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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.