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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".