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Queensr˙che - American Soldier CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

2.78 | 185 ratings

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3 stars First, let me say that American Soldier is a return to form in many ways for the band. This album could have been the natural successor to Promised Land, as it shares several similarities with that release.

Production While many consider Operation: Mindcrime to be Queensryche's masterpiece, I consider Empire to be the band's pinnacle when it comes to production values. American Soldier does not reach the heights of Empire to my ears, but it rivals Mindcrime. In fact, the drum sound on American Soldier is very similar to Mindcrime, as well as the fact that it is also a concept album. I also like the use of spoken dialogue (interviews of soldiers) which also is reminiscent of Mindcrime. Where American Soldier suffers is in the area of dynamics. The mix sounds very muddy at times, and there are some missed opportunities throughout the disc where the dynamics could have been ramped or punched up.

Neither Gray not Slater have shown that they understand or are capable of delivering at a level that Queensryche achieved during their finest moments.

I will give due credit to the member of the duo who is responsible for the vocal production. While Geoff Tate does not have the range he once has, he has learned to use his instrument very effectively, and the production work on his vocals is masterful. In fact, it's Tate's vocals that carry the album.

Songwriting I have a real problem with the songwriting credits on American Soldier, and it's this. Michael Wilton, the guitarist of the band, either did not contribute to the songwriting or did not get credit. I have a hard time believing that Wilton, a founding member, would forfeit his writing credits, so he must not have contributed to the writing. How does that happen in a metal band?

Metal is based around the riff, and if your guitarist is not contributing riffs, what's he doing? I believe that Wilton's absence in the songwriting is the reason that American Soldier is largely mid-tempo, almost ambient soundscapes.

Scott Rockenfield turns in one of his more inspired performances, and Wilton does play some incredible leads, but the overbearing weight of the sonic landscape blunts the crispness of the drums and leads. Again, I lay this at the feet of Slater, a member of the industrial band Snake River Conspiracy.

Genre There has been a lot of talk around the Internet about whether this is a metal album or not. For the most part, it isn't, but there are metal moments on the disc. Man Down! could be a Warning outtake if it were more uptempo. It's the one song where metal riffing, screaming vocals, and a smoking solo come together. Unfortunately, it's also one of the more straightforward, uninteresting tracks, both musically and lyrically.

There is also the question of whether this is a progressive album or not. Again, for the most part, the answer is no. There are some interesting song arrangements, but the production team just doesn't know how to refine the musical ideas into dynamic songs. The saxophone doesn't punch through like it should (see Pink Floyd); the dialogue sounds muffled at times and too loud at others; and the middle sections just aren't given enough room to breathe.

With Wilton not contributing in the songwriting department, the brief instrumental sections come off sounding generic, and unlike on Promised Land, there is no central prog track.

Lyrics Tate's lyrics are what give the album repeat value. He manages to tap into the mind of soldiers without getting political. It really was an inspired idea to interview soldiers for this project, and you get the sense that Tate is sincerely trying to honor the experiences of the men and women of the armed forces. There is enough grit in the lyrics to give them emotional weight without getting too profane or gory. The lyrics of If I Was King, hit like a sledgehammer. You really feel the pain of loss.

Conclusion I really enjoy listening to American Soldier. I haven't said that about a Queensryche album since Promised Land. While it is difficult to not compare a band's newest release to their previous output, especially when some of that output is considered masterpieces, I have tried to review American Soldier on its own merits. There are shortcomings, but here's to hoping that this album is the first step in the band's climb out of mediocrity. To do that, the band needs to dump their production team and get Wilton back involved in the songwriting. Kelly Gray was rejected by the fans, but the band found a backdoor for him to remain as a songwriter in the band, and Slater just doesn't bring anything fresh to the table.

sixpence-guy | 3/5 |


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