Review Summary: For fans of Empire or Promised Land this is certainly a step in the right direction.
I wonder how many Queensryche fans are left that honestly believe this band still has something worth releasing. After the lackluster comeback of Operation: Mindcrime II
it seemed the band had finally lost any remaining credibility that may have still been swirling around the toilet bowl. Later, when word came out that they were going to try their hand at another concept album the few remaining believers probably cringed (I know I did), while everyone else laughed. The band (i.e. vocalist Geoff Tate) had decided to do an entire album devoted to the American soldier and they were going to go as far as including actual recordings of the interviewed soldiers on the album. It appeared that all of the pieces were now in place for the band to finally go out in a dim implosion that very few would even notice. Instead, this album ends up showing the first signs of life in quite a few years.
Unfortunately, the first two tracks aren’t really indicative of this new sign of vitality and are a pretty poor way to start the album. The album opener, “Sliver”, is the kind of generic rock the band has been churning out for some time. The thing that makes this song worse, though, is the inclusion of a second set of vocals meant to sound like a drill instructor. Due to the repeated “welcome to the show
” and “I’m going to tell you what’s up
” lines they, instead, come off like a bad Fred Durst/nu-metal impression that is amusing at best. After the terrible opener the second track simply suffers from bad placement on the album. The song uses dialogue from the soldiers’ interviews for the verses and Geoff Tate for the choruses, but after the weak opener this song just bogs down. This track would be better suited near the end of the album, but as it stands it’s another track worthy of skipping.
After the disappointing opening tracks it may come as a surprise to suddenly hear the band change gear and present some real quality material. The riffs and the atmosphere of the songs feel closer to Empire
or Promised Land
than they do any release of the past twelve years and for most fans this will be a welcome realization. The songs presented here all move along at a deliberately slow pace utilizing a lot of clean guitar sections with the meatier riffs frequently coming along for bridges and choruses. Within the context of these moody compositions are also the kind of soaring melodies and dual-guitar harmonies that people often attributed to ex-guitarist Chris Degarmo, and they’re definitely a welcome addition. Another welcome return is that of the classy, melodic guitar solos of old that have come back in a big way; even the saxophone from Promised Land
manages to make a few appearances.
In addition to the reappearance of many of the elements that used to make this band good, they have also included the new component unique to this album; the words of the interviewed soldiers. These snippets of dialog often help to set the mood for most of the songs, and they do so quite well. When a soldier speaks the words “bad things happen at night…
” before a bleak clean guitar melody and Geoff Tate’s emotional vocals begin, it goes a long way towards establishing the direction of the song. “Home Again” is another song that benefits from the dialog when a soldier begins the song with the line, “It’s very hard to keep a family together when you’re half way across the world… we’re just counting the days till we get home
”. It’s a touching song detailing the loneliness that comes about while living so far away from family. It even takes things one step further by including the thoughts of the children still left at home, as sung by Geoff Tate’s real-life daughter.
If everything I’ve detailed so far was all that needed to be stated, we’d be left with an album that starts weak before coming away strong, but that’s not entirely the case. Some of the missteps of their recent albums sporadically creep their way into these songs, but they’re generally fleeting in nature. Occasionally the band will let one of the stale, lifeless riffs of their last few albums slip through, but their negative impact is usually minimized by a quality backing melody or a quick change in direction. Also, it’s common knowledge that Geoff Tate’s vocals really aren’t what they used to be and from time to time he ends up sounding flat instead of pushing the melody like he used to. The main issue, though, is that a few of the songs still feature the dumbed-down one liners that the band has passed off as choruses lately and they end up diminishing the overall quality and atmosphere of the songs they’re present on.
There’s a saying that states, “you can build a million bridges and suck one dick and at the end of your life you’re going to be known as a cock sucker, not a bridge-builder
”. Unfortunately, this metaphor may already apply to the band. There was a time when the Queensryche name was synonymous with high quality music, but with their last four albums (some would argue six)… well let’s just says that’s where the sucking part comes in. What I’m alluding to is that despite the quality of this album it may be too little too late. Queensryche’s current reputation for something other than superior releases may cause some to ignore this, but that would be a shame. While the band hasn’t come back with all guns blazing, they’ve at least moved in the right direction and that should be enough to leave most fans with a feeling other than disappointment for the first time in years.