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Queensrÿche – American Soldier: Review

Queensrÿche‘s 10th studio album (if I recall correctly) is to be released on March 31, but I managed to get an early listen of it. American Soldier is a concept album; an album in which every song contributes to an overall idea (in this case, it’s likely something to do with war… probably). This collection of songs does just as the album cover suggests and puts you, the listener, in the boots of an American soldier.

Queensrÿche - American Soldier

Queensrÿche - American Soldier

The Soldier

For the past two years, lead singer, Geoff Tate, had been conducting dozens of one-on-one interviews with current soldiers as well as veterans. Various snippets of these interviews are scattered throughout the album, and these were enough to show me that the deeds and sacrifices of soldiers are often unsung.  Many have a misconception that soldiers are pro-war, and are promoting its existence. It is not the soldiers who initiate wars, and from what was gathered from the interviews, Tate states:

But what surprised me the most was how antiwar most soldiers are. To me, that makes their sacrifices even more moving.

So whether you actually listen to the album or not, try to appreciate the men and women risking their lives in the battlefield. They are walking down the road through hell so we don’t have to.

The Music (rating: B-)

  1. Sliver
  2. Unafraid
  3. Hundred Mile Stare
  4. At 30,000 Ft
  5. A Dead Man’s Words
  6. The Killer
  7. Middle of Hell
  8. If I Were King
  9. Man Down
  10. Remember Me
  11. Home Again
  12. The Voice

Although Queensrÿche is a progressive metal band, this is not a metal album. Initially, I thought a metal album was warranted with this kind of theme, but as I worked my way through this album, I realized that this was a rather realistic portrayal of the impacts of war through a soldier’s eyes. According to Tate, “this is an album about the soldiers, for the soldiers, as told by the soldiers themselves.” Metal would produce a superficial image of war, so for this reason, a rock album is more fitting.

In general, the tempo of the music ranges from slow to mid-paced. True it is rather limited, but it is also necessary for the concept of this album. For songs like “Home Again” and “If I Were King” are rightfully slow-paced while songs like “A Dead Man’s Words” and “Man Down” are faster, but not to the point to deny the sense of realism. A musical aspect that appealed to me was the use of modes and exotic scales (particularly minor/major phrygian) to create the image of a dramatic war scene in the middle-east (which in my opinion was the primary thought in Tate’s mind). The use of saxophone played into this really well too. When noticed, the subtle details elevate the music to a new level.

However, the creativity of the band can no longer be expressed as freely as it once was due to the technical ability of the personnel. Geoff Tate (vocals) no longer has his massive 4-octave range – don’t smoke kids! – and cannot display his creativity as effectively for this reason. Tate is good, but no longer God. And the absence of lead/rhythm guitar from Chris DeGarmo is a huge blow to the line-up. Michael Wilton does a great job filling in, but DeGarmo is unique and irreplaceable. Scott Rockenfield performs well on the drums as usual and there are very groovy bass-lines from Eddie Jackson throughout. But overall, the band performance on this record does not meet the standards set by their previous albums.

In my overall opinion, every song on this album was good, about half of it was quite solid, and one song in particular (“Home Again”) was amazing. Though other than the one song, I do not see myself listening to the majority of the these songs a month later strictly for musical appreciation.  But there are other reasons for listening to (or buying) an album…

The Experience (rating: A+)

If I wanted to buy this album – I probably won’t, but if I wanted to – it would be because of the experience I got out of it. And you’re probably thinking to yourselves: “You can’t have an amazing album experience without amazing music! What a fucking idiot!” Well, the first part is false… The songs, in my opinion, were not pushed to the limits of musical creativity. But the lyrics, tone, context, and relevance add to the experience and feel without actually adding to the music itself. So basically, during my listen to this album, I was generally not truly gripped by the musical content. It was more by the vivid images and powerful emotions in combination with the thought lurking in the back of my mind that this is all real and in this life. As I finished listening to this album, I felt enlightened and gifted with a new appreciation for our soldiers. And moreover, I felt (to a certain extent) what it was like to walk in the boots of a soldier.

The album opens with “Sliver” a song about being torn down as a man and rebuilt as a soldier; a perfect way of introducing the listener to the concept. The following song, “Unafraid,” conveys how a soldier feels as an individual, and the song after that, “Hundred Mile Stare,” is about how a soldier feels as a part of an army. Now that the soldier inside has been unveiled, you’re ready to experience war.

The next handful of songs (“At 30,000 Ft,”  “A Dead Man’s Words,” “Killer,” and “Middle of Hell”) all bring you directly to the battlefield with striking lyrics. These four songs deal with feelings and experiences at the front.

The next two songs are about coping with changes as a result of being a soldier. “If I Were King” succeeds and shows what it’s like as a soldier to lose a friend in combat.  “Man Down” is about the struggle to adjust with society after all the horror and pain that one has undergone through war.

