When Queensrÿche undertook the recording of their latest album, American Soldier, it was an unprecedented move even for a band with such a richly experimental history in the studio.
American Soldier uses a wealth of sound clips—collected from dozens of audio and video interviews that singer Geoff Tate conducted with soldiers over the course of two years—to tell the universal story of U.S. military personnel.
"This was really a record that everybody in the band seemed to get into quite a bit," Tate reveals. "We liked the cinematic aspect of writing to the tapes, watching those and getting a feel for what the tone and the mood was like."
The result is an album bristling with powerful lyrics and equally powerful music that explores the nuances of a soldier's experience—from boot camp to battle, from separation anxiety while serving overseas to the challenges of returning to civilian life.
In all, Tate spoke to those who served during every American conflict from World War II to the present. What struck him most were the unifying themes that spanned generations and bridged experiences.
"I thought [with] all the different generations of [military personnel] I talked to they would be very different, but what I found was the soldiers' experiences were really rather similar," he says. "They're concerned about managing their fear, the loss of colleagues and friends and being separated from their families. These kinds of subjects were predominant in the conversations."
"Sliver," the disc's first track, opens with the barking of a drill sergeant and serves as an aural boot camp to indoctrinate the listener into military life. "Man Down!" employs breakneck-paced guitars and bludgeoning drums to explore post-traumatic stress disorder. "Home Again," by contrast, moves along at a gentle acoustic shuffle, with lyrics that create a narrative inspired by the letters of a deployed soldier and his young daughter at home.
"At 30,000 Ft," meanwhile, is one of the most gripping tracks. It details a pilot's emotional detachment from the act of bombing a city far below.
The band manages to distill the moral dilemma about inflicting so much damage while being separate from the experience with lyrics such as "I'll send the 'Pigs' away / the tortured painful cries / will never fall upon my ears / and never stain my elder years / my heartbeat is all I'll feel." The song alternates between a melancholy minor key melody to suggest the pilot's anguished mind and blitzkrieg power chords to recreate the chaotic sounds of an aerial strike.
It is this kind of attention to realistic emotional detail that makes American Soldier such a riveting listen and one of the band's most exciting albums in recent years.
Formed in 1981, Queensrÿche developed a signature sound by blending the aggression of New Wave of British Heavy Metal acts like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest with the artistic prowess of progressive rock acts such as Pink Floyd and King Crimson.
It was Operation: Mindcrime that first introduced Queensrÿche's fascination with themed concept albums. The 1988 opus told a complete narrative with a set cast of characters rather than being a collection of unrelated songs. The storyline was revisited for 2006's Operation: Mindcrime II.
1990's Empire further solidified the group's reputation as the thinking man's heavy metal band, selling more than three million copies and yielding their highest-charting single, "Silent Lucidity."
The band -- also featuring original members guitarist Michael Wilton, bassist Ed Jackson and drummer Scott Rockenfield, plus newly added second guitarist Parker Lundgren -- will play suites of music from American Soldier, Empire and 1986's Rage for Order during their current tour.
Also joining Queensrÿche on the road will be Lita Ford. The '80s metal songstress will use Tate & Co. as her backing band and together they will reprise her hits including "Close My Eyes Forever."
"We thought it would be fun instead of having a standard opening act kind of thing to have her come on stage with us and play some songs," Tate says.