REVIEW: Queensryche – Promised Land (Japanese import)

QUEENSRYCHE – Promised Land (1994 EMI, Japanese import)

I’m sure the pressure was on to top Empire, so what did Queensryche do? They retreated to an isolated but luxurious cabin on an island, and wrote & recorded an introspective atmospheric masterpiece of a record.  Far from record companies and hangers-on, the band focused on the art. By their own admission, the isolation (plus smoking pot and drinking wine) were catalysts for this great album.

I spoke to bassist Eddie Jackson about 13 years ago regarding this album, and I told him I thought it had a lot in common with Rage For Order. He didn’t see it at first, but both albums feature loads of sound effects and atmospherics. Neither album is a true concept album, but both have recurring themes and ideas that run the course of the CD. Promised Land is a deeply personal CD, mostly slower-paced, and one that must be listened to with headphones on.

Drummer Scott Rockenfield came up with the opening piece, “9:28 a.m.”, which is a collage of tones and sounds, ending with some shattering chimes and a baby’s birth. This melds into the first song, “I Am I”, not a typical Queensryche rocker by any stretch but certainly one of the most brilliant things they’ve ever composed. Tate’s lyrics begin the introspective theme of the album, backed by odd percussion instruments, voices, sitar, cello (by guitarist Chris DeGarmo) and droning power chords. There is so much going on beneath the surface of this song; that is why I say that headphones are required.

A skipping CD sound leads straight into the next song, the heavy and dark “Damaged”. “Damaged” is about psychological damage, the effect that bad relationships and experiences have on the self. At various times, Tate’s voice doubles and triples and quadruples, seemingly indicating multiple personalities, or perhaps voices in head. At one point it sounds like his voice has short circuited. Eddie Jackson told me that effect was a total accident in the studio that they couldn’t duplicate.

DeGarmo’s “Out Of Mind” follows, an acoustic piece regarding mental illness. It is a nice quiet composition with spare drumming and a beautiful DeGarmo guitar solo. This break in the pace continues with the next acoustic song, “Bridge”. DeGarmo’s shattered relationship with his father is the theme here. He has hinted before at issues with his father, (“Are you my father? The one that was promised?” from “Screaming In Digital”) but here we get more of the story. His father wishes to mend bridges, but DeGarmo tells him, “You never built it, dad.” A sad tale, and an odd choice for a single, but a single it was.

Side one ended with the powerful epic title track which is nearly 9 minutes long. Anchored by Eddie Jackson’s rumbling bass and Geoff Tate’s atmospheric sax, this is a mindblowing song. The lyrics deal with the fact that as youths, we are told that the world is our oyster, and a promised land is waiting for us. But it doesn’t pan out that way for everybody. There are many voices and sound effects in the background of this song, and Tate’s vocal is wracked with feeling. You can hear that this is taking place in a bar (“Drinks for all my friends!) Again, use headphones!

RYCHE FULLYou hear a person leaving the bar, walking across a gravel lot. This melds into industrial city sounds. Soon the next track has begun, “Disconnected” (writted as “Dis con nec ted” in the lyric sheet). Tate’s vocal is spoken, to great effect. When he speaks in a staggered manner (“I must…release…my…rage…”) it is so understated; yet another mindblowing moment. Again, this song is anchored by Eddie Jackson’s deep bass lines, underscoring.  Due to the odd staggered vocal, this song will not be for everybody. On the surface, it sort of resembles “Della Brown” from Empire. This song seems to be about feeling disconnected from the world around us, despite the technology that supposedly brings us together.

“Lady Jane” follows, revisting the mental illness theme. This is a dramatic piano-based song; the piano is played by Chris DeGarmo. The next track is the most straightforward song on the album, “My Global Mind”. A rocker with few frills, this is perhaps the most Empire-sounding of all the tracks. The plaintive “One More Time” comes next, with some amazing melodies and a fairly standard song structure.

All this leads into one epic final song, “Someone Else?” which is simply piano and voice. The lyrics, as with all of Promised Land, are incredible and Tate’s vocal is among the best he’s ever sung. Looking back, the person he is seems to have been someone else all along. This look back ends the album, which of course started with the birth sequence. Very nice bookends.

LASTThe Japanese got bonus tracks (of course), one of which is “Real World” from the Last Action Hero soundtrack. Strings are the main feature here, by the late Michael Kamen. The arrangement is a little too saccharine for me, but that’s Kamen for you. Then we also have the “full band” version of “Someone Else?” which adds an entire verse, but loses the piano arrangement that made the song special in the first place.

The remastered edition of Promised Land (which I don’t have and don’t need) has two additional live tracks, which were “Damaged” and “Real World” recorded in ’94. There were, of course, lots more live tracks available on singles at the time, but for those you will have to track down the actual singles. Some of them, such as “Dirty Lil’ Secret” which was issued with the Empire remaster, for whatever reason.  And of course there was the ultimate rarity, an acoustic song called “Two Mile High” which was recorded specifically for the Queensryche’s Promised Land video game.  This too is not included on the remastered CD, leaving the song frustratingly unavailable today.

On a final note, when I saw ‘Ryche live in Toronto on the final date of the Promised Land tour, they played the entire album live (albeit not in order), a good 10-15 years before doing so was in vogue. That’s how strong this album is, and that’s how good this band is.

