Operation: Mindcrime

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: Queensrÿche – Queensrÿche (2013 Japanese edition with bonus tracks)

QUEENSRŸCHE – Queensrÿche (2013 Avalon Japanese import)

RYCHE2013_0004I purchased and reviewed the domestic “deluxe edition” of Queensryche (2013) in July of this year.  I initially gave it a 3.25/5 stars, but I have since revised that score to 3.5/5.  The album continues to appeal to me greatly months later, which is more than I can say for most Queensryche discs since Promised Land.  At the end of that review, I cryptically added, “Oh, and the live bonus tracks absolutely smoke.”

Since nobody likes a tease, I’ve decided to focus on all four live tracks for this review.  For the very reasonable price of $32 USD plus $3 shipping, I had a sealed copy of Queensryche sent to me from Japan, so I now have all four live tracks.  If you want the short report:  They’re good enough that Queensryche should consider releasing a full live CD/DVD.  I’d buy it based on these four tracks.  But nobody comes to mikeladano.com for the short version.

“Queen of the Reich” is the first song I ever heard from the original  Queensryche, as I suspect is true for most of the band’s fanbase.  Right from the opening scream, I feel that this is the band that represents Queensryche.  Every note is nailed, as is every scream.  On this song Todd La Torre can do no wrong, but not just that.  I would say that his versions are, in general, fresh sounding.  He is reverent to the originals, but I also hear his own voice.  I must also commend Scott Rockenfield.  His drums are heavy as fuck, and his bass drum precisely punctuates every beat.

“En Force” is a welcome surprise.  In 2001, Eddie Jackson told me that it was considered in the running for the Live Evolution album but did not make the cut.  The good news is the guys still know how to play it!  This has never been my absolute favourite track from The Warning, but to hear it live with all the screams intact?  That’s something I never thought would happen again.

“Prophecy” is a difficult song, and although Todd doesn’t sing it album-perfect, I have to ask myself, who else these days can sing these Queensryche songs like this?  Not too many singers.  I just hope Todd doesn’t blow out his voice.  I’m sure this kind of singing takes its toll.

Last is the classic “Eyes of a Stranger”.  This is the only bonus track not from the stone ages of the Ryche, the only representation of Operation: Mindcrime.  It is actually this track, in many respects, that shows off the talents of Todd La Torre.  It is another side of the spectrum, and Todd pulls this off as well.  Look, I know Geoff Tate’s the original, etc. etc.  I get that.  Focused on the here and now, this is how I’d like to hear Queensryche sound.  Heavy, slightly progressive rock music with shredding vocals.  That’s what I like, and Queensryche deliver on these four bonus tracks.

Lastly, a word about Parker Lundgren.  I remember when Kelly Gray joined the band, on Live Evolution he lent a different sound to the band.  It was good, just different.  Parker fits much more seamlessly.   He doesn’t attract attention to himself by playing things differently, he played it the way you remember it.

Yeah, so I bought the album twice.  You knew I was going to.  For the bonus tracks:

5/5 stars

More RYCHE:

REVIEW: Queensryche – “Redemption” (2013 single)

QUEENSRYCHE – “Redemption” (2013 single from the forthcoming new album Queensryche)

Ever since I first saw the video for “Queen of the Reich” back in, oh, ’84 or around there, I’ve been a fan of this band.  I’ve followed them through ups (Operation: Mindcrime) but pretty much abandoned them on the downs (Tribe).  As time went on it seemed that former singer Geoff Tate was in command, and his choices of direction or stage show hasn’t always been to my taste, nor that of many fans.

Hiring a new singer this late in the game is very rarely a good move.  But it seems fairly obvious that Tate was poisoning his relationship with the band and fans, and it was with relief to me when they finally fired him and moved on.  Todd La Torre is completely unknown to me, I had never heard his work with Crimson Glory.  The new Queensryche single “Redemption” from their untitled album due in June is the first time I’ve heard any of his original material.

The verdict?  It’s pretty much exactly what I expected.  It sounds like Queensryche circa Warning through to Mindcrime, but with modern touches.  There’s some solid riffing here, but not so much the audio collages of sound that Queensryche tend to do in the studio.  La Torre nails the vintage Tate vibe without adding a whole lot to it, right down to the multitracked backing vocals.  The track doesn’t expand the Queensryche sound, which is the opposite of what they used to do.  In this case I understand the reasons.  After a decade of more or less disappointing albums and wandering directions, now is not the time to experiment musically.  Queensryche had to return to a vintage sound, as demanded by their fans, and do so authentically.  I think they do this authentically by genuinely desiring to play that kind of music right now.

