the extent of my knowledge. When they came onstage, I saw a woefully washed up rocker well past his prime who was clearly delusional regarding his own abilities (Geoff Tate) and a bunch of guys who obviously, visibly did not want to be there (the rest of the band). They opened with Best I Can, which the crowd seemed to enjoy, and bolstered my hopes that they weren't about to waste my time. After the opener, Geoff told us all about how this record was coming out soon, and then he and his band treated us to half an hour of live dog shit from it. The crowning moment occurred when Geoff's daughter appeared onstage to perform "Home Again," which remains the worst live performance I have seen of any song. Emily Tate, just like all the other people on the stage not named Geoff Tate, looked and sounded like she would have rather been anywhere else. I don't blame her.
The studio version of this album is just as bad as Queensrÿche's embarrassing performance that day. From the opening seconds of "Sliver" it is overwhelmingly obvious that this album is unspeakably awful. Unless one considers romanticizing life in the American military to be a redeeming quality, this album has no redeeming qualities. The catastrophe begins with Tate laughably playing the part of a drill sergeant commanding the listener "ON YOUR FEET!" followed by a grunge guitar riff that would not have been cutting edge a decade prior to this record's release. After a "Hey! I'm gonna tell ya WHAT'S UP!" that sounds like it was cut directly from a Disturbed song, Tate begins weakly bleating out his YOU GOTTA MAN UP lyrics over an instrumental background that fails at being everything it tries to be. Things quickly get worse from there, as Tate falls back on the well-worn nu-metal tripe of rapidly shifting the sound from speaker to speaker and yelling WHAT'S UP about thirty times.
The guitars try to sound gentle and contemplative at times, and instead come across as dude-rock melodramatic. When the guitars try to be heavy, they sound like alternative rock garbage that can be found on any FM rock station in America. The drums are played in a style that is better suited to pop than it is to heavy metal, which helps to further harm the album's credentials. American Soldier is one vocalist short of being a Nickelback album. The vocal production is pitiful. Geoff Tate's voice is distorted more times on this record than it is left alone. Both the distorted and clean versions sound thin and give the impression that Tate is desperately trying to be something that he is not. As if Tate's vocals weren't disgusting enough, his voice is joined by others multiple times on the album, notably by his daughter as aforementioned, but also in the form of vocal samples. "Unafraid" contains roughly four lines that get repeated several times while poorly filtered vocal samples play over the music, alternating speakers and pretending to be the song's verses. Various military sounds (helicopters, gunshots) intrude everywhere. "Hundred Mile Stare" contains a passage in which Tate has multiple vocal tracks layered over each other in an attempt to harmonize with himself, yet even after post-production, he somehow ends up out of tune - and it's not the only time it happens.
Stylistically, this album tries to be something of a concept album, but it's so hindered by the lyrics and poorly arranged music that it's impossible to figure out what direction it wants to go. Far too often, the music settles into something resembling a groove only to abruptly fall apart and change direction for a useless interlude. Promising moments are always squandered, without exception. "A Dead Man's Words" is easily the strongest track on this record, but its churning, plodding main riff is inevitably fucked into oblivion by the chorus, which tonally does not properly progress from the riff preceding it and predictably contains poorly orchestrated vocals. Even the surprising appearance of the saxophone is halted by more vocal diarrhea. This trend continues in every song. None of them ever go anywhere even remotely interesting; the entire album is basically one long ballad, a self-pitying faux-dramatic sack of contrived garbage.
The vocals, in all honesty, are what transforms this album from merely bad to offensively bad. It's plainly obvious that Geoff Tate was the driving force behind this steaming mess, since his voice is shoehorned into every possible opening in the music, whether or not it needs to be. This album is a monument to his own delusions about his talent and his personal fantasy that this is a moving tribute to the military. It is instead an insultingly blatant load of flag-waving shit. For the incredible abundance of war-related lyrics in heavy metal, one would imagine that it would be fairly easy to craft some verses about the hardships and terrors of battle. Instead, the lyrics are melodramatic and whiny, often heavily cut with samples from interviews with military personnel. Tate's daughter playing the vocal role of a child writing a letter to her deployed father is one of the sappiest things I've ever heard. It's not emotional. It's cloying and awkward. It's made even worse by the minor issue that her performance is flat, sounds like she's out of her natural range, and downright sucks. I absolutely understand why she didn't want to be on stage in front of all those people.
