Judging Adversaries: Queensrÿche

Who’s on trial?

Seattle’s Queensrÿche once was the number one progressive Metal band on the planet. With Geoff Tate’s high wails, their unpredictable song structure, Scott Rockenfield’s unconventional rhythms and the heavy riffs and soaring twin melodies of Michael Wilton and Chris DeGarmo made ‘The Warning’ and ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ timeless classics in the field of progressive Metal.

However, with the release of the overrated hack known as ‘Empire’, the band ditched all Metal and everything released after the following masterpiece ‘Promised Land’ isn’t all that progressive anymore either. Modern Rock music which was low on both inspiration and direction gradually took over Queensrÿche’s albums. The temporary return of the departed DeGarmo resulted in one more decent album (‘Tribe’), followed by a couple of true atrocities, including a less than satisfactory sequel to ‘Operation: Mindcrime’.

In what only can be described as an embarrassing soap series of events best documented elsewhere, Tate and the rest of Queensrÿche separated. The direct result of that is the release of two new albums bearing the name Queensrÿche recorded by two completely different groups of musicians. Tate and a wide array of guest musicians are heard on ‘Frequency Unknown’, while Wilton, Rockenfield, founding bassist Eddie Jackson, guitarist Parker Lundgren and new singer Todd LaTorre recorded ‘Queensrÿche’.


Tate’s ‘Frequency Unknown’ was the first album to be released. If the not so subtle album cover didn’t give it away, the lyrics will tell you that Tate is extremely dissatisfied with what happened. The downtuned and extremely heavy rhythm guitars courtesy of Forbidden axeman Craig Locicero – who isn’t an official member of Tate’s Queensrÿche lineup, but is the most important musician next to Tate on the album – accentuate that dissatisfaction.

Although the lack of a set lineup doesn’t exactly contribute to a consistent record, my inital reaction to ‘Frequency Unknown’ was one of pleasant surprise. Part of that is opening track ‘Cold’, which is without any doubt the best track Tate has done in many years. Melodic vocally, heavy guitar-wise and with a great chorus, this was above my expectations. Sadly, that level isn’t reached again until the epic closing track ‘The Weight Of The World’, which spots a mind blowing Chris Poland guitar solo. The album does have a few decent tracks however (‘Life Without You’, ‘In The Hands Of God’), which makes this album the best album with Tate’s involvement since ‘Tribe’, despite its juvenile lyrics and the borderline embarrassing remakes of classic Queensrÿche tracks.

Wilton, Jackson, Rockenfield and Lundgren teamed up with Tate-soundalike Todd LaTorre, who did a commendable job replacing Midnight in Crimson Glory. Their first release remained untitled. Not a very smart move business-wise, since the fantastic first EP has no title either, but it does fit the band’s rebirth if you will. The main difference in atmosphere is that ‘Queensrÿche’ seems to celebrate the relief of a new beginning, where ‘Frequency Unknown’ appears to be a bitter look on what happened.

‘Queensrÿche’ is actually a good album. It’s obvious the album was rushed, as evidenced by its limited length, but the album contains a couple of really good songs. Initially, it took me a couple of minutes to get into the album, but opening track ‘Where Dreams Go To Die’ is a slow burner. This is what Queensrÿche was about before their identity crisis. The melodic Heavy Metal is present in tracks like ‘Spore’, ‘Don’t Look Back’, ‘Vindication’ and the awesome ‘Fallout’, whereas the progressive side is represented by ‘A World Without’, ‘Open Road’ and the fantastic ‘In This Light’. ‘Redemption’, ironically the first track to surface, is the only less impressive moment on the album.

The verdict

Though ‘Queensrÿche’ isn’t yet the grand return to what Queensrÿche used to be, it’s an album that offers hope for a great future. LaTorre is more than able to fill Tate’s shoes – check out the bonus live tracks on the limited edition for the ultimate proof – and I hope that in a few years we can look back on ‘Queensrÿche’ as the record released to see if people would still be into Queensrÿche at their best. ‘Frequency Unknown’ was definitely exceeding my expectations, but doesn’t by far have the replay value that ‘Queensrÿche’ has.

It’s not my position to decide who is the rightful owner to the Queensrÿche name, but the album battle has been won by Wilton, Jackson and Rockenfield. That is the version of the band I would like to see live. It’s not yet album-of-the-year material, but it does show the first steps toward something that might just be that good.

    • arayeph
    • July 2nd, 2013

    There are some out there that think the 2 Queensryche entities (Kweenswrecks?) will both have the right to keep the names after the court battle plays out this autumn. Kind of like Saxon with the different members last name distinguishing the two bands – Jackson/Rockenfield/Wilton Queensryche and Geoff Tate’s Queensryche or whatever they choose to call it. This could be the right way to do things but the very small (miniscule?) online fan bases of each will call farce and only try and slug each other into oblivion on Facebook/Youtube. Really is a futile war nobody cares about except maybe less than 10,000 people in cyberspace.

    • Legally, it’s probably a delicate thing, otherwise it would probably already have been decided. With this review, I mainly wanted to point out the irony that all musicians involved have made the best record they’ve done in quite a while.
      I’m not saying one lineup “deserves” the name more than the other, although sentimentally, I’m leaning towards Wilton. The Saxon example you name is an apt one. I used to think Byford and Quinn “deserved” the name for keeping it alive so long. Last year my band opened for Oliver/Dawson Saxon and we all thought they captured the classic Saxon spirit much better. I wouldn’t call the discussion futile – there’s still people arguing over Bon Scott vs. Brian Johnson and Johnson’s been fronting the AC/DC for over three decades now – but it’s a tricky decision.
      One thing is for sure: I need to get myself tickets to see Wilton, Jackson and Rockenfield perform in Eindhoven in November!

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