After the ambitious sequel: Operation: Mindcrime part II, Queensrÿche dig their teeth into another ambitious concept album, and this time the theme is war. The lyrics are all based on interviews done by vocalist Geoff Tate with American soldiers, veterans from back in the days as well as still active soldiers, and the twelve songs are the result of their stories. If this album is too pretentious or overly ambitious, a case of madness or perhaps a stroke of genius, well I think the opinions will surely differ, but initially I feel that this is fucking brilliant. What is new otherwise is that guitarist Mike Stone has left the band and if I have understood it correctly Michael Wilton has done all the guitar-parts on the album.
The album offers a suggestive start with the opener Sliver, and this is exactly how I like my Queensrÿche served. The powerful mid-tempo groove completed by a lurking guitar-line make me feel all cosy inside, it is progressive, convincing and the band feels hungry, as they have something to prove. What further strikes me, and this is present all through the album, is that there is a never before shown darkness represented in the sound, a blackness that is obvious to feel. Next song is another one that catches your attention, and this one really gets a hold of me, as the song Unafraid provides a smart twist as concerns how the song is built. The verses are spoken while only the chorus, a simple yet melodic one, is powerfully sung by Geoff, and the song is perhaps more progressive than the band has been in a very long time and it is a with a sense of new-thinking in a way we haven't heard from Queensrÿche in a very long time.
Some tracks are easy to take in, like Hundred Mile Stare that has a familiar sound to the Hear In The Now Frontier album, a steady on-going standard Queensrÿche song that is melodic and a strong song but yet no prominent track on the album. The first song though that needed a bit more times of listening than the others is At 30,000 Ft., which feels to be very close to a ballad but there is more to this song compliments to the powerful chorus, and if I were to place this song anywhere, the Empire album would probably come closest. So where should this whole album be placed, musically? I would put it somewhere between Promised Land and Hear In The Now Frontier with a dash of Empire, and pretty far from Operation: Mindcrime.
My personal favourite probably comes in the shape of the Fates Warning echoing track Dead Man's Words that is yet another awesome track. It goes mostly in mid-tempo (and now I realise that I would have liked less of mid-tempo and some more speed) with suggestive rhythms and with a progressive touch and Middle Eastern influences that can be heard in the sound. This is very much Queensrÿche for me and I like that it has some length and I also like the Promised Land vibes I get when Geoff Tate brings out his saxophone. In addition, more saxophone is to be found in Middle Of Hell that is a calm song that really does not add that much nor take anything away, but the essence here is how the guitar and saxophone function together.
A more hit-friendly track is to be found in The Killer, although it has some inspiring rhythms while yet being a simple track. Some more tempo (again) is to be wished for at this point, but it is a strong number indeed, especially as it becomes more rhythm based towards the end. The single If I Were King is not that remarkable, and not a wise choice for a video, yet it is what they have chosen to release as the first video. With its spoken parts in combination with being calm and ballad-like it actually tends to become tedious. Man Down! on the other hand, this is the track they should have released as first video, a very strong song that is driven with a mighty force. It goes in mid-tempo (of course) and it is melodic as always in the chorus but with a strong conviction from Geoff Tate. Despite what evil tongues tell you, he is still in good shape.
As a Swede, and as Swedes are by tradition neutral and war is something unknown to us, it is hard for me to relate to the stories, but it is impossible not to be moved by them as told by Queensrÿche, especially in the album's last part with tales of longing and loss. A ballad that is calm with nice vocal melodies, or perhaps just a calm and slow song, is what you find in Remember Me that actually is rather good, coming from me that is no fan of ballads. Home Again follows in the same vein but leans even to more to the ballad side and the vocal duties are being shared by Geoff Tate and his daughter. I am personally allergic to children singing in this environment as it tends to become banal, and sad to say, this is the first and only song that completely looses it.
American Soldier by Queensrÿche is a fascinating album, and it needs a lot of your attention. Moreover, it is an album that grips you, for my part mostly musically and with how good that department is, as well as the fact that you cannot avoid being touch by the lyrics. In general, this album lacks in speed in my humble opinion, but does not suffer from weak tracks or shortage of interesting musical ideas. This album displays Queensrÿche as a band still with a hunger to explore and that they have much left to give.