Having failed to win over disgruntled fans with Tribe and Operation: Mindcrime II, Queensryche went for a different approach for their tenth full-length studio album. The writing is still dominated by outsiders but all the band members seem to be accounted for and while the military theme could be seen as a different type of pandering, it is much more honest due to the insights gained by interviewing actual soldiers and incorporating their sound bites into the songwriting.
Despite the elaborate concept, it is still hard to identify this as a true Queensryche album. The prevailing style is a mix of post grunge and alternative metal, the guitars have a rather conventional chug, the vocals are about the same as they’ve been, and a liberal amount of samples are used to set the atmosphere. There is a bit of prog influence and the saxophone makes its first appearance since Promised Land but the band’s most defining traits are still sadly absent.
With that, the songwriting is also a mixed bag. Things start off rather awkwardly as “Sliver” and “Unafraid” seem to be going for a Saliva vibe while “Hundred Mile Stare” and “At 30,000 Feet” are decent but ultimately don’t live up to their atmospheric promise. Thankfully, it does get better as it goes along with “The Killer” offering some strong percussion, “Man Down!” being a more successful upbeat track, and “If I Were King” and “Remember Me” making for good ballads.
“Home Again” is another noteworthy track though one that is sure to divide people. While its structure is that of a typical acoustic ballad, its defining factor is the duet between Geoff Tate and his daughter Emily. While Emily’s flat tone and the song’s somewhat saccharine nature may turn some listeners off, she puts more emotion into her performance than her father has in years. Hell, it just might be one of the most passionate ballads that Queensryche has ever put together and will get you misty-eyed if you relate to the theme.
Overall, American Soldier is one of the most mixed albums in the Queensryche discography. The outside contributions still grate on the nerves and several ideas don’t quite catch fire, but the second half does make it potentially worth getting if you can deal with a different sound. There are better war-themed albums out there but this is arguably as good as Geoff Tate and his cronies will ever get.
“If I Were King”
Originally published at http://psychicshorts.blogspot.com
I honestly considered buying this album as I thought that the concept sounded interesting and as I really liked the first single and intense ballad "If I were king". It was a true shock to me to see so many negative reviews on that side then, so I decided to listen to the entire album before purchasing it as I wasn't quite sure about buying it anymore. I finally expected the worst and the beginning of the album is indeed horrible. But later on, I discovered a couple of hidden gems so that my final rating isn't that negative.
Let's talk about the songs right now. The first two tracks are amongst the worst ones the band has ever written in almost thirty years. "Sliver" is a rap rock track with weak lyrics and probably the worst song Queensrÿche have ever written. It's sure that such a bad opener influences a lot the general atmosphere and first impression of an album and they did the worst choice here. This song is too be avoided at all costs, there is nothing profound, intelligent or original about this track. "Unafraid" is not much better, the lyrics are even worse and the song is entirely composed of interview citations of veterans that have such an awful sound quality that it sounds like if someone was farting underwater. The chorus is dumb and boring, the music one dimensional and bad. Maybe this track is the second worst track Queensrÿche have ever written. Until now, the album isn't worth one single point.
The next three songs are good average tracks. "Hundred mile stare" turns the page then and is a classic melodic Queensrÿche rocker. The first two minutes of the track are enjoyable, the last minutes seem endless and annoying and repeat always the same patterns but though this song is finally mediocre, it is way much better than the first two songs. "At 30,000 ft" is the first really good song on the record. It begins with a beautiful melody and an interesting drumming. The tune begins as an enjoyable ballad with a truly energetic and passionate vocal performance before exotic guitar riffs and sound effects create a surprising and finally very progressive middle part. "A dead man's words" is a rather modern, dark and haunting piece of music and has slightly Industrial Metal and Asian folk influences. The vocal performance is slow and underlined by strange sound effects. This mixture seems to be strange but the song is a great experience and gets really hypnotizing even though there are maybe two minutes of boredom towards the middle part of the track. The ending of the song is worth the patience and one of the most beautiful and memorable parts of the entire album.
The next two songs are quite mediocre songs. "The killer" begins as a melodic and very harmonic song with classical band trademarks such as a very dramatic vocal performance and great tribal drums as well as memorable guitar leads. But the whole effort is destroyed by a mall core main riff and an extremely silly chorus. "Middle of nowhere" starts with a soft drumming and develops a haunting atmosphere with a good guitar riff. But after a promising beginning, the song doesn't evolve and gets very long and annoying.