It’s hard to do a simple rating on a song I’ve been waiting for like this.  Am I underwhelmed?  Slightly.  Is that because I got exactly what I expected?  Probably.  Is it good?  Yes.  Am I looking forward to the album?  Big time.

3.5/5 stars

More Queensryche:

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part I

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part II

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part III

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part IV

REVIEW: Queensryche – Empire (20th Anniversary Edition)

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QUEENSRŸCHE – Empire (2010 EMI 20th Anniversay Edition)

20 years?  Wow, they sure flew by for me! When Empire first came out I bought it on cassette, and even back then I thought it was a bit too commercial. That’s not to say Empire is a bad album, but coming off Mindcrime and the killer first single “Empire”, I expected something heavier.

Now with the benefit of hindsight, you can really hear a band coming into their own identity. Empire is kind of the end of the old “heavy metal” Queensryche and the beginning of the newer more diverse Queensryche. The next album, Promised Land was a another stride further away from sheer metal, but more successfully achieved.

This box set, very nice looking and all, would have been better released as an individual live album, because disc one is identical to the previous Queensryche remaster version. The bonus tracks are the same. (“Last Time In Paris” from the Ford Fairlaine soundtrack, “Scarborough Fair” from the “Anybody Listening” single, and “Dirty L’il Secret” from the much later “I Am I” single.  Yes, “Scarborough Fair” is a Simon and Garfunkel cover.  Much more gothic though!)

The live album is from the same tour (but not the same show) as the Operation: Livecrime album. Think of this as representative of Queensryche’s non-Mindcrime live set, so if you have both albums you kind of have one complete show. It’s a good live album, although without the Mindcrime material to balance it, it is way too Empire-heavy. 7 of the 10 tracks are from Empire. That’s not me complaining really, just an observation of the feel of the set, as an album. For non-Empire material, you get the awesome “Walk In The Shadows,” “Roads to Madness”, and “Take Hold Of The Flame”, representing the first couple Queensryche full-lengths.

(As an added note, the Operation: Livecrime reissue also had one additional song not on this, which was “The Lady Wore Black” originally from the first EP.)

The live stuff sounds great, very clear with a good performance by the band. Tate is in peak voice at this point — he nails all the notes in “Take Hold”! The whole band sounds really good, especially in the backing vocals department. It also sounds pretty live and not messed with, which is my preference.  I’m sure there are backing tapes, Queensryche do use them, but the overall feel was one of spontaneity.  The liner notes claim there are no overdubs whatsoever.

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If you’re not familiar with the Empire album and you’re buying it for the first time, you are definitely going to be familiar with most of the album’s six singles:

  • “Empire”, the dark forboding tale of drug trafficking, with killer spoken word-style vocals from Geoff Tate.
  • “Best I Can”, the power pop rock song, with uplifting (but cheesey) lyrics.
  • “Silent Lucidity” one of the three songs that defined the term “power ballad” in the summer of 1991. (The other two were “More Than Words” by Extreme and “To Be With You” by Mr. Big.) A great song with brilliantly sparse-yet-lush arrangement. Still stands up today!
  • “Jet City Woman”, my personal favourite simply for that unstoppable bass groove.
  • “Anybody Listening?”, the epic album closer, and one of the all time best songs Queensryche have ever written.
  • “Another Rainy Night”, not one of the better songs, in my opinion. Kind of repeats the pop rock stylings of “Best I Can” but with lyrics about missing some girl.

There are also buried treasures within the album tracks. “Resistance” feels like a polished-up Mindcrime outtake for sheer tempo and mood. “Della Brown” is unlike anything the band ever attempted before, an atmospheric tale of a homeless woman that foreshadows the direction of Promised Land.

The band were really gelling at this point, and an album like this makes me really wish Chris DeGarmo was still in the band. He wrote or co-wrote almost every song, and his backing vocals really enrich the record. Everybody was playing great, though, and big props to Eddie Jackson for his killer bass sound.

The package includes an Empire poster, booklet, and five postcards featuring stills from the “Empire” music video.

To sum up, there is absolutely nothing wrong musically with this album, or the bonus live album. This is a 5 star album for music, for packaging, for sound, and all that stuff. I have to deduct one star simply because the first disc is just the same Empire I already owned and I think the live disc on its own could have been released alone for the 20th anniversary of Empire.

4/5 stars (5 for music -1 for rebuying the album, again!)

