Chris DeGarmo

REVIEW: Queensrÿche – Operation: Mindcrime (1988/2003 remaster)

QUEENSRŸCHE – Operation: Mindcrime (1988, 2003 EMI remaster)

After Pink Floyd made history by releasing The Wall in 1979, concept albums fell out of fashion.   Almost a decade later, two heavy metal albums brought the artform of the full-length story back:  Iron Maiden’s Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, and Operation: Mindcrime by Queensryche.  Of the two, Mindcrime had the more coherent linear story, but both remain high water marks for each band.

The Queensryche album sold slowly at first, as the band refused to make music videos to let the album speak for itself.  They changed course in 1989 when “Eyes of a Stranger” made it to MTV and MuchMusic.  Fortunes changed dramatically for Operation: Mindcrime.  The album eventually went platinum.

The reason Mindcrime was better suited as an album than music videos was the connected storyline running through each song.  Employing a classic frame technique, we begin at the end with “I Remember Now”.

“I remember now.  I remember how it started.  I can’t remember yesterday.  I just remember doing what they told me…”

The anti-hero Nikki is an angry, aimless addict who fell in with a radical political group called Operation: Mindcrime.  He is a disheartened young American. “The rich control the government, the media, the law.”  Mindcrime’s modus operandi?  Using drugs and brainwashing, would-be assassins are sent out to kill strategic political targets, building to revolution.  Inequality, corruption and the media have made the country an ugly place.  Dr. X, the mastermind behind Mindcrime, has total control over Nikki.  He also uses the nun Mary, a former prostitute, to feed Nikki’s needs.  Nikki and Mary grow closer until he receives the order:  “Kill her.”  She knows too much.

The first two tracks are just setup before you get to the meat.  “I Remember Now” and “Anarchy-X” create a powerful set of images, with anthemic guitars and the sound of massive crowds rallying to a cause.  “Revolution Calling”, the first real song, begins the narrative.  “Then I heard of Dr. X, the man with the cure, just watch the television, yeah you’ll see there’s something going on.”

Nikki is indoctrinated on the title track, an ominous riffy behemoth of a song.  Dr. X uses Nikki’s drug addiction to control him.  With nothing to lose, Nikki falls for the doctor’s words.  “There’s a job for you in the system boy, with nothing to sign.”  Nikki has no use for the government or politicians.  It all sounds good to him.  On “Speak” he receives his first assignment.  “I’m the new messiah, death angel with a gun.”  On a blazing fast track with a thick chorus, Nikki falls into his new life.  “Eradicate the fascists, revolution will grow.”  On “Spreading the Disease”, another kickass track with a chorus that goes on for miles, Nikki tells the story of Mary and his distaste for the church.  “Religion and sex are power plays, manipulate the people for the money they pay.  Selling skin, selling God, the numbers look the same on the credit cards.”

Queensryche take it slower (though not soft) on “The Mission”, as Nikki starts to feel disillusionment.  “I look around, my room is filled with candles, each one a story but they end the same.”  He keeps telling himself that he’s doing what’s right.  “My mission saved the world, and I stood proud.”  But then he is given the order he dreads:  Kill Mary.  This instruction opens album epic “Suite Sister Mary”, 10 full minutes of riffs, choir and orchestra (by Michael Kamen).  The riff alone stands like a monolith.  Vocalist Pamela Moore sings a duet with Geoff Tate as the character of Sister Mary.  As for that riff?  Chris DeGarmo was the master riff composer in this band, a hole they have never quite filled.

The second half of the story commences with “The Needle Lies”.  Nikki wants out, but finds that it doesn’t work that way.  There is no “out”.  Meanwhile Queensryche strafe the speakers with a thrashy blitzkrieg.  Drummer Scott Rockenfield cannot be contained.  Then on the quiet filler track “Electric Requiem”, Nikki discovers that Mary had made his choice to disobey orders irrelevant.  Dead by her own hand, Nikki is broken and tailspins into a mad depression.  This is portrayed on “Breaking the Silence”, another stone cold winner of a song with a mighty chorus.  The chunky guitar riff is to die for.

