It can't be easy being Queensrÿche. Whatever you do is always going to be compared to either the Operation: Mindcrime concept album or their finest release, Empire, from back in the olden days, and when you try something new like Hear In The Now Frontier, you get roundly castigated. Fairly, in that instance, because it was a bit rubbish. So what do you do? Well in Queensrÿches case, you bung out a dodgy covers album, then try (and fail) to recreate past glories with Operation: Mindcrime 2. However, no-one can ever accuse Queensrÿche of giving up easily, and so they're back for another bash, this time with a new concept album in the shape of American Soldier.
It's an album dedicated to the titular American soldier, and comes packed with true stories of the soldiers’ lives, replete with voice-overs and spoken passages, as Queensrÿche attempt to bring their tales to life. Vocalist Geoff Tate even went to the bother of researching and interviewing veterans, to try and gain a better understanding of what it's like to serve your country in battle. However, it's an attempt that fails quite dismally on the opening numbers "Sliver" and "Unafraid", two songs devoid of anything of note. Fortunately, I persevered, wisely it seems, and from "Hundred Mile Stare" onwards, it's almost as if an entirely different band had taken over, such is the increase in quality.
Now, I saw Queensrÿche live a couple of years back. They put in a tepid performance; the low point of which was vocalist Geoff Tate struggling to hit anything resembling a note. So, it is worth noting that this album sees an awful lot of "treated" vocals on display. Don't come here looking for those grandiose operatic vocals of yore. However, in the context of the stories being told, with the aforementioned spoken word parts, it actually fits quite well. Musically, the band is still sticking to the basic prog-metal crossover that they've been peddling for two decades, but there seems to be a return of some of the passion of their youth in the performances.
Most of the material is dark and mid-paced, sombre and reflective. As it should be. And it's when they stick to that formula that it all works best, as it does on "If I Were King", "At 30,000 Ft" and, best of all, on "Home Again"; a song that takes its words from real letters between a frontline soldier and his wife, and which overcomes the cheese factor involved in Tate duetting with his 10 year old daughter. The other highlight sees them stepping into Michael Schenker Group, "Desert Song" territory on the fantastic "A Dead Man’s Words". Of course, some will say that they're simply revisiting their own Promised Land album, but I'm being charitable for a change.
In the main, this is a very good album and Queensrÿche are to be commended for making the effort to push forward their own musical vision. It doesn't all work, but in a world of small minds, it's nice to see that someone is still trying to reach out and grow.Powered by Sidelines