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Queensr˙che: American SoldierQueensr˙che: American Soldier
Rhino Records

Anthem for Vets Maintains Band's Hard Rock Integrity

Queensr˙che has had quite a roller coaster ride over the past decade. From 1999-2009, the band featured three different sets of songwriters before settling in with producer/songwriter Jason Slater in 2006 for Operation: Mindcrime II. With Slater back for round two with lead singer Geoff Tate and company, Queensr˙che clearly has found its creative legs on American Soldier, a concept record detailing the experiences of United States servicemen and women.

Starting with the "on your feet!" call of a boot camp drill instructor delivered by guest vocalist and U.S. Navy veteran A.J. Fratto in "Sliver," American Soldier feels like a hybrid between the darkness of 1994's Promised Land with a good injection of modern musical angst. "Man Down!" and "Unafraid" showcase a plethora of heavy riffing that is found throughout the album, while "At 30,000 Ft.," a track written from the point of view of a bomber pilot will remind fans of the grand "Anybody Listening?" off of 1990's Empire.

The gem on the album, however, is the moody "A Dead Man's Words." Highlighting trade-off vocals between Tate and guest singer Vincent Solano (who earned his spot via a singing contest held during the band's 2008 tour), Queensr˙che tells the tale of a wounded soldier clinging to life on a battlefield. The emotional track may remind some fans of the epic title track from Promised Land.

Additional writers on the album included Damon Johnson and Scott Rockenfield. The duo, along with former Queensr˙che axeman Kelly Gray, penned the battle haze-influenced "Middle of Hell" (featuring Tate on saxophone dueling with lead guitarist Michael Wilton) and the touching father-daughter ballad (sung by Tate and his daughter, Emily), "Home Again."

Tate, Wilton, Rockenfield (drums) and bassist Eddie Jackson deliver dynamic musical performances, arguably their strongest in 15 years. From Rockenfield's military cadence beat behind Wilton's solo in the emotionally-charged "The Killer," to Jackson's thundering groove throughout American Soldier, the band play more cohesively than they have in years, distinctively Queensr˙che, yet modern and relevant despite being around for 28 years.

Most fans of Queensr˙che would probably agree that Tate is at his best when he is inspired and writes to a theme, and that holds true with American Soldier. Crafted from the stories of soldiers (including Tate's own father), the best of Geoff Tate is on display, telling emotional stories from a number of different perspectives and delivering them with conviction.

So what's the downside? While the record features great instrumentation, including classic guitar solos by Wilton, Tate's delivery on American Soldier is up and down. At times, Tate sounds thin and strained (sections of "Sliver," "Hundred Mile Stare," and very noticeably on the lead single, "If I Were King"), yet on other tracks, Tate sounds strong and melodic like most fans remember.

In addition, American Soldier tends to lose some steam near the end, with three semi-acoustic ballads in a row. The closer, "The Voice" reminds one of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" at points, and is a step up from the previous two cuts ("Remember Me" and "Home Again"). But the darker, intense, vibe of the album is lifted for a more serene stroll to the finish line.

Despite those minor criticisms, the writers and performers of Queensr˙che's American Soldier should take a bow. The members of Queensr˙che may be on record as not liking the label "thinking man's metal," but the complimentary term fits American Soldier perfectly. The record provides an authentic musical backdrop to the lives of soldiers in the United States and around the world, yet firmly maintains the band's place as a force to be reckoned with in the hierarchy of hard rock bands today.

- Brian Heaton

Copyright 2009, Brian Heaton. All Rights Reserved.