Now, there are still the best songs to come on this record. "If I were king" is a brilliant ballad and especially brilliantly sung. It's a rather traditional but highly emotional song and the spoken word passages fit in here which isn't the case for many of the songs on this record. "Man down!" is the second single of the album after the previous ballad and one easily understands why because the dark and heavy riffs are catchy and probably the best musical parts of the album and vocal performance is very melodic. "Remember me" kicks off with a beautiful and dreamy guitar play and is a very harmonic and beautiful performance. This song is easily amongst the best songs on the album and keeps the level high. "Home again" has a mystical and haunting introduction. Acoustic guitars underline the brilliant father meets daughter vocal performances by Geoff Tate and his daughter and this turns out to be one of the most interesting and authentic songs on the record, a truly well done experiment. The final "The voice" is a very atmospheric introduction with sirens, thunder and spoken word passages before the real songs kicks off with exotic oriental guitar riffs. This final highlight is one of the most haunting tracks on the record and a pleasant grande finale that i didn't expect after the weak beginning of the album.
So, this album is somehow divided and two parts and not quite consistent. It starts in the worst possible manner before there are many enjoyable, diversified and emotional songs towards the end. When the band tries to get a personal approach to the songs and doesn't put the citations and sound samples at the center of the attention, this album works really well but as they often let different people tell to many details and hesitate to give a personal and artistically touch to the record, the band somewhat loses it and doesn't succeed its mission in the end. But honestly said, the last five tracks of the album are beautiful progressive rock or melodic metal gems that any fan should like if we don't consider the main topic’s boundaries with the superficial lyrics and horrible sound samples. In the end, this is still an enjoyable though not great album, somewhat like the second part of "Operation:Mindcrime" that has been a good album in general, but a disappointment in the historical context to the band's greatest effort. So, I may give you and advice: Ignore the concept, skip the first tracks filled with underwater fart poetry and enjoy the bubbles of genius in the last five tunes or so of "American soldier".
Queensrÿche, the band that seems to surprise everyone with every new album they make, especially after the commercial success of Empire. Where Promised Land showed us a dark progressive metal, Hear in the Now Frontier gave us a bit of grunge, and Q2K gave us something... totally different. And then Tribe, and then Operation: Mindcrime II! Who would know what to expect from their latest effort: American Soldier?
Overall, the concept of war and soldiers is not very original, yet the way Rÿche does it sounds very unique. With the addition of fragments of soldier’s interviews, the music comes more to life. Very different from their previous works, as usual, but still unmistakably Queensrÿche! Exactly the way an album should follow up a predecessor, in my opinion. Refreshing, yet still a trademark album. In fact, this album is more trademark than any of it’s predecessors after 1994’s Promised Land.
The way the album opens, however, is very awkward, yet original, and experimental. Some kind of drill sergeant shouts “on your feet!” followed by a haunting guitar riff. They instantly get you in army atmosphere. The rest of the opening track “Sliver” is quite boring, with a strange, a little too experimental chorus, having the sergeant shouting “welcome to the show”, which clearly states that this is merely an opening track. Yet, the good part of the album begins at the third track, “Hundred Miles Stare”, with a very catchy chorus, which is typically Queensrÿche, and at the same time it totally isn’t.
The songs are not based on heaviness. Heavy fragments do occur, such as the splendid “Man Down!” and the chorus of the single “If I Were King”. Somehow, I never saw Queensrÿche as a real metal band anyway, but I know most people do. The songs are not fast either, which I consider to be trademark Rÿche (“I’m American” on Mindcrime II was their first fast song since 1988), and it does not make the album a dragging or slow one, due to enough variation. Let me take out some highlights.
One of the best songs off the album would be “A Dead Man’s Words”, an epic song about a soldier being lost in the desert, struggling for survival. The riff and the entire theme are so dragging and dry; they make it seem as if I am the soldier in the desert. I can not describe the feeling this song gives me, but I totally feel like I am that soldier. One thing Geoff Tate can do very well is to sing as if he is tired, lost and confused. He is not singing awful at all, don’t get me wrong. It gives an effect to the song that makes it complete.
Another highlight would be the ballad “Home Again”, featuring Tate’s eleven year old daughter Emily on vocals, together with her dad. They perform a soldier and his child that are separated, because the soldier is on duty, but he’ll be home again. The singing of his daughter is not technically a feast, but the emotion coming off her voice... wow! Of course, she’d really mean the words she sings, since she and her dad are departed for most of the year as well, since Tate’s touring with Queensrÿche. Last word about this song: it’s just epic.
