Sign of the Times

REVIEW: Queensryche – Hear in the Now Frontier

HITNF_0005

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

More RYCHE:

REVIEW: Queensryche – Q2k (Expanded edition)

Q2K FRONT

QUEENSRYCHE – Q2k (1999, 2006 expanded edition, Atlantic/Rhino)

Disclaimer: I am in a very small minority of fans who love the Q2k album. Most don’t. Many consider it a continuation of the “grungy” sounds of Hear In The Now Frontier, but weaker. That’s not my point of view, so be forewarned. Read on.

Chris DeGarmo’s departure after Hear In The Now Frontier shattered the group, but they decided to soldier on with old friend Kelly Gray (ex-Geoff Tate’s old band Myth, producer of Dokken, Candlebox, Bob Rivers etc.). Gray was a strong writer, but had a completely different style from the melodic DeGarmo. Gray’s sound is more based in heavy riffing, groove, and lots of wah-wah solos. It’s a different Queensryche and change was exactly what this band needed after the terrible Hear In The Now.

Sure, the album title sucks. I wonder if they regret it now? I’m sure they must.  Thankfully, the music inside doesn’t suck. Heavy, grooving, riffy, powerful, well recorded…I love this album. The only flaw, and the only reason this doesn’t get five stars from me, is that there is a certain sameness to the songs. Almost all have a similar groove. Yet all are catchy and enjoyable. Truly this is Queenryche at their most “rock” and rock it does!

This remastered edition, like all previous Queensryche remasters, contains liner notes by Geoff Tate and bonus tracks. The liner notes reveal the strife that the band had experienced at the time, largely due to the change in guitar players. Clearly this was not a happy time for the band but the music is only stronger for it. The bonus tracks are cool, my favourite of them being the ballad “Until There Was You”. I was always quite pleased to finally get the live version of “Sacred Ground”, originally only on the Japanese version.

Q2K INNER

Fave songs:

  • “Falling Down” – tribal thumping opens this groovy riff rocker
  • “Sacred Ground” – a droney riff that somehow works within the Queensryche context
  • “Liquid Sky” – a little more old-school on the riff, but with that same groove
  • “Breakdown” – sounds a bit too much like “Falling Down”, but is no less powerful
  • “Burning Man” – the faster side of Queensryche, furious drumming from Rockenfield, simply awesome
  • “Wot Kinda Man” – the first of the dumb Tate titles conceals a wah-wah infested rocker
  • “The Right Side Of My Mind” – the most proggy and the most old-school ‘Ryche

Bad lyrical moment: “Like electrical shock-waves in the sky.” Yikes!

Dull song:  “When The Rain Comes”.  It’s not a terrible song, just a bit too slow without building into anything memorable.

I mentioned the bonus tracks.  “Howl” is the first song, very similar to the heavier rocking songs on Q2k.  You can see why it was left off initially, as the album is already loaded with songs like this.  “Howl” is just slightly inferior in terms of melody and heaviness.  “Until There Was You” is a much better song, and I think it should have been on the album.  Indeed, the band chose this song for their anthology, Sign of the Times.  It’s a ballad with a great chorus, memorable and strong.

“Sacred Ground”, as mentioned, was the live Japanese bonus track.  This is not the same version as the one on Live Evolution, this is an earlier recording.  Collectors will be happy that they don’t have to hunt down a Japanese copy.  Lastly there’s a single edit of “Breakdown”, chopping a minute out of the song.  I wasn’t too fussed to have this one, because I already own all three promo singles from this album, from my record store days.  I was given free copies of “Breakdown”, “Falling Down”, and “The Right Side of My Mind”.  (There was no edit version of “Falling Down”, but the edit version of “Right Side” is missing from this expanded edition.  I was actually given two sets of these, but I sold the other set.)

I’m quite fond of Q2k, and I can honestly say that I haven’t liked any of the albums since then quite as much, not even Mindcrime II which should have been a slam-dunk winner. I do hope that the new Queensryche (with La Torre) will return them to the rocking glory years.

4/5 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