Album: AMERICAN SOLDIER
Track Listing: 1) Sliver 2) Unafraid 3) Hundred Mile Stare 4) At 30,000 feet 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
After the return to form with Operation: Mindcrime II (2006), Queensrÿche challenge themselves with yet another elaborate concept album in American Soldier. The concept doesn’t follow a scripted story instead describing the stories of those who have served under the US Army from WW2 to the present day wars in the middle-east. In some ways this was the make-or-break album of their later career. A string of poorly received albums was broken with the sequel to their original conceptual masterpiece and this album would prove if they could continue to get back on track.
The ‘Hey’ and ‘What’s Up’ shouts of Sliver alarmed me at first, had Queensrÿche gone hip-hop? Thankfully not, the opener is a brief yet powerful rock track that immediately is musically and lyrically superior to anything on Operation: Mindcrime II. The production has also notably improved; the lack of reverb on the previous release has been corrected giving the music space to breath. Tate’s vocals are remarkably powerful with the gradual rise in pitch during the end of the second verse being truly electrifying.
Unafraid includes a basic chorus and riff, but the job of this track is to allow space for the soldiers who were there to speak out. Throughout the album the soldiers themselves are heard providing their personal experiences and feelings towards serving in war, a touch that is one of the key aspects that makes this album so special. Queensrÿche take no shortcuts in aiming to provide a record that best represents the bravery of the armed forces whilst paying tribute to them.
Hundred Mile Stare is powerful mid-paced rock number with At 30,000 Feet following the same style. A Dead Man’s Words picks up the pace, an eerie eastern riff circles below the layers of atmospherics before an Alice in Chains-style chorus kicks in. The track progresses smoothly through classy riffs, dramatic overdubs and a chilling saxophone solo – a clear standout. The Killer is another solid tune that describes a Viet Nam veteran’s return home who has to deal with accusations of being a ‘baby killer’, just one of the strong emotional themes presented through the music on American Soldier.
Middle of Hell maintains the inspired notions of the first half, the saxophone returning and soloing along side Wilton, thus providing a Pink Floyd feel amongst the layers of chiming guitars and echoing vocal harmonies. A soldier’s account of witnessing the loss his fallen comrade opens If I Were King. The track however develops into being rather upbeat, this style continues with Man Down! and helps the album become an enjoyable listen as opposed to a miserable and depressing venture such as Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut which musically has been a great influence on Queensrÿche’s sound through the years.
Two ballads follow, Remember Me and Home Again. Both prove to be very powerful, the latter including a performance from Tate’s young daughter. Themes of the soldier-child relationship are explored, ‘when I come back are they gonna think that I’m some kind of monster?’ is projected during Remember Me where Home Again describes the future reuniting of the family with the struggles of holding it together during the stressful time apart. The Voice rounds things off nicely with another moderately paced and upbeat rock number, although the record may have been better ending on a more solemn note.
Queensrÿche choose to go the slow and thoughtful route of song-writing for the most part of this album, some more heavy tunes in the vein of Sliver would have made this even better, but maybe that’s not what this record’s all about. Discussing a delicate matter on such a large scale was ambitious, yet it has been achieved in great style, something not done this well since Roger Waters’ Amused to Death in 1992. With an hour’s worth of brilliant atmospheric and inspiring music, Queensrÿche deliver their best album in over twenty years.
2) A Dead Man’s Words
Reviewed by: Daniel Aston, 14/01/2010