My conclusion about this album is that it’s a very good one. With a weak start, it gets stronger after the second track, and it finishes with style. It’s not metal, it’s not catchy at times, but it’s definitely trademark Queensrÿche and it’s worth a listen or five (I needed a couple of listens myself). But to see the beauty, one must accept that Queensrÿche is no longer the same as with Chris DeGarmo. Great album, absolute recommendation.
Having not heard any Queensryche at all, I wasn't really sure what to expect. Iron Maiden worship with some prog sections? Some catchy hard rock/metal with a few extended instrumental breaks? Didn't really have any much of an idea, but by the first "Welcome to the Show! I'm going to tell you what's up! (what's up what's up)" half way into the first song it was pretty obvious that expecting good, or even barely tolerable music was a bit of a mistake on my part.
You could almost imagine this being a parody of music. I remember when St.Anger got released a few optimistic/stupid souls went "har har, now where's the real album"? American Soldier is even more of a joke; if there's a chance to be bad here Queensryche go for it with an almost admirable vigour. Poorly fitting, useless spoken word bits? Guitars used as percussion? Absolutely horrible vocals? Pretension? Flag waving done in such poor taste and with such a lack of subtlety that even O'Reilly would blush? A complete lack of hooks or anything memorable? It's all here, all in vast quantities. I never thought I'd say that an album would be better if it included deathcore styled breakdowns, but man, some Waking the Cadaver sections would be great right now.
I guess one thing you'd have to give to this album is that it's rather original sounding, but that's definitely more by accident then by design. Sections that bring to mind Creed and other modern rock bands clash terribly with wailing vocals, spoken word bits that have no relation to the music played, panned and repeated with no seeming purpose. Songs that come and go without a chorus or a hook of any kind, vocals and backing vocals building up on each other to create new and equally awful sounds, short dramatic bits (He's alive!!!) that must've been put there for a joke. Man, this stuff could almost be avant garde. Is this Queensryche giving us this album, or some sadistic artistic savant making a harsh, unsparing comment on capitalism, imperialism and the demise of the American way?
The subject matter deserves a bit of a mention. I'm not going to discuss politics or anything. I'm just curious; how do you manage to stuff such a fertile, easy-to-do subject up? War lyrics basically write themselves, writing military style riffs shouldn't be too difficult... how on earth can you mess it up this badly? The only song that has any sort of coherence and deals with the subject well enough would be the sort-of-ok rock tune "The Killer", everything else coasting along in some confusing, useless mush of post-grunge vapidness and overkill with the vocal layering.
I guess on the plus side, if I ever have to go to war I doubt anything will shock me after the graphic and intense badness of this album. Perhaps Queensryche are making us empathy for the soldiers by giving their listeners' post-traumatic stress disorder? Napalm victims have nothing on those of us who've listened to this album. In short, this is a really, really bad album; horrifically bad. God bless the soldiers, so that they may return in one piece and wreck horrible vengeance on Queensryche for embarrasing them so much.
As if 'Operation Mindcrime II' weren't enough punishment for the masses of poor fans who longed for a glint of hope along the Queen's sodden path of mediocrity, we have now been inundated with this stinking heap of shit. And it doesn't take long for the odors to snake themselves about you.
I don't know what in the name of FUCK would prompt Geoff Tate and company to incorporate hip hop stereotypes into their songwriting. I mean...why? I understand this is a concept album about the US military, but listen to the hip hop bullshit that dominates opening track "Sliver". Was this meant to be a drill sergeant like Jamie Foxx in Jarhead? The shitty lyrics make the music simply unlistenable. This wouldn't have even been cool in 1992. "Unafraid" is like some unusable outtake from "Empire" complete with groovy sludge bass and samples that just don't sound good. "Hundred Mile Stare" has some nice vocal melodies to it, an uplifting ballad which sounds like any random song off Tribe. It's not as terrible as most of this, so I'll include a few points to cover it. But then of course it's followed by ANOTHER balladic track "At 30 Thousand Ft." "A Dead Man's Words" is spoiled by a dull note selection and more hoo haa shouting by whatever alter ego Tate is performing from. "Middle of Hell" is...you got it...another slower paced track with samples. "Home Again" is ANOTHER shitty ballad, this time featuring a child vocalist in its letter to daddy overseas.
Where's the fucking metal? It does not exist here. How could these be the same people that wrote "Eyes of a Stranger" or "Surgical Strike"? The truly saddening thing about 'American Soldier' is that it's not the concept which reeks (I especially like the idea of exploring military relationships and marital betrayal), but the delivery. In addition, it's the waste of a perfectly good voice, because Tate still has that silky feeling to his chords which would lend itself quite nicely to actual songs of worth. In the end, the album is mildly superior to 'Operation Mindcrime II', this time it's like the reek of movie theater restroom rather than outhouse.
