Queensrÿche takes on the casualties of war and gears up for a mammoth tour
While most of the makeup-caked bands eliminated by “Teen Spirit” in the early-’90s have since returned to feed people’s insatiable hunger for nostalgia on the fair circuit, Queensrÿche never really left. Of course, Queensrÿche never entirely fit that hair-band mold (musically, anyway), taking cues from the epic and operatic metal of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest rather than the gutter glam of Poison and Ratt. And the band uses an umlaut, which by nature makes you a whole lot cooler.
In 1988, Queensrÿche released Operation: Mindcrime, a concept album that tells the story of a man who becomes disillusioned with American society and joins a plot to assassinate the country’s leaders. The record once and for all separated Queensrÿche from the rest of the hard-partying, T&A-loving bands of the time.
The band scored a Top 10 hit with the ballad “Silent Lucidity” in 1990, and went on to record a handful of more straightforward albums—but it always comes back to the concept album. In 2006 they attempted to continue the narrative of Mindcrime (and recapture some of the ol’ magic) with Operation: Mindcrime II. Perhaps not the best move.
But Queensrÿche is nothing if not ambitious. Now, three years later, the band is giving the concept of the concept album another go with its 12th effort, American Soldier, a record that explores war through the eyes of the people who served.
And it’s … well, pretty ambitious.
Queensrÿche vocalist Geoff Tate conducted hundreds of interviews with veterans from different American conflicts including World War II, Vietnam and the Iraq War (including his father, a veteran of the Korean War). The album smartly steers clear of politicizing or American chest-thumping; instead it simply tells the experience of soldiers during the war and as they try to acclimate to normal life.
“It focuses on the commonalities,” Tate says. “[The songs] tend to be more on the personal side of war—being separated from family, losing friends, staying alive, maintaining sanity.”
“The Killer” tells the story of a soldier coming to grips with the atrocities of Vietnam upon his return home: “Surrounded and outnumbered. Children wearing bombs? I’m crying. / Now I can’t stop to sympathize. Would you trade your eyes for mine?”
It’s interesting to consider that the soldier interviews were conducted not by a journalist, but a rock singer with a Top 10 single under his belt. Tate said most were open to the idea and gave him plenty to work with, although in some cases the interviews were difficult. “Some were very raw and unable to talk about it at all.”
American Soldier took three years to complete, and it’s delivered in true prog-metal fashion. Songs are interspersed with actual samples of the interviews, as the music deftly maneuvers through different timings and Tate’s vocals stretch across four octaves.
The tour will be an equally lofty undertaking. Expect, of course, the full multimedia experience. American Soldier will also be one of three “suites” Queensrÿche performs live on the U.S. tour that kicks off in the band’s hometown of Seattle today (April 16), and will take them into early June. Extended pieces from 1986’s Rage for Order and 1990’s Empire (the latter of which produced “Silent Lucidity”) will also be part of the set.
The band will then head to Europe, Japan and South America, and Tate says there’s even a chance of traveling to the Middle East to play some shows for the troops in Iraq (don’t forget Afghanistan, gentlemen). It makes sense that the band—particularly Tate, who took quite a bit away from the project —would want to give something back.
“It was a really humbling experience to hear all these stories,” says Tate. “A lot of times we take it for granted.”