“Remember Me” and “Home Again” are the next two songs and both deal with a soldier longing for home. The former is about his love for his wife while the latter is about his yearning for his child. “Home Again,” in particular, overflowed with emotion due to the alternating vocals between Tate and his daughter throughout the song. Be sure to listen to this one!

Finally, the album ends with the song “The Voice,” which is about the soldier’s experience in his dying moments. The album could not have ended any other way. It was the perfect way of concluding the journey from man to soldier.

The Overall (rating: B)

I thought the music was good, but unlike the experience, was not amazing. But the song of the soldier is hardly ever sung. Their bravery and sacrifice is highly under-appreciated. For this reason, I think it is crucial that this album runs through your ears.

So overall, I do not think this album is a must-buy, but I do think it is a must-hear. I do not think is stellar music, but I do think it is a stellar experience. Would I buy this album? Probably not. But it would be great to have if someone bought it for me… hint hint, guys… ;)

  1. March 28, 2009 at 6:44 pm

    Pretty cool concept for an album. I like the cover art too

  2. Marc
    March 28, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    The guy who wrote this review obviously havent’t got a clue. This album is a must-have in every sence, it’s a powerfull masterpiece and belongs up there with all the QR albums up till Empire. Chris DeGarmo is not a missing link here at all.

    I am listening to the album now for a week in a row and can’t get enough of it. It’s dark, emotional and very complex work.

  3. mike
    April 2, 2009 at 7:28 pm

    Heard this album. Its total Trash. Not even a signature Queensryche riff.Sounds like new pop metal.I think its time to hang up the mike. Tate Had an amazing voice. Met him Many times @ many meet and greets .The band is great Miss degarmo. But even now if he was in the band I do not think it would make a big change. The guys are older and The music tastes may be different. Geoff’s Voice was up to snuff untill promised land .After that what a drastic change! Maybe he should go back and get a voice coach. It may also be his age. Anyway I was not thrilled with this album I am a true rycher but I’lll pass on this album One listen was enough for me.Its just my opinion. Others may enjoy it.I would just like to hear those signature riffs and soaring highs of years gone by. But that is what it was “YESTERYEAR”.. Maybe the next album will be better. Even omc2 was that good. I liked only about 3 songs and even then I had to put that cd in the file for later listening. Sorry guys.

  4. ramon
    April 3, 2009 at 8:41 am

    I notice that a lot of people keep looking back on Queensryche from a metal point of view (specialy ‘Operation:Mindcrime’ )
    But in my opinion that is not what the Ryche is about .Okay yes, they started out as a metal band,even bbeing compared with bands like Iron Maiden,and Judas Priest in the early years,but they were always experimenting and looking for something new.
    Not always having a good result,but at least they tried,and iff you don’t try you never fail do you?

    Anyway,there is nothing wrong iff you like the old metal sound,but iff your looking for a band that always plays the same kind of music Queensryche is not your band to follow.

  5. April 4, 2009 at 4:07 am

    To begin with, if your looking for something specific from a piece of music, especially from a performers history, your likely to miss what IS there. What I have yet to see, is someone discussing the nerve it took to make this album. Who else has spoken the story of our soldiers with such simultaneous force and gratitude. Every time a band makes an album they risk their career. Queensryche risked thiers for our soldiers. With regard to the music, I find it powerful when it should be and subdued where it should be. Geoff. While it’s true that he has lost some range, and frankly I think there have been some live situations where he might have been better prepared, he is still the best rock vocalist, period. Over 25 years he has given us more creative vocal ideas than all the others combined. The vocals on one song often contain more vocal ideas than many vocalists entire career. My hat is off to QR for staying committed to a powerful message in each and every album and this time, they have paid homage to a group of people who have deserved it more, and received it less than most.

  6. COrey
    April 5, 2009 at 9:58 am

    Long time QR fan since the first time I rode my skateboard three miles to purchase the new Rage for Order album. THis album just doesn’t do much for me. The music was bland and if I didn’t know better was another band altogether. The guitars were uninteresting. I served as a Marine in some of the conflicts mentioned in the album. I have more respect for these guys as anyone but too many interviews in the music. It got a little tiring. just my opinion.

  7. June 13, 2009 at 6:52 pm

    Great Album! I found the more I listened, the better it got. You really start to feel certain connections to the entire song.

    Some people can’t seem to leave the good ‘ol days behind and move on. Queensryche has been evolving every album since ’83ish, yet some still can only hear “Empire”. Sad, sooo much good music wasted.

    I do agree the sound has not be the same since DeGarmo left and Tate new attention to his lower octaves (he still hits them from time to time BTW), but there are still some Gems after 1992…. Promised Land, Tribe, Q2k are all still in constant rotation at my house.

    American Soldier is worth it, spend the $10 bucks you won’t regret it, if you do… send it to a soldier, they will love it.

  1. March 31, 2009 at 6:18 pm

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