With his memory failing him, Nikki doesn’t even know if he killed Mary himself or not.  He questions everything on the ever-cool single “I Don’t Believe in Love”, one of the most remarkable of all Queensryche songs.  Once again the writing partnership of Tate and DeGarmo struck heavy musical gold.  Two shorter tracks (“Waiting for 22” and “My Empty Room”) fill in some story points, and Nikki is eventually caught.

Operation: Mindcrime’s biggest song is its final track and first single, “Eyes of a Stranger”.  Memories are but fragments.  “I raise my head and stare into the eyes of a stranger.”  It’s one of Queensryche’s most incredible recordings, a perfect storm of guitars, vocals and melody.  It’s neck deep in drama, with Geoff Tate at his most emotive.  The story ends with some questions left unanswered.  At least until 2006’s unnecessary Mindcrime II….

Operation: Mindcrime took Queensryche to an artistic level that fans and critics always knew they could achieve.  Their debut EP showed promise.  They didn’t live up to that potential until Mindcrime.  Though good, The Warning album wasn’t a stunner like MindcrimeRage For Order was brilliant but alienating.  Even when it was first released, Mindcrime did not blow all the critics away.  Only after it had been digested slowly over time did the masses realize they were sitting on something very special.  Queensryche had done conceptual work before, but more abstract.  Nothing as well-hewn as Mindcrime.  Musically it was like they distilled everything they had accomplished thus far, and concentrated it into pure rock majesty.

The 2003 CD reissue had two live B-sides as bonus tracks.  “The Mission” was originally released in 1991 on the B-side to “Silent Lucidity”.  It is a different recording from that on the live album Operation: LIVEcrime.  “My Empty Room” is a later acoustic recording, released in 1995 as a B-side to “Bridge”.  It’s interesting for its acoustic setting and percussion, but is best heard in the context of the “Bridge” single with its other acoustic counterparts.

Is Operation: Mindcrime a masterpiece?  The story is a bit Hollywood and a tad juvenile, but the broad strokes are remarkably still valid today.  Mindcrime is rivalled by only a few.  It’s a worthy, nay, important addition to any metal collection.

5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Queensrÿche – Queensrÿche (1983 EP/2003 remaster)

Part I of a Queensryche two-parter.

QUEENSRŸCHE – Queensrÿche (1983 EP/2003 EMI remaster)

Sometimes a reissue is done so right you just gotta “Take Hold of the Flame”.

The 1984 debut EP by Queensryche is one such release.  The original vinyl runs shy of 18 minutes, leaving plenty of space for bonus tracks.  For this, they included the audio for all 10 songs from their first home video, Live in Tokyo.  Wishes fulfilled.

The original four track EP put the quintet from Seattle on the map.  Opening with “Queen of the Reich”, the young band showcased their knack for riffs and screaming vocals.  Geoff Tate’s opening scream cannot be touched.  Tate seemed embarrassed of these songs later on (all written by Michael Wilton and Chris DeGarmo with one lyric by Geoff).  Though the songs are clearly a starting point, they’re nothing to be embarrassed by.  “Queen of the Reich” remains simple, majestic and powerful.

The “Nightrider” sails away but the riffs go on with pneumatic precision.  Early Queensryche were not that dissimilar from early Iron Maiden, but at least they were doing that sound well.  Curiously enough this self-produced EP was not recorded with the intention to release it.  Queensrÿche is actually just a demo, but the band were starting to make waves on the live scene and so the four songs were released as an EP.  It eventually went gold; very rare for an EP.

Flipping over to side two, “Blinded” is screamy and raw.  Not one of the bands’ most memorable tunes, but soon arrives “The Lady Wore Black”.  This is a metal ballad in the classic vein of “Beyond the Realms of Death” or “Remember Tomorrow”.  Tate’s voice cascades while the band weave a backing track of guitar thunder.  Along with “Queen of the Reich”, it still turns up on live setlists.

