American Soldier

Queensrÿche

Of all the so-called metal bands from the 80s that attempted to transcend the clichés and sustain a career beyond the hype, Queensrÿche has carved out a niche that is uniquely their own. Taking a cue from Pink Floyd and Rush, the group hit pay dirt in the late 80s with their magnificent conceptual piece Operation: Mindcrime. Since then, Queensrÿche has had its share of hits and misses, but unlike many of their contemporaries, their integrity has remained intact. The thinking man’s metal band returned to telling stories with Operation: Mindcrime II in 2006. That momentum carried over to a new topical piece called American Soldier, which documents the plight of military life from an insider’s point of view.

Unlike other works of art dealing with war and its participants, American Solider doesn’t take sides, preach or drop names, keeping an arm’s length distance away from politics and pontification. Instead, the songs were inspired by the real-life experiences of those on the frontline. Singer Geoff Tate went out and interviewed veterans, including his own father who served in both Korea and Vietnam, to validate the tale. Based on these interviews, the record effectively covers the gamut — from being called to duty (“Sliver,” “Unafraid”) to the war zone itself (“Hundred Mile Stare,” “Middle Of Hell”) to the aftermath and its impact (“Man Down”). In between songs, recorded snippets from the actual veterans Tate interviewed help support the story.

Set on a hot bed of steady, hard-driving riffs courtesy of guitarist Michael Wilton, bassist Eddie Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield, American Solider is an intimate affair that plays on the emotions and keeps the flash to a minimum. It even features a sedate duet with Tate’s 10-year-old daughter Emily on “Home Again.” Producer Kelly Gray, a longtime associate of the band (and briefly their second guitarist from 1998 to 2001), also lends his guitar work and songwriting skills to the mix. While the CD doesn’t offer up hook-filled singles ala “Jet City Woman” or “Eyes Of A Stranger,” as a whole, it stands head and shoulders above much of the regurgitated nonsense that pollutes much of today’s contemporary radio. Somehow, it’s comforting to know that bands like Queensrÿche are taking ambitious chances in an unsteady climate. Hopefully, others will follow suit.

~ Shawn Perry

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