I have to be honest: Tribe was the last Queensryche album I bought and even then I had long given up on them. Releasing awfully trite and drab albums after Promised Land, the band hit an all-time low for me when they tried to revive the so-called Ryche spirit with Operation: Mindcrime II, obviously a final attempt to cash in on past glories...
Anyway, I have given this disc quite a few spins and a fair chance, nothwithstanding my recent disappointment. American Soldier is a concept album attempting to examine war through the eyes of soldiers, and therefore contains myriad spoken passages and voiceovers, perhaps a bit redundantly. A while ago, Geoff Tate gave an interview in which he explained what each song deals with lyrically, so seek it out if you're interested.
From a musical standpoint, despite attempting to portray the casualties of war, much of the album stays in mellow territory, straying only in spots with the speeding up of drums and rhythm guitars -- albeit in the most typical ways. Instrumentally, it bears absolutely no similarity to the band up until the mid-90's. The so-called guitar solos on tracks like "Sliver" and "Unafraid" would perhaps help these cuts stand strong, but since they are drenched in endless spoken parts and voiceovers, they fail to impact the listener as much as they should. The bass and riffing on the latter actually shows a glimpse of hope before they get buried in the mix and the saccharine chorus.
It is no secret that Geoff Tate is no longer the wailer he used to be 15 years ago, but the reason why this album is so boring and flat is not because of Tate's singing. The man actually now has a very rich low tenor voice which he uses to great effect, singing passionately to aptly deliver the messages. Actually the only thing that connects this band to the Queensryche we know is Tate's voice. He is at his most expressive on "At 30,000 Ft", the dark ballad, which slowly builds up to an interesting instrumental section with wailing guitars and slamming drum workout towards the finale.
Unfortunately, Tate's powerful voice is not enough to save the album, as the album contains way too many ballads in the form of "Remember Me" and the absurdly cheesy "Home Again" in which Tate duets with his 10-year-old daughter. Give me a break. The song sounds so tired and the instrumentation so lifeless, not to mention the unbearably melodramatic singing, I still cannot believe they recorded this track. What were they thinking?
Of course, the band revisits its past couple of letdowns, incorporating modern beats, watery synth elements into the midtempo cut "A Dead Man's Words", and multi-tracked vocalizations placed atop a lifeless 4/4 beat on "Hundred Mile Stare" (with perhaps the worst ending on the whole disc). And I'm not even describing "The Killer", easily the poppiest chorus Tate has come up with in a decade. The chorus that is draped over the militaristic drumming is abysmal.
On a positive note, the production is thick and multi-layered, so listening to the album on head phones will help you discover a lot of elements buried underneath the mix. The use of doubled vocals, weird background chants, interesting drum beats and saxophones on "Middle of Hell", for instance, somewhat keeps the number from being an all-out downer, due to its awfully slow tempo and fizzly guitar chord shimmerings. To their credit, both Geoff Tate and producer Jason Slater have done an okay job. Too bad a good production is not enough when inspired and creative songwriting is not there anymore.
With this album, they have added yet another nail to their coffin. When will they finally realize that they are Queensryche in name only?
- Hundred Mile Stare
- At 30,000 Ft
- A Dead Man's Words
- The Killer
- Middle of Hell
- If I Were King
- Man Down!
- Remember Me
- Home Again
- The Voice