The live set in Tokyo, recorded in 1984, contains all the tracks from the EP, a non-album song called “Prophecy”, and several from the debut full-length album The Warning.  Opening with the “Nightrider”, Queensryche don’t let up through a generally fast and heavy set.  “Prophecy” keeps up the brisk pace, with a chorus that is miles ahead of “Nightrider”.  And this DeGarmo-penned smoker was a non-album track!  “Deliverance” from The Warning follows in its ashy footsteps.  It’s an onslaught of Warning tracks:  “Child of Fire” and “En Force” rolled out in heavy fashion.  This trio of Warning songs might be considered the slow part of the set.  They have a soundalike vibe as they steamroll the ears.

“The Lady Wore Black” brings a slower, dark atmosphere.  Tate’s sustain is unbelievable!  Then it’s a blast of classics to close the set:  “Warning”, “Take Hold of the Flame” and “Queen of the Reich”.  Magnificent metal through and through, with “Take Hold” being an unequivocal high point.  From Tate’s vocal to the exalted riffing, Queensryche nail it.

Don’t just get the EP.  Make sure to get the 2003 CD reissue with the glorious Tokyo show included.  You’ll be happy you did.

4/5 stars

 

VHS Archives #68: Geoff Tate of Queensryche (1986)

JD Roberts of MuchMusic’s Pepsi Power Hour talked to Geoff Tate (and a silent Chris DeGarmo) about Queensryche in 1986.  That means you get the rock-solid Rage for Order haircuts.  Not only that… but Geoff actually comments on the hair!

 

VHS Archives #12: Queensryche co-host the Power Hour (1990)

This is a great example of what made the Power Hour special. It was an hour of live television. That means when Dan Gallagher (always) refers to Anthrax as “Anthrash”, then it goes out live like that.

Queensryche were in Toronto promoting their then-new Empire CD. Geoff was sick, so Michael and Chris visited the MuchMusic studios. They co-hosted the hour with Dan and did a damn fine job of it. Ladies and gentlemen, Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton: Queensryche!

REVIEW: Queensryche – Speaking in Digital: A Conversation with Queensryche (1986 promo)

QUEENSRŸCHE – Speaking in Digital: A Conversation with Queensryche (1986 EMI America promo interview LP)

Here’s a nice little rarity for you, a full-length Queensryche interview disc from the Rage For Order era.  Promos are a funny thing for reviewing (and this is our second Queensryche promo review).  These records were never made for sale, therefore nobody reviews them.  Nobody…but us.  Is there any rock knowledge or collector’s value to be gleaned from this disc?  Let us find out.

It’s an attractive record, Geoff Tate’s digitally distorted face in black & white.  No Try-Ryche, but a neat digital Queensryche logo.  The interview is conducted by radio DJ Ralph Tortoro.  A very low-key Geoff Tate begins by answering general questions about the beginning of the band and their independent EP.  Chris DeGarmo is a bit more engaged and adds the details.  Shy Michael Wilton speaks up only on occasion.

You’ll also get bits and pieces of music:  Snippets of “Queen of the Reich”, “Warning”, and “Gonna Get Close to You”.  There are four full songs too:  a massive “Screaming in Digital” (so hot on vinyl!), “I Dream in Infrared”, “Chemical Youth” and “The Whisper”.

Interesting things I noted while listening:

  1. They hadn’t settled on the name Queensryche for the band until they had to print up the first EP, forced to make a decision.
  2. Maiden was one of their favourite bands to cover according to Chris.
  3. Tate clearly didn’t like being called “metal” even back in 1986.
  4. “NM 156” from The Warning is hailed as the track that showed the way of the future of Queensryche.
  5. Steve Harris loved The Warning and asked for Queensryche to open for Iron Maiden.
  6. Rage for Order is a “loose concept” album, examining order over three levels:  order in relationships, political order, and technological order.
  7. Other questions remain unasked.

The new digitally enhanced Queensryche of 1986 was destined to confuse people in the short term, gradually winning over fans as time went on and people “got” the album.  If you want to deepen your understanding of its themes, this record will help.  There’s more too; we won’t tell you everything.  As a fan, you should be able to decide if Speaking in Digital is the kind of thing you want in your rock and roll reference library.  The young, shy Queensryche interviewed on this LP are as cold as the machines that are striving for order in the lyrics.  It’s a dry but interesting listen.

