Count me in as one of those fans who believe Queensryche had lost their mojo after 1994’s “Promised Land”. Every album they have released since then has been middling at best: some nice spots, but with lacking consistency. The culmination of this post-Promised Land malaise was 2006’s “Operation Mindcrime 2″, a borderline desperate reach back to their glory days that missed the mark and left me wondering if it was a band’s last gasp at musical relevancy. My 2006 2-star review of that CD was not kind.
Three years later and we now have “American Soldier”, a concept album about the American military experience that plays fresh, uncontrived and serious without being overwrought. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this CD.
To be brief, three reasons I think this is a STELLAR “comeback” album for Queensryche:
1. The return of “soaring” guitar solos. A big gripe of mine with Queensryche after Chris Degarmo left was that they seemed to forget how to write and play good guitar solos. With “American Solider” guitarist Michael Wilton said himself that he made a special effort to write classic Queensryche-sounding solos, and he came through big time. Most of the songs on this CD have excellent, signature guitar solos and guitar work.
2. The songwriting and arrangements are dark, intelligent, and catchy. As a longtime Queensryche fan, I hear strains of Promised Land in tracks like “A Dead Man’s Words” and “Middle Of Hell”. Other tracks like the enigmatic “The Voice” and “Hundred Mile Stare” sound like they could have come from the “Empire” era. The lyrics are not jingoistic or trite. Geoff Tate is at his best when he has you reaching for the CD booklet to read along with the lyrics to figure out a particular song’s meaning. He had me doing that throughout my initial listens to this CD. Excellent writing. A special mention to the track “At 30,000 Feet”; a beautiful, haunting, sad song that I kept coming back to. When Geoff Tate speaking as the bomber pilot cries the words at the end, “What in the Hell have I made?” I get chills. Queensryche at their best on this track. Kudos.
3. The CD just flat-out rocks with that identifiable Queensryche sound. The performances and production are wonderful. Eddie Jackson is one of the best bass players around, and he with Scott Rockenfield really put in some good work. The guitars as I mentioned are top-notch. And Geoff Tate’s voice is still strong, unique, and delivers here with conviction. He really believes in this material, and it shows.
In short, Queensryche made a (re)Believer out of me with American Soldier. Their best since Promised Land, and just a wonderful surprise all around. Highly recommended.