Headphones are a must. Multiple listens are a must. Queensryche have never been deeper or more trippy. A masterpiece.

5/5 stars

PROMISED LAND_0003

Gallery of CD singles below!

Advertisements

30 comments

  1. Bizarrely this was the first Queensryche album I ever bought! It took a while to get into but it is definitely one of their best and I agree it’s a brilliant headphones album. I’ve got the current remaster with the bonus tracks and I had the I Am I single before that so I already had these Jap bonus songs. Real World and the full band Someone Else? are just outstanding… Dirty Lil’ Secret I never liked that much. I think it fits better as an Empire bonus track actually, it’s more in that vein.

    Like

    1. What a first. It sure threw me for a loop at first, it was so mellow and there were so few riffs! But the depth of it bleeds out.

      Agreed on Dirty Lil Secret and I guess that’s why it ended up on that remaster?

      Like

  2. I completely agree: Promised Land is fantastic. At times, I think the album borrows a little too heavily from Pink Floyd—thematically and otherwise—but not enough to diminish its appeal. The songs might not be as immediately strong as those on Empire, but Promised Land somehow ends up being the better album.

    Like

    1. “Too heavily” borrowing from Pink Floyd is a fine line…I’m sure Floyd were a big influence. I wasn’t into Floyd at all when this came out, so to me, ALL the sounds were new and exciting.

      Like

      1. Great point. I didn’t hear Promised Land until just a few years ago. Still, I think it’s an excellent album. Let’s hope the new version of QR doesn’t shy away from taking risks or exploring new sounds. I would love to see them deliver another classic.

        Like

        1. I think they will grow as they write, but I also expect them to keep it heavy. We’ll see though, they definitely needed to get that last album out of their system. Maybe next time they will try exploring different textures again. Or maybe all of that was Tate and DeGarmo? I guess we’ll see.

          Like

  3. This is so awesome. In my opinion, this is Queensrÿche’s best album ever. The only song on here that soesn’t rally cut it is My Global Mind, that really doesn’t go anywhere, but the rest of the album is pure brilliance. I also believe that this is their most progressive album even though Rage For Order had some of that as well.
    Sadly things started to slip after this and has never been the same since.

    Like

        1. I don’t think the song is bad, it just drifts past me everytime. It’s got a nice sound with the harmonies and whatnot but it just doesn’t seem to go anywhere to me. But I think it’s probably a tribute to the strength of the album that everyone’s top picks seem to be so different. Actually, I didn’t care for the title track much until I heard it live and then I got it.

          Like

    1. Awesome. I’m so glad to hear the love for this album. It hit me in a big, big way in 1994/95. I also agree that this and Rage are the two most progressive, but I think I’d give Rage the nod for it. That’s kind of what I was trying to say to Eddie Jackson — both albums are on that level.

      I think this is the last album that the chemistry between band and DeGarmo really clicked. And then he was gone.

      Like

      1. I would love a better production for Rage. I mean, Neil Kernon was a great pop producer, but Rage needed more fat. Kernon popped that album sound wise. Song wise, it’s my favourite besides Promised Land.

        Like

        1. I agree. It’s a cold album. But I think the coldness suits the concept. It’s a very futuristic (in that 80’s way) album, technological warfare. And all those samples! On some songs it sounds like clocks instead of drums, just amazing stuff. I think the coldness and lack of fat just made Rage that much more unique.

          Like

  4. This is a great write-up. And a 5/5! High marks indeed.

    I was all set to try a bit o’ the ‘Ryche, but then that whole thing with Stabby McStabbypants and all the yapping that went on because of it just turned me off. Shame, I’d probably really like it.

    Like

    1. It’s a fine record, for 1989…a good debut. But it’s the second album Slave to the Grind that REALLY stands the test of time.

      You could do a series on the Bach-era albums only, and we’d be happy.

      Like

      1. Oooo yeah, I liked STTG. A lot!

        Well, we’ll see how this round of voting goes. Maybe a Bach-era Skid Row option will make it to the next poll! Remind me when we get there, wouldja? ;)

        Like

        1. Will do! Some of these bands could keep you occupied, such as Waits, for a WHILE.

          I’m curious also for somebody like Beasties, I don’t know anybody who has EVERYTHING, but do you have a lot?

          Like

      1. You can say that again! Back then I thought he was a serious artist, likeable, intelligent… Now he just comes off as a goofball. Who can’t sing anymore…

        Like

    1. I really think it’s great…you’ll see come fans trash it saying Queensryche sucked after Empire, but I think I can solidly say they are totally fucking wrong :)

      Like

      1. Promised Land owns Empire totally. I think Empire is QR’s weakest album up til Hear In The Now Frontier.

        Like

  5. Spot on in your take on Promised Land. This was the pinnacle for QR and they’ve not come close to it since. I doubt they ever will. For all the greatness that is Empire, somehow this one trumps it. It is just better. Funny you mention using headphones. I agree, headphone this thing. When this first arrived, I would walk around campus between classes with it in my walkman tape player. IT immediately transported me to somewhere far off, a Promised Land. I still love it to this day.

    Like

    1. Thank you! This is such a deep, incredible album, it’s hard not to appreciate. I did the same thing with my headphones. Listening to Disconnected walking around with headphones on was a really cool experience.

      Like

Rock a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s