3/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Queensryche – Rage For Order (remastered)

QUEENSRYCHE – Rage For Order (originally 1986, 2003 EMI remastered edition)

Every fan has their favourite Queensryche album.  Whether it be The Warning, MindcrimePromised Land or Empire, there are plenty of great albums in their back catalogue.  I used to seek the warm high of Promised Land when looking to chill with my favourite Queensryche.  Now I look for refuge in the cold, technological sheen of their 1986 album Rage For Order.

Rage For Order was a challenging album in its time and today it is still complex.  In 1986, fans questioned the gothy makeup and hair, not to mention the excessive samples and synths.  Today you can look back and almost call Rage For Order the first progressive industrial metal album.  It certainly has qualities from all three of those genres.  Geoff Tate beat Trent Reznor to the punch by years.  Rage seems to have a vague futuristic concept about a world of technology, revolution, and disconnection.

Although Rage For Order is certainly not an immediate listen, certain key tracks are commercial enough to keep you coming back.  The first is “Walk in the Shadows”, one of the few songs to be played live fairly consistently over the years.  “Walk in the Shadows” could pass as a hard rocking hit.  For the first time Queensryche really proved they were more than a simple metal band.  The slick production was completely different from their first two records, with the edge taken off the guitars and instead given to the computers and sequencers.  They give the whole album a precise, punchy tech sound that is its own form of heavy.  No wonder:  Dave “Rave” Ogilvie was an engineer.

A dense ballad called “I Dream in Infrared” has sorrow, but flowing through the veins of a computer.  Geoff Tate blows minds with his incredible voice and singing ability, layered for maximum effect.  In 1991 it was remixed acoustically for a single B-side, and that version is a bonus track on the remastered edition.  The original was perfect for what it was, but the acoustic mix is more accessible to outsiders.  It ends suddenly and the metallic guitars of “The Whisper” enter, accompanied by clock-like percussion.  Rage For Order has many songs with layered, overlapping vocals and you can hear that on the chorus.  It is a cold, sterile but powerful track.

The strangest song was actually the lead single, “Gonna Get Close to You”.  It was the only cover Queensryche ever put on one of their studio albums, a track by Canadian songstress Lisa DalBello.  In the hands of Geoff Tate, it becomes a creepy song of a stalker with a strangely rousing pre-chorus.  “You think I’m a fool or maybe some kind of lunatic?  You say I’m wasting my time but I know what to do with it.  It’s as plain as black and white.  I’m gonna get close to you.”  Cree-hee-eepy!  Which is the point.  The bizarre samples and synths only deepen the macabre.  DalBello’s original is perhaps even creepier, but Tate’s pompous bravado adds its own slant.  “If you knew my infinite charm, there’d be no reason to be so alarmed…”

As an added bonus, a 12″ extended version of “Gonna Get Close to You” is included in the bonus tracks, but like most extended versions from the 1980s, it’s very choppy and awkward.

Along with the technology, there is a theme of loneliness on Rage For Order, and “Gonna Get Close to You” plays into that.  “The Killing Words” contains more heartbreak on the album’s second ballad (third if you count “Gonna Get Close to You”).  Tate’s voice is drenched in pain.  A 1994 acoustic version from the “Bridge” CD single is included as a bonus track.

“Surgical Strike” is a brilliant track, fast and heavy, and working with the technology.  The lyrics are brilliant and quite prescient.

It’s lonely in the field,
that we send our fighters to wander.
They leave with minds of steel,
It’s their training solution.
We’ve programmed the way,
It leads us to Order.
There’s no turning back.

A Surgical Strike.
We’ve taught them not to feel.
performance is their task,
A Surgical Strike,
Its time is arriving now for you.

The plan for the day,
will be swift as the lightning they harness.
The atom display,
It’s not mindless illusion,
At master control, assessment will not,
Be by humans.
There’s no turning back…

It feels like this future is not very far off.

One of the most techy tracks is “Neue Regel”.  Clockwork percussion, strangely computerized lead vocals, and intelligently used samples paint a scene of a future battlefield, complete with bomb-like drum sounds.  The multi-layered chorus is one of Queensryche’s most perfect.  Respect to Geoff Tate.  When the man was at his peak, nobody could touch him, both vocally and as a songwriter.  Of course one must also remember the other side of the equation, which was guitarist Chris DeGarmo.  He has more songwriting credits on this album than Geoff Tate, including two solo credits (“The Whisper” and “I Will Remember”).

