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Disgraceful and Embarrassing - 5%

GiantRex, January 25th, 2014

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.