It’s not that I wanted to hate the new Queensrÿche album, American Soldier. I never approach a new record with the desire to dislike it, no matter who it is, no matter which genre it is. It’s just that Queensrÿche, more than any group, has offered little more than disappointment over nearly the past two decades, after providing a solid hard rock album in Empire (1990). The follow-up, Promised Land (1994) was actually pretty good, all things considered, but not as good as the predecessor. Subsequent releases like the head-scratching, style-chasing Hear in the Now Frontier (1997, which also gets some kind of award for lousiest album title,) the muddy, sludgy, crappy Q2K (1999) and the unnecessary Operation Mindcrime 2 (2006) have whittled away the hope for this band over time. I had no goodwill left for American Soldier.

It’s not that I wanted to hate this album, and guess what? I don’t. The first two tracks, “Sliver” and “Unafraid,” were deceiving, though, sounding like the lost, lousy Queensrÿche of the past few releases. “Sliver” in particular gets a reprieve since this is a concept album, and if you’re going to be honest to the concept, you’re going to approach the boot camp song with a degree of boneheaded jingoism. “Unafraid” has no decent hook, nothing to grab onto. Expectations sink, and the listener gets used to the idea this is more of the same. And then we get to “Hundred Mile Stare” and the words that come to mind are, “Oh my God. This is Queensrÿche.” The melody and the power, as well as Geoff Tate’s harmony vocals (even though time and Marlboro cigarettes have clearly taken points off his game) all return. One wonders if it was a fluke.

“At 30,000 Ft.” continues to get the listener excited. “The Killer” sounds like a single, which is something I haven’t been able to say since the early ’90s. The official first single “If I Were King” is also pretty good, but I’m surprised Atco/Rhino didn’t grab “The Killer” first. It’s more energetic, but it’s also topically thornier. “If I Were King” focuses on surviving soldier guilt, that emotional gnawing of the one that made it out alive, remembering those who weren’t so lucky. That becomes the strength of the album, that subjects like post traumatic stress disorder and soldier deprogramming (whereby a soldier has to relearn how to live normally, without the constant ping of adrenaline kicking in) get as much time as the gung-ho aspects, the thrill of the kill and the regret ballad.

The album closes with two songs that represent a degree of redemption for the band; the heartfelt “Home Again” features the voice of Emily Tate as a soldier’s daughter waiting for her father to come home. “The Voice” is a big ol’ barnstormer the likes of which I thought the band was incapable of delivering anymore. On the former, Miss Tate is clearly untrained and sounds a little off from time to time, but that is what you would expect a soldier’s daughter, not a rock singer’s daughter, to sound like. It works for me and the song proves to be very moving because of it. The latter song carries the weight of big guitars, big drums, big voices and a notion that, of all the ways a band could sound, sounding like classic Queensrÿche isn’t such a bad thing…

And even with a couple of clunky tunes, American Soldier isn’t such a bad thing either.

American Soldier is available at Amazon.com.

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