The future continues to look cold and dark on “Chemical Youth (We Are Rebellion)”.  “Our religion is technology” is one line, and if only Tate knew how right he was!  There is a still a spark of hope and that is the young.  “Chemical Youth” is one of the heaviest tracks on the album, and sonically very interesting too.  The next ballad “London” fades in with a synthy bass line.  Loneliness returns.  “There’s some things in life I could never face.  The worst is being alone.”

The technology slant hits its peak on the brilliant “Screaming in Digital”.  Describing this song can do it no justice.  It is like listening to Queensryche within the gleaming sterile walls of the dystopian sci-fi classic THX-1138.  There is far too much going on underneath it all to absorb in just a few listens.  You will hear new sounds you never noticed before even 30 years later.  Artificial intelligence has never rocked so heavy.

I am the beat of your pulse,
The computer word made flesh,
We are one you and I,
We are versions of the same,
When you can see what I feel,
Don’t turn your back on me,
Or you might find that your dreams,
Are only program cards.

Fucking chilling!

“Screaming in Digital” must be counted on any list of Queensryche’s best music.  It is sheer genius, far beyond what their hard rock peers were peddling.  It was also years ahead of its time.  By crossing digital techniques with heavy metal in such an intelligent way, Queensryche truly were breaking new ground.

“I Will Remember” is the final song, a ballad that seems to tie it all together.  It has the feel of a lonely ballad, while lyrically tying up the technology concept.  “And we wonder how machines can steal each other’s dreams.”  Another Queensryche classic, including a genius DeGarmo acoustic guitar solo.  Shades of the future “Silent Lucidity” too (also written by DeGarmo).

There are four bonus tracks including the three discussed above.  The last one is a 1991 live version of “Walk in the Shadows”, which appears to be a mix of two different performances judging by the credits.  Whatever the case may be, it’s cool to get a live version of this incredible song as a coda to the album.

Queensryche took the conceptual approach to its logical apex next time out with Operation: Mindcrime.  They ditched the technology and went back to guitars and even added an orchestra.  For that reason, Rage For Order is very unique in the collection.  It was a sound they have never repeated.  Operation: Mindcrime had a sequel, but Rage For Order never will.

5/5 stars

 

 

 

REVIEW: Queensryche – Tribe (2003)

FLAMING TURDS

“Flaming Turds” artwork courtesy of SARCA at CAUGHT ME GAMING.  Thanks Sarca!

We continue with the WEEK OF FLAMING TURDS!  We’re looking at a collection of malodorous music.  Strike a match, you’ll need it for these stinkers!  Today, please welcome to the stage, Mr. Geoff Tate.

Scan_20160228QUEENSRŸCHE – Tribe (2003 Sanctuary)

Queensryche fans have had a lot to deal with over the last 20 years.  Uneven albums, lineup changes, framed by occasional flashes of brilliance were the norm up until recently.  The most significant obstacle was the 1997 departure of Chris DeGarmo, their chief songwriter and beloved guitarist.  Overall burnout caused by band turmoil led DeGarmo to retire from music altogether and follow his dream of becoming a pilot.  Later statements from the band (during their legal battle with former singer Geoff Tate) claimed outright that he left because of “Geoff Tate’s personal demeanor” with the guitarist.  In his absence, Tate took over the role of primary songwriter and began leading the band.  Their first post-DeGarmo album was 1999’s Q2k, a pretty heavy record that was largely dismissed by fans for being a departure from style and quality.  DeGarmo’s replacement guitarist Kelly Gray was let go shortly after the Live Evolution album.  Struggling to come up with material for another album, Queensryche called Chris DeGarmo up on the telephone.  The guitarist softened his stance and readied himself to make a full return to the band.  He wrote, played guitar in the studio and even took part in photo shoots.  Fans hoped for something special that would live up to the Queensryche legacy from this reunion.  It was not to last.  The same old strains returned between DeGarmo and Tate, and it was over before it started.

