REVIEW: Queensryche – American Soldier (2009)

Scan_20160511QUEENSRYCHE – American Soldier (2009 Rhino)

There is no doubt that a decade and a half of war has dramatically changed the United States.  In 2009, Queensryche decided to deal with their feelings by writing a concept album on the subject.  It’s something that they do very well, and American Soldier, the finished product, was another ambitious piece of work.  Although the album was mostly written by Geoff Tate and his friends Jason Slater and Kelly Gray, in reality it’s the last good album the band made with Tate.

The band interviewed soldiers for this album, and their words are a huge part of the record.  The track “Unafraid” opens like this, creating a hauntingly serious atmosphere.  At times, the music is toned down, allowing the dialogue to speak.  It’s an interesting effect and certainly it works in creating the mood that the band were going for.  I think it is also a token of appreciation to the soldiers who defended the country.  They had a chance to speak their minds, and be immortalized in music.  That’s pretty cool.

The end result is a good album that is not necessarily easy to listen to.   There is no “fun” in this music, it is dead serious the whole way through.  The intensity burns and you can hear that Tate was focused like a laser on this project.   The songs are fine; not Mindcrime quality but I don’t think that anthemic progressive rock would have fit American Soldier.  The single misstep is the vocal by Tate’s daughter Emily on “Home Again”.  What was meant to be a dramatic, emotional focal point is instead distracting.

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Among the best tracks are “Sliver”, a cool opener featuring an actual soldier (A.J. Fratto, a 14 year vet) barking orders with the music.  Fratto ended up touring with the band in support of this album.  Well done, sir!  “Hundred Mile Stare” is slow and intense.  The hundred mile stare in the song is a variation of the thousand yard stare — a distant look in the eyes a soldier gets after they’ve been in the field too long.  “A Dead Man’s Words” is another complex highlight, middle-eastern in style and clearly about conflict in that region.  This one is perhaps the most “Queensryche” of the songs, in the sense that you can hear their classic sound at play.  This includes a Tate sax solo, something I wished he did more of with the band.  Then, for choruses, I have to go with “The Killer”.  For sheer intensity, it’s the soldier’s story on “If I Were King”.  If you want heavy ‘Ryche, then “Man Down!” is the track for you.

One disappointing factor in American Soldier only hits you when you open the booklet.  Great artwork aside, it’s really too bad that Tate relied so heavily on his buddies to make this album rather than his band.  Drummer Scott Rockenfield has two co-writes, and that’s it.  Damon Johnson from Brother Cane has just as many co-writes.  The rest of the credits are variations of Tate, and producers Jason Slater and Kelly Gray.  Queensryche were down to four members at this point, so Johnson and Gray subbed on guitars.

Although Promised Land was probably the most deeply personal Queensryche album, American Soldier is likely the runner up.  At least for Tate and his collaborators, there is obviously a lot of their hearts and souls invested in this.  Unsurprisingly, it is not an immediate album.  It requires time, but it also requires space between listens.  There’s no glory here, just stark reality, so take your time.

3.5/5 stars

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15 comments

  1. Kudos for the review Mike and concur, this was the last of the great TateRyche records.

    While thematically it may have leaned too far one way, it was Tate’s baby and he likely took from it what he wanted so that’s was fine IMO and there’s no disputing American Soldier was focussed and executed rather well. Yet again I my tip of the hat for Wilton’s contributions too. Not only did he (and of course Rockenfield and Ed) bring the record a much needed Queensryche ‘sound’ here Wilton delivers some class guitar solos the likes not heard since the 90’s. I mean check out If I Were King, not 1 but 2 albeit short but class Wilton solos \m/ Sure MCII featured ‘some’ good solos but in light of the rumour since that MCII was far more session worked, personally can hear far more inspiration behind Wilton’s guitars here and my vote easily goes to American Soldier!

    Agree with Mike the lack of band member contributions was disappointing although kinda looked at this as the Grey lineup’s second crack of the whip and it worked, and Tate sounds like he was recorded in a tin can all thin and not sure what that was about!? :( Also as cool as Sliver was and it being bootcamp or whatever and needing to start the record, think Unafraid woulda made for a better ‘album’ opener too but probably just me…

    Unafraid, Hundred Mile Stare, At 30,000 Ft, Dead Man’s Words, The Killer, If I Were King, and Man Down are this fan’s picks with The Voice making for a tasty conclusion.

    I think yer 3.5 an accurate rating Mike and nice to see a usually overlooked rec9rd getting some props, thanks for reviewing :)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review Mike and some great points from Wardy there too. I thought this was a great step in the right direction for them. It has the classic QR sound again, less of the down-tuned sludge: more sharp and progressive. I guess the Tate-centred credits hint at the problems to come but if they’d continued making albums like this I wouldn’t have cared…but the next album was such a howling let down!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was. It’s raw and real and personal. You don’t have to agree politically with any of these wars. That’s not a part of these songs. Unlike my 1990 opus “Unleashed in the Middle East” which was blatantly pro-USA!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey another thing regarding The Killer, Mike rightly gives it a mention cause it’s a cool tune but also notice how right at the start Tate simply says “With you” ?

    Always thought that was cool, “With you” might be in reference to calling to the soldier out front that you have his back!? Can’t be sure that’s exactly what Tate had in mind but either way think it’s killer (pun intended) and that Mike’s quite right in that this was a very focussed effort, the commentary the little things like “With you”, think Tate did a cool thing here :)

    Love the review Mike.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Wardy, yes the guitar playing was great. Truth be told, I can’t tell who is Wilton and who is Damon Johnson. Kelly, I can usually tell his playing vs the others.

      I think this passionate album was probably the last significant thing Tate is likely to do. The Key? Who cares.

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        1. It’s too bad because Reinventing the Future was a good single! But the lineup has changed so much, both Sarzos are out. Hard to stay engaged. Hard to get attached to musicians. And probably hard to create continuity with the next two albums in his trilogy…

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  4. “Unsurprisingly, it is not an immediate album. It requires time, but it also requires space between listens. There’s no glory here, just stark reality, so take your time.”

    I like stark reality. But I’m not the biggest Stabby fan, so I’m torn…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I wouldn’t put it high on your priority list. If anything wait for another Queensryche greatest hits CD that covers all this stuff. I’m sure it’ll happen, since they are on another label today.

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