More Queensryche:

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part I

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part II

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part III

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part IV

CONCERT REVIEW: Queensryche / Type O Negative – Toronto Ontario, July 27, 1995, Molson Amphitheatre

I’m a pack rat.  I keep everything.  I just dug up this vintage concert review.  I wrote this the day after the concert, so memories were fresh!  I’ve made some minor cleanups, but otherwise this is completely as-is, warts-and-all, somewhat embarrassing and a bit too long winded.  For what it’s worth, enjoy!  You might never find a more detailed write-up of the Promised Land tour!

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QUEENSRYCHE / TYPE O NEGATIVE – Toronto Ontario, July 27, 1995, Molson Amphitheatre

(written by Mike Ladano, on July 28 1995, never published)

On July 27 1995, Queensryche, possibly the only great progressive rock band that is still progressing, conquered the Molson Amphitheatre in triumph.  The road has been long and hard for these boys, they put out their first vinyl in 1983.  Despite all the changes in rock today, Queensryche came out and put on one high-tech wonder of a show that rocked and stimulated.

The band opened with the taped intro of “9:28 am”, the opening track of the Promised Land CD.  Their stage was bare, except for two platforms, a keyboard and a drum kit.  The drum kit was encased in plexiglass, which seemed unusual at the time.  [I know now that this was to keep the drums from bleeding into other microphones on stage.]  One could pick out dozens of lasers, lights and effects just waiting to be used.  Behind the stage were two monstrous projection screens, much like the band used on the Empire tour.

After the intro, Chris DeGarmo, Michael Wilton, Eddie Jackson and Scott Rockenfield roared onto the stage with “I Am I” which was accompanied by a video of Geoff Tate wandering though a desert encountering all sorts of strange mirages based on the lies of the American Dream.  Then the Tatemeister himself appeared on stage, wearing suit and tie, and being hounded by a half dozen journalists harassing him all over the stage.  It was, of course, all part of the show.

The band segued from there straight into “Damaged”, just as they do on record.  The press ripped off Tate’s suit, leaving him in a pair of bicycle shorts.  The band continued to rage through this song, complete with distorted vocal effects from the album.

The band took a breather there, playing their acoustic hit single “Bridge”, a “Cats In the Cradle” story about Chris DeGarmo’s father.  Again, this came with constant bombardment of images on the backing screens.  It was extremely difficult to stay focused on any one thing on stage, however, Geoff Tate is a very animated frontman; moving and contorting about, acting out his words, while he and the video screens fight for attention.

From here, the band took a trip down memory lane that I’ll not soon forget.  Upon entering, I said I wanted to hear old obscure Queensryche.  I wanted to hear “Neue Regel” and “NM 156”.  The band went right into those songs, as well as “Screaming In Digital” from Rage For Order.   For these songs (which used distorted computerized vocals before Trent Reznor had even envisioned such a thing), Tate sang like a computer or a Dalek from Dr. Who.  Then, when a burst of power was needed, the distortion would come off, and Tate would rip his lungs out with vocals from hell.

Geoff Tate’s voice was stronger here than the way I remembered it from the video footage of the Empire tour, which was nice to see.  He did falter, especially on those incredible highs, but this was also refreshing:  It meant he was not relying on backing tapes.  The entire band played well, never straying too far from their recorded album parts, but just enough for there to be an audible difference.

“My Global Mind”, a song about the information superhighway and the artificial ties it makes between nations, contained some disturbing film footage:  Saddam Hussein, and children starving in Africa.

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I always said Scott Rockenfield was Queensryche’s version of Rush’s Neil Peart, and last night he proved this.  With his hair shorn, and receding hairline revealed, he now not only sounds like Peart but looks like Peart!  Encased behind the plexiglass, he played with precision and power, even more so than on the album.  Chris DeGarmo had also cut his hair short(er) which was disappointing.  He used to have Godlike hair!

The band kicked into overdrive, playing tunes from the landmark Operation: Mindcrime album.  Their heaviest material came on even heavier live, with more power in the bass, drums and vocals.  From that album, they played in sequence:  “I Remember Now” (a taped intro with the same cartoon video footage that they used on the last tour), “Anarchy-X”, “Revolution Calling”, “Operation: Mindcrime”, “Spreading the Disease” (Geoff Tate sticks microphone in his pants and makes interesting movements), “The Mission”, and to close off the Mindcrime portion, “Eyes of a Stranger”.  For this conceptual section, Tate came out dressed as the album’s protagonist Nikki, in leather pants and jacket, shedding the shorts.