Fandom felt the wind taken out of its sails, and eyebrows were raised at the sudden second departure.  The released album Tribe featured five co-writes from Chris DeGarmo, and one from new Queensryche guitarist Mike Stone (ex-Peter Criss), who was hired shortly after.  Both Stone and DeGarmo receive credit as special guests.  Upon listening, best hopes for the album were dashed.  Tribe‘s 10 songs come off as half-baked outtakes from a better album that was  never made.  Some of the blame must go to the production, a flat and dry sounding affair.  However that cannot explain the dull songs.  It’s not all bad — “Open Your Eyes” features a damn fine, exotic sounding riff, probably contributed by DeGarmo.  They just couldn’t construct a memorable song around it, and Tate couldn’t seem to get his singing into gear.

The sole Mike Stone co-write, “Losing Myself” is a programmed mess of samples without a song.  The chorus sounds like an outtake from the dreary Hear in the Now Frontier album.  Same with the acoustic “Falling Behind”, which is too bad because it’s one of the songs on which you can hear Chris DeGarmo’s playing.  In fact, Tribe in general might be considered Hear in the Now Part II, so similar are they.

The only real quality musical moment happens on the DeGarmo co-write “Desert Dance”.  Exotic and heavy but with an actual song built out of it, “Desert Dance” gets you moving.  Drummer Scott Rockenfield throws a lot of percussion tricks into it, emphasizing the exotic (this is true of the album in general).  Tate actually sounds alive on this, becoming the cheerleader of the album.  “Desert Dance” was the only song that had me reaching for the volume knob to turn it up.  One other decent track is “Rhythm of Hope”, a co-write with Eddie Jackson and Scott Rockenfield that sounds like it was an effort to be the second “Silent Lucidity”.  Unfortunately that moment has passed.

It’s worth noting that the only member to have a songwriting credit on every song in Geoff Tate.  I place the blame for Tribe‘s lack of life at his feet.  The album is only 41 minutes, but it is a long 41 minutes.  Difficult to finish, hard to like and easy to forget, Tribe remains a chore today.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Queensryche – Road to Promised Land (1995 EMI promo)

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QUEENSRŸCHE – Road to Promised Land (1995 EMI promotional “best of” CD)

20 years ago, good buddy T-Rev let me know this little treasure had arrived in his store (first discussed in Record Store Tales part 120).  Released to promote the 1995 Promised Land tour, Queensryche’s Road to Promised Land AKA Arrived! was a neat little greatest hits package released well before their actual Greatest Hits several years later.  This is a promo CD released by EMI in the United States, and it covers every Queensryche release to date.

From the original EP is not “Queen of the Reich”, but “The Lady Wore Black”.  The ballad starting the set is an odd but explainable choice.  Queensryche were playing “The Lady Wore Black” on tour, but Geoff Tate didn’t enjoy singing “Queen of the Reich” and tried to avoid doing so.  Being so full of powerful metal drama, even as a ballad, “The Lady Wore Black” can work as an opener.  Then “Take Hold of the Flame” follows, one of the best Queensryche songs of all time (from the first LP The Warning).  Unfortunately that is the only inclusion from The Warning, although it is certainly a must.  Geoff Tate used screams as a art form on this song like no other.  You want metal drama?  They opening tracks are Metal Drama 101.

Two tracks are selected from Rage For Order, and they are fairly obvious choices:  “Walk in the Shadows” [“WALK WITH MEAT!“] and “I Will Remember”.  It is a given that both are high quality songs, from an album that can be difficult to pick individual hits.  The opening part of the CD feels rushed, with the critical first EP and two albums giving up only four songs.  Keep in mind that these albums now make up a large bulk of Queenryche 2015’s set, although that wasn’t the case in 1995 with their original singer.

From the brilliant landmark concept album Operation: Mindcrime are three selections:  “I Don’t Believe in Love”, “Eyes of a Stranger” and “Revolution Calling”.  Once again these are fairly obvious choices, being the three singles from the album.  Strangely, “Eyes of a Stranger” was not edited down and is the full 6:39 cut, complete with album outro.  Their most successful LP yet, Empire, was also give three inclusions.  “Best I Can”, “Jet City Woman” and “Silent Lucidity” were three great singles.  I wonder why the title track “Empire” wasn’t used?  I think it’s more identifiable than “Best I Can”.