I’ve become a tiny bit gun-shy when it comes to albums talking about the American military and American politics, mostly because they tend to either be saying the wrong things or the right things but in a totally idiotic manner. As a guitar teacher I was naturally exposed heavily to the mainstream pop punk abomination that was Green Day’s “American Idiot”. While I didn’t particularly disagree with the message this album carried, the delivery was utterly pedestrian, the lyrics were blithering buffoonery at best, and the music brought a whole new meaning to the term vapid. Since this time there have been many similar musical offerings of minimal quality, to the point that by now the concept has gone well beyond cliché.
Queensryche sort of holds an odd place in this day and age where failing at making a valid point musically is seen as profitable. They have a rich history of musical offerings that display a masterfully Orwellian skepticism towards authoritarianism, from the Sci-Fi parables of future dictatorships and environmental destruction on “The Warning” to the overt political messages carried in their epic concept album “Operation: Mindcrime”. Opinions vary on later material, but I personally saw most of their 90s releases as hit or miss, though still carrying a level of respectability even when falling short of their potential. Part of their musical deterioration could be blamed on the loss of Chris DeGarmo, who wrote many of their signature riffs, but not even that could account for where the band now finds themselves.
“American Soldier” is an utter joke musically, there’s absolutely no getting around it, even with the most potent of mind altering drugs. Not in the plodding dregs of Pearl Jam’s “Vitalogy”, the decrepit mess of Nirvana’s “In Utero”, or even the god awful drivel heard on Anthrax’s “We’ve Come For You All” have I ever felt this level of sheer boredom. This whole album might as well be playing over a drum loop at a singular tempo it is so woefully one dimensional rhythmically. Matters are made worse by Geoff Tate overcompensating for a lack of interesting musical ideas by layering vocal tracks and spoken lines over each other like there is no tomorrow, making finding any kind of discernable melody difficult to locate. It is essentially the worst of both worlds, hypnotic drones with no depth to speak of are combined with meandering melodies that wander on in search of just one good hook, never coming up with anything but a trail of sung notes that are impossible to recall.
It’s difficult to pick on just one song because essentially everything on here has all of the same problems. One thing to note is that certain songs such as “If I Were King” and “Unafraid” are particularly annoying because of all the damned spoken parts, which basically makes Dave Mustaine’s ranting seem laconic in comparison. There’s also the really annoying chugging at the beginning of “Man Down”, which essentially sounds like a bad outtake from “Sound Of White Noise”. The riff work in general is very mid-90s Anthrax sounding, which means loaded with uninteresting groove work that will cure insomnia faster than a gallon of warm milk. The lead guitar work makes no real attempt at being memorable, it just attempts to mimic the old classic Queensryche sound heard on “Mindcrime” while being completely unsure of where it is going.
There is nothing really progressive or metal about this release, as it mostly hearkens back to their late 90s grunge material, but without any of the sensibility for memorable songwriting. The only thing positive that I could say about this release is that Geoff Tate does do a good technical job with his vocals. He has been catching a fair amount of flak for having no voice anymore, but he does seem capable of being a forbidding presence when he feels like it. His vocal work on here is extremely subdued compared to 80s releases, but slightly adventurous compared to the low pitched and smaller ranged vocal work done in the 1990s. Unfortunately it is all for naught since this album is utterly terrible.
The final thing that really bothers me about this album is that, in spite of the revulsion towards the concept of war that it inspires in the events it depicts, the intention of this album is a tiny bit ambiguous. It’s unclear whether Tate and company are taking a “support the troops” or a “support the mission” approach to things, but if it is the latter, it speaks a lot for how far this band has drifted from what they used to be. I’m all for waving the good old American flag when there is a just cause behind it, but the only cause that is just on an album is quality music, and there is none to be found on here.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on April 26, 2009.
While I have never been a huge Queensryche fanboy like a lot of a people, and I have never considered "Midcrime" a masterpiece, I still own all their albums. I like them, but I don't love them. And while all of their other albums have some sort of redeeming factor that makes me come back and listen again, this latest release has none. I can not ever see myself listening to this rubbish again.
And it really is for the most part rubbish. It is the most middle-of-the-road, boring, sleep-inducing music I've ever owned. Throughout this album we get mid-tempo Linkin Park rip-offs, mid-tempo rock songs, mid-tempo metal songs, mid-tempo ballads, mid-tempo rockers, and mid-tempo "snooze-fests." It's a good album to put an infant to sleep with, as it's not very loud, it's got lots of soothing narrations, and it's all very light and fluffy.