“Empire”, which came across as brutally heavy live, was accompanied by the drug-dealing video footage from their MTV video, but with added stuff as well, which made it more fun to watch.

Queensryche played the entire Promised Land album from start to finish [but not in sequence] which came as a surprise to everyone.  What came as even more of a surprise was how well this densely layered recording came off, live.

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The title track, “Promised Land”, was most interesting.  As a film played of Tate and his family buying a home (and of course not being able to afford it), the roadies ripped apart the stage and set up something else in darkness.  Then, the lights came on.  On stage was now a bar, a few tables with a ton of patrons (roadies and the drummer [Johnny Kellyfrom Type O Negative), and a tiny little stage off to the side, where a second drum kit now sat.

The band walked through the bar dressed in matching suits, just like any lounge act.  They played some piano-based barroom jazz number until, now assembled on that tiny postage stamp sized stage, they rumbled into “Promised Land”.  Tate sat at the bar, wearing pink shirt and beige pants (matching his get-up from the video footage), singing this song of disillusion.  This was also the first live appearance of his saxophone.  Just like on the album, he would play sax breaks in between verses.

Although this is one of the most serious songs you would ever want to hear, this was the last show of the tour, and it was time for the road crew to cut loose with some comedy.  One of the bar patrons slow-danced center stage with a blow-up doll through the entire 8 minute song!

The videos came back on as the bar set was torn down, and again replaced with the plastic-encased drum kit.  The band rumbled into “Disconnected”, with more saxophone.

Before “Out of Mind”, Tate began with a speech about people who might be viewed as different.  “You…your hair’s not the right length.  And your hair’s just…not the right colour.  What would you do if one day, those men in white coats came knocking on your door?”

From behind, a butt-ugly roadie dressed as a nurse in a yellow wig put Tate into a wheelchair.  (Normally, an actress plays the nurse, but like I said, this was closing night!)  Tate sang the song from the chair, using a mirror as a prop.  He would sing into the mirror while a hidden camera filmed his reflection, and projected it onto the big screens.

The band closed their set with a predictable final tune.  Of course, it had to be “Silent Lucidity”.  For this song, five large transparent curtains came down on stage, concealing the drums and Chris DeGarmo.  Suddenly, laser projectors came on, and presented amazing dream-like images onto those curtains, giving the illusion that they were suspended in air.

The crowd, as expected, went absolutely bonkers for this song, singing along to every word.  Bowing, Queensryche left the stage in triumph….

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…And returned with their early classic, “Take Hold Of the Flame” from their very first full-length album, The Warning.  Of course, this went over amazingly.  There were some diehard fans in this audience who knew the words to even the most obscure music that Queensryche could throw at them.

Queensryche ended their encore with perhaps the greatest song they have ever written:  “Someone Else?”  Chris DeGarmo played piano, Michael Wilton played some quiet backing guitar, and Scott Rockenfield added some cymbals.  It was hard not to be blown away by Tate’s extremely emotional voice during this piece.  If anything, Tate is even more emotional live than on record.

And that was the end, the band finally leaving in triumph, for real this time.

According to some in the audience, Queensryche’s stage show topped Pink Floyd.  Believe it.  This was, by far, the greatest rock show I have ever seen.  I can’t imagine anyone, even Queensryche themselves, topping this.  This was not heavy metal:  This was theatre, and it was so fucking refreshing to see in this back-to-basics era of grunge blockheads like Pearl Jam and Nirvana.

All hail the mighty Queen of the Reich.

We missed the first few tracks from openers Type O Negative, but we could hear them just fine while eating.  They opened with “Blood and Fire” from their new album, Bloody Kisses.  We caught them halfway into the second tune, the incredible “Christian Woman”.  They then played an older tune about suicide [title long forgotten].  Said vocalist Peter Steele:  “This is a song about suicide, which we fully recommend.  I know when I get old and my body is no longer useful to society, I am going to throw myself off a building, and hopefully land on someone I hate.”  Gotta love them Type O Guys.  [Sadly, Peter Steele never had the chance to get old.]

They played only two more songs, “Too Late: Frozen” and of course “Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All)”.  Speaking of scary, these guys were not all that pleasant to look at.  Josh Silver, the keyboard player, has got to be the ugliest son of a bitch on the face of the Earth.  Peter Steele looks like he sleeps in a coffin.  Musically however, these guys were better live than on album.  On record, they come across somewhat wimpy.  Live, they are heavier and more energized.

5/5 stars

More Queensryche:

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part I

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part II

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part III

Mike Ladano: Exclusive EDDIE JACKSON interview, part IV