I hold Queensryche in very high regard. Wait. Let me rephrase. I hold a certain era of Queensryche in very high regard.
Their debut, the 1983 Queensryche EP, kicks off what I consider a flawless string of progressive metal masterworks culminating with 1994's Promised Land. The creative arc displayed by these six albums is staggering. This was a band that had it all. Amazing musicians, phenomenal songwriters, and one of the greatest voices on the planet in Geoff Tate. In his prime, Tate was simply untouchable. Forget Dickinson. Forget Halford. Tate killed them both.
Over the course of three albums (The Warning, Rage For Order, Operation: Mindcrime) Queensryche created the blueprint for modern progressive metal and inspired a raft of bands from Fates Warning to Crimson Glory to Dream Theater in the process. OK, there was also Siam, Lethal, and Hittman as well. This was a cutting edge sound that mixed intelligent lyrics with classically inspired arrangements in a distinctly heavy metal framework. It was cinematic and futuristic and it beget an entire genre of music. Of note, Operation: Mindcrime is still considered one of the greatest concept albums ever recorded and is frequently listed alongside The Who's Tommy and Pink Floyd's The Wall. That's how good it is.
Some fans claim the creative decay began to take root by 1990's Empire and dismiss Promised Land altogether. Not this fan. In my opinion, Promised Land is the last true epic the band produced. It was dark, introspective, experimental, heavy. A complete 180 from the commercially oriented Empire opus. Promised Land would have been the perfect farewell album. I've always viewed it as the end of a journey. This could have been a glorious summation to an amazing career. But as we know, it wasn't.
Queensryche would go on to release six more studio albums. Some were good (Hear In The Now Frontier, Tribe) some were decent (Operation: Mindcrime 2, American Soldier) and others were horrible (Q2K, Dedicated To Chaos). None were classics. The biggest issue plaguing many of these later era records (besides the absence of founding guitarist Chris Degarmo) was the shift from epic song structures to a more stripped down sound. Following 2003's Tribe, many of the hallmarks of the Queensryche sound had been abandoned in favor of a more simplistic approach both production-wise as well as vocally. The fan base was split between those pining for the glory days and those willing to accept the new Queensryche as a band adhering to the very definition of progressive music.
It's an extremely thin line a band must tread in order to balance creative growth with a core sound. If you lean too far away from that core sound you risk losing the fan base you've amassed over the breadth of your career. Yet, if you remain stuck in one particular muse you risk stagnation. The last ten years saw Queensryche leaning further and further away from their core. As a progressive band they were expected to evolve...but they were also expected to retain those elements that made them great in the first place.
I continued to support the band during this uncertain period because there was always something to enjoy on each release. You just had to be patient. These later albums were not immediate. Often, it would take me dozens of spins to connect with certain tracks. Q2K comes to mind. I spun that album a hundred times. Most of it still does nothing for me. I wanted something to move me like the classics did. I was willing to put the effort in as a listener to find those hidden gems. The band deserved it. However, it was becoming harder and harder to defend them. When Dedicated To Chaos arrived, I knew the end had finally come. Apparently, so did 4/5 of the band.
Last year, the band (Wilton, Rockenfield, Jackson, Lundgren) fired Geoff Tate and enlisted ex-Crimson Glory belter Todd LaTorre to handle vocals. Tate countered with a decision to continue with his own version of the 'Ryche. The drama that continues to unfold is better suited to a reality show than this blog. There's no need to rehash it here. Bottom line: the world has two Queensryches until November 2013 when the courts decide who's entitled to the name.
Now, with the existence of two Queensryches, we have two debut singles from two versions of the upcoming "13th Studio Album." Which record ultimately keeps the 'Ryche moniker remains to be seen, but for now, let's assume both bands are Queensryche and both songs are Queensryche songs.
The title says it all. The first thing I notice on this track is the stellar production courtesy of James Barton. It's dynamic. Aggressive. Vital. Classic, yet modern. This is the type of progressive arrangement Queensryche hasn't attempted in a long time. It sounds like an updated take on Mindcrime. No complaints here. La Torre recalls classic Tate but brings his own distinct rasp to the fore as well. He's grittier. Nastier. There's just a lot of passion in these vocals. That's something we haven't heard on a 'Ryche release in years. Overall, this is full of ideas, great performances, and a killer vocal. This sounds like Queensryche and I can't wait to dive into the whole album.
This isn't a bad song. It also isn't a Queensryche song. Production-wise, it pales in comparison to Redemption. It's muddier. Grungier. It's definitely in line with what Tate was doing on Dedicated To Chaos and his last solo album Kings And Thieves albeit better than anything on those releases. Don't get me wrong. It's got a strong hook and perhaps with a better vocal and production it might have been a hit for some younger, hungrier act. That's the central problem. There's no urgency. No passion. Tate sounds bored. He clearly isn't enamored with this genre anymore. Still, I find the song memorable. Unfortunately, it bares little resemblance to classic 'Ryche which is my primary reason for dismissing it. This really should have been released as a Tate solo track. Good, but destined to be forgotten.
Geoff Tate's Queensryche releases their album, Frequency Unknown, on April 23rd. Todd La Torre's version of the band releases their as yet unnamed album on June 11th.
Full reviews coming soon.