While I know that the members of Queensryche have talent because I have heard their other albums, I wouldn't know if I had only heard this one. The band cruises along at a continous tempo, playing through the motions as if they are reading from sheet music written by another musician for the first time. While the subject matter should make the music very heart-felt and emotional, this music is so emotionless it occasionaly hurts physically.
To come to Tate's vocals, which seem to be constantly brought up in reviews of this album, wheter they are trashed or praised, I think they are decent. I have never been fond of him as a vocalist but he is a skilled singer, and he has always made it happen. I don't think he does a particuarly bad job here, but that's the issue, he doesn't do a particuarly good job either. This becomes most apparent when he is blown away by the guest vocals of his own daughter in the song "Home Again." This is by far the best song on the album and without it I would have given this album around a 2 instead of a 9. It is the one shimmering moment of hope, a glimmer of inspiration, of musical skill and melodic wonder. All this due mostly to the vocals of Tate's daughter. She literally saves the song, making the dull music of this album all of a sudden fresh and wonderous. Tate's own vocals on the song are mediocre at best.
The album plods along. It drags like a ball and chain on your ankle. It does little to try to make itself interesting. Most of it's lengthy run-time is filled with veterans telling fragments of stories. All very interesting, but not what I paid for Mr. Tate. It's nothing but a waste of time, a waste of money, a waste of CDs, a waste of plastic, of paper, of stickers, of advertising, of veterans, a complete waste of EVERYTHING. It's sad but true. The album is nothing but an excuse to release another album. It has no purpose, no goal, at least none that it achieves.
And as astonishing as it is, the album does an extremely poor job of capturing the mood of being a soldier. Instead of feeling like a soldier in a war, I felt like a poor sap at a Creed, or a Nickelback concert. Does this sound like something you want to listen to? Of course not.
I really don't know what else to say. I do however have one suggestion: don't buy this album, instead pay a dollar for "Home Again" so you can hear the brilliant vocals of Tate's daughter. The rest is crap.
Ah, Queensyche, what a shame it is to write this review. A band who once was at the top of the power/progressive genre along with contemporaries such as Fates Warning. Both bands, similar in style if not execution on their debuts, have evolved in extremely divergent paths. Queensryche headed towards a more commercial sound as the 80s wound to a close with 1990's Empire being markedly radio-friendly. Unlike a lot of people I've come across on this site who tend to dismiss Queensryche as worthless after 88's epic Mindcrime, I've listened to their entire catalogue from the first EP to the latest, unfortunately horrid, album American Soldier. I tend to ignore Tate and co. after Promised Land, one of my favorite albums, but there are a few good songs scattered here and there.
A problem with the band is their over-reliancy on a "team captain". From 1983-1997, this was Chris DeGarmo who departed under somewhat acrimonious terms. Without someone to write the majority of the songs and steer the ship, they released two horrible albums in Q2K and Tribe. Enter Jason Slater. Queensryche's producer for Operation: Mindcrime II, a below-average and desperate cash grab of an album. Along with touring guitarist Mike Stone, he and Tate wrote a vast majority of the album leaving most of the band behind credit-wise.
This brings us to 2009's American Soldier. A conceptual album about, shockingly, an American solider. While I am somewhat unsure of the actual storyline, press releases have referred to this as a concept album along the lines of the Mindcrimes. What we get is something below that of the inferior Mindcrime sequel and something that cannot begin to touch the 80s and early 90s discography. Thin guitars, boring basslines and a drummer who sounds like he's about to fall asleep, the instrumental section that was once so fun to listen to in times past is a mere shadow of itself. Geoff Tate, a guy who many are shitting on as turning in a poor performance, is someone I believe actually performs the most inspired out of the entire 4 piece. That's not to say he's singing all that well, but considering the shockingly poor performances of his bandmates, he is above them in that regard. Perhaps one of the reasons for such a poor showing is due to the fact they had little to no hand in writing this album. Jason Slater and Tate take over the majority of the writing and it shows. While DeGarmo was often credited as the team leader, he shared many song credits with his bandmates while Slater, Kelly Grey (member for a few years and the mixer, I believe, on this album) and Tate dominate the writing. Whoever is to blame, it doesn't matter. The album is poor in all areas: writing, production, execution and creativity.