Rolling into Promised Land for the final three tracks, it is plain sailing to hear the evolution of the band over their first decade.  Although the metal got tuned down in favour of more drama and radio-friendly elements, one thing that never changed was their urge to experiment.  Indeed, the first Promised Land single “I Am I” features plenty of daring sounds.  (This version of “I Am I” fades out rather than skipping directly into “Damaged”.)  From cello (by Chris DeGarmo) to tribal percussion to innovative vocal effects, “I Am I” proved that Queensryche could rock progressively in the increasingly alternative 1990’s.  Lyrically, they were as serious as ever but more personal.  The ballad “Bridge” was about DeGarmo’s relationship with his father.  Finally, the heavy-as-plutonium “Damaged” closes the CD abruptly.  That’s the problem with these record company assembled promo CDs.  They are not designed to play as an album.  They are designed for radio use and store play.  In other words the only real consideration is including all the individual tracks you want to plug.  Like “I Am I”, “Damaged” too was edited for radio.  They shaved three seconds off in fades, because normally these songs flow together on album.

Rating a CD like this is kind of pointless, because it was never meant to be sold.  But let’s say you don’t own any Queensryche, and you saw this used while wandering the shops.  Would it be a good Queensryche purchase for somebody looking for a good overview of the classic years?

Yes.  Absolutely.

3/5 stars

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

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Gallery of CD singles below!

REVIEW: Queensryche – Hear in the Now Frontier

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HITNF_0001QUEENSRYCHE – Hear in the Now Frontier (1997, 2003 EMI remaster)

I remember when this album came out in the spring of ’97. There was anticipation and a certain amount of fear: How could Queensryche possibly top Promised Land? The band, as always chose to do something different. In this case they dropped the production, sound effects, and themes, and created a stripped down album of individual unrelated songs. That’s the nice way of putting it. Critics of the album say “Queensryche went grunge,” or “Queensryche went alternative.”

Whatever you call it, this is not a great album. There are some truly great songs, but they are in the minority, swimming through a sea of padding. Guitarist Chris DeGarmo wrote the music for almost every song here, and about half of the lyrics. He even got his first lead vocal (“All I Want”).  Even though Hear in the Now Frontier (God I hate that title) isn’t a great album, Queensryche has missed DeGarmo’s presence.  This was his last album with the band.

As I said, there are some great songs.  They include:

  • “Get A Life” – Not very Ryche, but it’s a heavy rocker based on the riff and Geoff Tate’s shredding vocal melody.
  • “All I Want” – A piano-based ballad with a nice rhythm, very different from anything Queensryche have done before or since.
  • “Hit The Black” – Grungy, distorted lead vocals drive this heavy riff-oriented groove rocker.  I like it.
  • “Anytime/Anywhere” – Another heavy rocker that would have fit right in on the Q2k album.
  • “sp00l” – The only song that I might describe as progressive, and the one that sounds the most like Queensryche.  Powerful vocal and melody. Sonically interesting, and centered on the bass guitar much like “Della Brown” or “Promised Land”.

But that’s pretty much it for me. The other 9 tracks I would describe as dry, flat, not memorable, melodically poor and homogenous. It is clear that the vision for this record was to make something that sounded stripped down, and even with odd flourishes such as violin and piano, it’s just too boring. Even the cover art (by Hugh Syme again) stinks.

There are four bonus tracks, all of which are decent. Three songs come from the “Sign Of The Times” CD single; “Chasing Blue Skies” is a studio track, and had it been on the album, it would have been one of the best songs. Why it was left for a B-side, I don’t know. Maybe because they didn’t want another ballad on the record, which was already bogged down by slow numbers? Anyway it’s great, and sounds like something from Promised Land. Then there are three MTV Unplugged tracks, all fantastic. “Silent Lucidity” and “The Killing Words” were released as B-sides, but “I Will Remember” was completely unreleased in audio format until now. These songs are all considered rarities, as the singles have been out of print for over a decade.  They are at least worth having, even if you don’t like the album.

2/5 stars

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