Photo Credit: Florian Stangl, Ryan Woolies

Photo Credit: Florian Stangl, Ryan Woolies

Its 1984, and USA Network evening programming ‘Night Flight’ is in full swing.  Suddenly, a new heavy metal video is about to premiere. Filmed in Japan, it is live footage from newcomers Queensryche for the song “Take Hold of The Flame.”

As a young teen, I could hardly contain myself at just the mention of a “new metal band.” I always wanted to know more than the next guy about hard rock music. This is the moment when it happened: I was hooked. For life. I was immediately impressed by the chains surrounding the drum kit, and then there it was. That voice.

After begging my mother to take me to the local music store, I came home with both Queensryche albums available at the time, the self-titled EP and their then-new release, ‘The Warning.’ I had become accustomed to the usual hard hitting fare of Van Halen, AC/DC and the most recently discovered Motley Crue, yet somehow this new band laid a more solid foundation to my overall taste that would guide my personal listening well into the future.

Without the influence of this Washington-based unit, I may have never explored the progressive metal themes of bands like Fates Warning, Dream Theater, Shadow Gallery, Sanctuary and Silent Room. Hell, at the tender age of 13, though late to the party, if it weren’t for Queensryche I may have never dove into the sounds of Iron Maiden the way that I did! It isn’t coincidental that I bought ‘Piece of Mind’ and ‘Killers’ after I owned Queensryche’s ‘The Warning.’

For the members of Queensryche, their next album ‘Rage For Order’ (this writer’s personal favorite metal album to date) would be an even greater installment and the story only grew from there. They seemingly could do no wrong for a string of six albums. Few bands could ever make such a claim to have released so many great albums in sequential order; arguably, this was a feat only accomplished by bands on the level of The Beatles, Rush and Led Zeppelin.

However, it’s after the release of ‘Promised Land’ and the following ‘Hear in the Now Frontier’ where things began to go astray. After all the years of subpar releases with spotty examples of a still alive but barely breathing existence, dedicated fans such as myself find reason to be excited about Queensryche once again. Could it be that all the drama and controversy could produce double the pleasure with two pending releases from both camps since the conclusion of the infamous Queensryche court case?

I consider myself to be a core fan of Queensryche. I was always flabbergasted by the vocal talents of Geoff Tate. He was in a league of vocalists only shared by the masters, Rob Halford, Ronnie James Dio and Bruce Dickinson. Quite frankly in his prime, he was even better in a multitude of ways.

Gradually, age took somewhat of a toll on his vocals, but the voice was still undeniably unique and worthy of the microphone. Tate eventually didn’t seem to be interested in making metal music anymore, going as far to proclaim “rock is dead” in several interviews. The band no longer seemed like it was enjoying itself in the live setting and a nasty split ensued.

Dedicated to a Reboot: A Breakdown of the Queensryche Case

Fans often point to the departure of Chris DeGarmo as the downturn in the band’s sound, however DeGarmo was still in the band at the release of ‘Hear in the Now Frontier’ and it was arguably at that point that the real trouble actually began with fans of the group.

At ‘HITNF’ and beyond, Queensryche seemingly went off the tracks. After six celebrated albums of heavy metal bliss, album sales progressively went downward from that album all the way to the woefully received 2011 record ‘Dedicated to Chaos.

Many devout followers of the band (me among them) still spent money on every subsequent release out of respect to the band’s past with the hope lightning would one day strike again.  I will argue that ‘American Soldier’ is as close as they every got to making an epic and complete album.

Having had the chance to meet the band on two occasions, I noticed a distance between the band and Tate. While the guys in the band were very gracious and often comedic, Tate was aloof and just rubbed me the wrong way. This was particularly true when I met the band in Charlotte while out supporting ‘Dedicated to Chaos.

So, when the band started playing under the name Rising West on the heels of the ‘Dedicated to Chaos’ Tour, many advocate fans could sense something was stirring in the camp.The spin-off band featured a vocalist at the helm named Todd La Torre, and they were playing early Ryche songs not often heard anymore in a live setting.

Soon reports surfaced from Brazil of Tate spitting on Scott Rockenfield and a reported physical altercation with Michael Wilton revealed the ugly truth. With the announcement of Tate’s departure, it wasn’t long for a very public court battle to ensue. The stories from written affidavits of the band members rapidly found their way across the online metal forums and publications.

While he was once a hero, Tate ultimately discredited the very brand he helped to make famous. In retrospect, it wasn’t DeGarmo’s absence alone that lead to the decline of the once-mighty Queensryche.   

For a while, we had two Queensryches: One inhabited by three original members, and one led by Tate himself alongside a who’s who of former members from prominent 80’s rock bands. The two camps released albums just a couple of months apart. The dividing line well defined, decisions can be made for the fans themselves. Sure, it is possible to like both albums, but one is unmistakably better than the other.

Tate’s release, ‘Frequency Unknown’ does have some highlights and would have been much better received as a Geoff Tate solo effort. The album is actually better than ‘Dedicated To Chaos,’ which also would arguably be best left as a Tate solo record as well. The comical cover art depicting a fist coming through a wall with ‘F.U.’ rings is just childish, but the material itself does contain some very good highlights that any core fan of Tate or Queensryche should enjoy.

As for the band themselves, Whip, Scott, Parker, and Ed Bass, along with La Torre, released a self-titled album that while short, was the closest return to form delivered since ‘Promised Land.’ It has a noticeable energy to it that has been absent for many years on a Queensryche release. It comes across as a collaborative effort of a band that has found a new purpose.

 

Both camps improved on where they last made music with ‘Dedicated To Chaos.’ Now, the smoke has cleared and Tate has a band called Operation: Mindcrime. Meanwhile, Queensryche is preparing to release its sophomore effort with La Torre.  Perhaps these two new albums will give fans a sense of direction of what the future holds for both camps.

Emotions have calmed, the story of the split has been told, and now the music is all that will matter. The first two releases by both camps make individual statements that say “We can still do this.” But now the real test begins. As O:M releases ‘The Key’ and Queensryche releases ‘Condition Human,’ there is a sense that we will see into the future of how things will fare for two bands instead of one.

Is there actually an advantage to all the drama we just witnessed? Will either band recapture the glory of the late 80s and early 90s? The latter remains doubtful. The industry has completely changed, and listening is very fragmented.  Tate has his fans and the band has theirs, and unfortunately there is still a lot of remaining venom between the fans.

A quick run through of the comments to our earlier articles and one can see some of the most dark insults ever cast. It’s like the Hatfields and McCoys out there! “Tate is Queensryche!” “The band is the sound of Queensryche!” Such statements are the kindest ways to show the distaste that exists out there.

The mature voice in my forty-five year old mind is telling me to embrace the change. Be excited for new music and perhaps we will get double the pleasure.  While Tate’s actions have disappointed many fans, does anyone really want to see him fail? He was an iconic metal singer for a very long time, and he is loaded with talent. We should all look forward to hearing what he has to offer.

Perhaps the fresh approach will wake up a new and purposeful sense of creativity in Geoff that he no longer felt he had with the band. Perhaps the band will feel the freedom to bring a harder brand of metal back to the band’s name. Either scenario leads to something that is always fantastic… new music!

Stay tuned in to Music Enthusiast for reviews of the pending releases.