Boring riffs fill the album along with useless soundbytes from soldiers interviewed. In one song, Unafraid, Tate had the "genius" idea of using the soundclips as the verses. This song, along with the boring riff in the background (it literally feels like its in the background of a room while everyone else is playing upfront), is one of the most insipid things I've ever listened to. American Soldier also moves along at a snail's pace never really increasing speed at all which only adds to the dullness.
This album is such a disappointment. Due to a certain Queensryche message board, I actually had this on pre-order and decided to listen to the *leak that came through to just to sate my appetite for new 'Ryche. Thank God because it saved me money that would have been wasted on such tripe. Despite the good spirited intent, this album is a failure on all accounts and is something that should be abhorred. Even fans of the mellower Queensryche in recent years will be disappointed. Avoid this album at all costs.
*This review was done after listening to the released version and not the leak, though I didn't hear any differences.
Ignorance is bliss, you know. Just like that old adage. That is to say, I was ignorant of Queensryche's post-Empire career before listening to this album, and now that I am not, I would like nothing better than to stab myself through the ear with a pitchfork. Maybe I'll get my brain, too; that would subsequently erase all memory of ever hearing this...this...thing.
Okay, but seriously, what is this, anyway? It isn't really music...maybe just barely. It certainly isn't any good. I mean, I always heard Queensryche sort of lost the plot a few years after Empire, but comparing those words to what I'm hearing on this album just shows a huge incongruity. It's kind of like not knowing anything about history and having someone tell you that the Black Plague was pretty bad, or that the Holocaust was a rude thing to do to the Jews. But enough about that; there is just so much to actually say about the cataclysmic disaster that is American Soldier.
Let's start off with the most obvious problem first: The band forgot to write any real songs. They hyped this album up a whole lot, doing interviews with real soldiers to get some inspiration and credibility and even setting up a phone line that soldiers could use to send messages to, and which also contained clips of the material found on this very piece of plastic. This was a lot of work for a band to do to promote their work and their cause, so the logical conclusion would have been to assume that the band would put the same effort into writing the material itself. The logical conclusion would have been to assume that the band would create something that reflected the patriotism and the things that the American military stands for.
They do not. This entire album is just a huge ellipsis over the band's collective head, a giant waste of time that is as abhorrent as it is unmemorable. It accomplishes nothing, the band doesn't even seem to be trying to write good songs, and there is not even one moment on this disc where I could say I was enjoying myself and not be lying. I keep looking for something salvageable on here, something that I can latch onto and take a bite out of, but nothing ever comes. What the hell happened to this band? This isn't music; it's a collection of interviews with rejected Linkin Park riffs and elevator music backing it up. There's no songwriting involved. In fact, no, I would rather listen to elevator music than this, that would be far more enjoyable and constructive, not to mention well written compared to this, too. There is nothing on this entire hour-long adventure of ear-sodomizing inanity that I can call inspiring or lively or passionate or even the least bit entertaining. This is...how do I even describe something like this? What the fuck am I supposed to say about it? Well, what better way to do it than to mock the band by making bad war and battle references?!
The first song marches out with its gun raised high, titled "Silver," and right from the first second you know it's not going to be a pleasant transaction with this unruly customer. Just listen to that ridiculous hardcoreish shouting that comes in before the guitars even kick up, and you know there's not going to be anything worth remembering here. Even the rest of the song doesn't sound any better; just a bunch of groovy, no-talent nonsense from a band that truly cannot write music anymore. I can't really call what the guitars are doing a "riff," as it is really just a chunk of slightly wet, mildewy slush that rides along at a snail's pace like a dying soldier crawling back to his trench for one last sip of water - and with all the grace and articulation of a snail, at that. "Unafraid" is next, and it's also very embarrassing and inept, featuring the novel concept of using nothing but interview clips with soldiers instead of the verses - leaving Geoff Tate's weakened, dried out croon to belt out a shitty, shitty nu-metal chorus that they ought to be ashamed of. And just listen to those muted guitars; it's like they weren't even trying to write music at all. It's like they just remembered at the last second that they were making a real music album to be released world wide, and just added this shitty-ass plunking at the last minute. In fact, a lot of songs on here are like that.
The rest of the stuff on here ranges from boring, droning crap with melodies so dry that they barely even register with the ear, like "Hundred Mile Stare" and "Middle of Hell," which show the band at their most dilapidated and uninspired yet, barely even able to lift their rifles off the ground, and also horrendously written groove metal like "The Killer," which has this hideously bad riff and a chorus that keeps trying to claim me for the enemy troops as it bashes me over the head with its blunt rifle butt. And the other songs? They have actually captured me as a prisoner of war here, and are now subjecting me to horrible tortures to get me to reveal hidden information. Help, I'm drowning in bad mellow rock music! Help, I'm being crushed by the weight of Geoff Tate's vocal layering equipment! Oh God, they're bringing in a ten year old girl to sing guest vocals, and she actually sounds more competent than Tate himself! Oh, the humanity!
Phew, a narrow escape from the jaws of death! "Remember Me"? I don't think I'm going to, Queensryche. "Man Down"? Yep, that would accurately describe me after this album ends. "At 30,000 feet"? I wish I was that far away from this piece of shit! "If I Were King"? If I were king, I'd ban this album from my kingdom, that's for sure. "The Voice"? Exactly what Mr. Geoff Tate doesn't have anymore!
But in all seriousness, really, what else am I supposed to say? There's nothing on this piece of incoherent, shuffling shamble of an album that resembles...anything! It's the biggest and most unpleasant collection of nothing I've ever heard in my life. There are no hooks here, there is no creativity, no musical nuances, no energy, no talent...nothing that resembles art or entertainment at all. The "songs" (I can only call them that in the loosest sense of the word) have no climaxes or build-ups; they just sort of plod along until the band decides it's time for them to die. This album is actually physically painful to listen to, beyond human comprehension. There is bad, there is god-awful, there is sinful and then there are albums like this one that just defy all conventions of normal sucking and go into realms previously not traveled by humans. Yes, this is the absolute worst, the very worst rock music can ever get. There has never been anything this bad, and it's doubtful there ever will be again. It is so unbelievably worthless, so monumentally terrible and awful that it actually becomes fascinating at times. Thank you, Queensryche, for giving me a new standard by which to measure unholy aural douchebaggery. You will be duly remembered for that, at the very least. And duly ridiculed for it.
I know it's nice that they're supporting American soldiers and all, as that is a very worthy cause that more people should support, but...are we really going to let this pile of dung be the poster child for our patriotism? I would be absolutely mortified if I was a soldier, gave an interview to these guys, and then heard my voice layered over this crap. I would be tremendously embarrassed. So with this last thought, I leave you: Queensryche's American Soldier is truly a spectacle, an album so bad that it actually works against itself. It is so terrible and sinful that I wouldn't be surprised if it actually turned people OFF to the American cause, instead of on. Goodbye, goodnight and good riddance, Queensryche. And support the troops, you all: don't buy American Soldier.
Hey, no offence to the die hard Queensryche fans, but seriously, what the hell has this band really done except Operation Mindcrime? Their first two albums can be categorized as “poor man’s Iron Maiden” while Empire was merely ‘good’. As for the rest of their stuff, no one really gives a shit, at least I don’t. Even the sequel to their classic was more like a desperate cry for approval than a revival of old glory.
Yet, these guys (for reasons beyond my understanding) are one of the most widely known metal bands in the world. Now I didn’t have any high expectations from this release either but come on, these are just silly inconsistent simple rock songs which are anything but progressive, or for that matter even metal. Is it the line up change, nop, can’t be. Except for Chris DeGarmo all original members are there, and this is a band which was formed back in ’81, so what’s with this modern shit?
There are countless bands who went soft/mainstream but the thing is that some did it right and some didn’t. Off the top of my head, I’d say Anathema is an example of the former but this band here definitely belongs to the latter.
Anyway, one thing is clear is that this album sucks from the very beginning. The first song, Sliver, sounds like Limp Bizkit going in a slightly more 80s metal direction. I wouldn’t say the guitar work is bad, but the vocal lines have this groovy feel to it which manages to be worse than what I heard on Death Magnetic. Also, if someone told me this wasn’t Geoff Tate, I would probably believe him. Coming to the second track, Unafraid, they are back with their irritating brass sections and unusually loud background voices. The vocals are again unmemorable and boring, though the solo manages to get your attention for a moment.
All songs try a little this and that here and there but the album as a whole stays flat and very rarely impresses or stands out. The songs can be differed between after just two or three listens but then instead of “catchy” or “full of variety” I would use the words “confused” and “amateurish”. The tempos are very slow which only adds to the crappiness of the album. The guitar work, while not bad, is unchallenging and uninspiring. Michael Wilton tries his best to minimise power chords but ends up limiting himself to basic chord progressions and lead tunes. The bottom line is that he takes the easy way out and doesn’t provide anything new at all. Even Geoff Tate’s unique and usually amazing vocals are not able to save this album, why; because he doesn’t sound like his high-pitched self but more like some guy from a pop band like Maroon 5 or something.