Since April of 2012, one story from the music world has captivated fans, split fans, caused daily water cooler talk, and been the talk of the music industry on a daily basis.
We have become our own junior detectives, combed piles of posted court documents, and listened to hour long audio from hearings, studied sales charts, and raced to local retailers a light speed to support this band as we wanted to cheer for our team and hiss at the other side.
Some of us even have metal websites bookmarked on our laptops and cellphones to persistently hit “refresh” for the latest news surrounding the case and it’s two very differing sides, all leading up to a November 2013 court date to decide the fate of one of music’s most loved bands. Now that the ever suspenseful court date has been moved to January of 2014, let’s take a look back at this whirlwind time and the harrowing story of the last couple of years in the life of Queensryche.
To fully examine the impact on this court case between former singer, Geoff Tate, and original members Michael Wilton [guitar], Eddie Jackson [bass], and Scott Rockenfield [drums], and the spirit of former guitarist Chris DeGarmo, along with new guitarist Parker Lundgren who joined the band during the album, ‘Dedicated to Chaos,’ and has been a fan favorite. The rebooted Queensryche recently released a new self titled album on Century Media Records, with longtime producer Jim Barton, and ‘Sister Mary’ Pamela Moore on the album’s centerpiece, “A World Without,” which will be turned into a music video in the coming months.
On the other side Geoff Tate formed his own version of the band, per the judge in the original ruling, while they wait to go to trial. After switching out members in a flurry, trying to find the right formula, and two radically different “Sister Mary” actresses, he finally dropped down to a greatest hits package for his tour, which deviates from the original plan of celebrating the ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ album from 1988 with an all star lineup. It worked for a period of time, but never on the scale of Roger Waters’ successful ‘The Wall’ tour.
Sometime in April of 2012, a Brazilian music website posted a rather troubling story about a knife fight between Geoff Tate and the other members of Queensryche, and then the entire music world was turned upside down. Then we heard there was to be a new band called “Rising West,” playing two shows in Seattle, which the “rest of Queensryche” and a new singer, Crimson Glory’s Todd La Torre. Not long after the same promo shot of Rising West was revamped to read ‘Queensryche,’ with this same lineup, minus Geoff Tate.
That’s when things really caught my attention. After further investigations on YouTube, I found the Rising West videos of hit or miss sound quality, but perfect visuals to see the band in an intimate setting, performing with a new singer, yet at the same time apprehensive of “another band finding their singer off YouTube, such as Yes, Journey, etc.” Once I found a clip of “Eyes of a Stranger,” and one of Iron Maiden‘s “Wrathchild” I was sold. Could it be possible that Queensryche would rock again? As smoke filled the venue, the fans cheered as thought it was the 2nd coming of their favorite band, even if the posters said Rising West.
Then Geoff Tate fired back with a scathing Rolling Stone online story, assuring people that there would be a court case and that it may get ugly. Some of us shook our heads and said “Oh great, another Roger Waters vs. Pink Floyd,” another singer gone mad, and another horrible split up of one of music’s favorite bands. It’s ironic because Queensryche was usually compared to Pink Floyd in both concept albums and musical influences, with Queensryche even covering a Pink Floyd cut on its covers’ album, ‘Take Cover.’
Watching clips and music videos of the band from their ‘Empire’ and ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ era from MTV there is no hint of animosity or bad blood between the members. The band was on top of the world at the time, being nominated for awards, and performing all over MTV, even doing a critically acclaimed episode of MTV Unplugged. Queensryche later embarked on a tour supporting an album which had just sold 3 million copies with four highly successful singles. So, what gives? How do we go from the 1988-1992 era, to fighting and ejecting their lead singer, to an album released abbreviated by the initials ‘F.U.,’ leaving many in the music industry shaking their heads in disbelief.
Many will agree that in the 23 years since ‘Empire’ was released, the music industry has transformed from the days of buying tapes and CD’s, sometimes copying them to blank cassettes to pass out during high school to turn your friends onto new artists, catching new videos on MTV, then finally going to see the bands on these huge production arena/amphitheater tours.
Bands of the “Hard Rock” genre dominated everything on MTV in that four year period, and with hits like “Jet City Woman,” “Silent Lucidity,” and “Eyes of a Stranger,” Queensryche was the “it” band of the school year several times over. Their ‘Building Empires’ tour was a massively successful hit, and all seemed fine.
Then a very strange thing happens in 1992. A video debuts on the Headbangers Ball that would change everything for everyone. That video is for a song called “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and the band is Nirvana. The music industry suddenly reverts to this new thing called “Grunge” and all hell breaks loose in the hard rock world. Soon after Nirvana, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains become the new Poison, Warrant, Def Leppard, Queensryche and Cinderella: at least, according to MTV, the record labels and the charts. In one swoop, bands of even the year prior to grunge seemed outdated, and in a mad dash had to either reinvent themselves or sign with smaller independent record labels such as CMC International, among others who were sympathetic to the displaced bands.
For better or worse, it seemed that Queensryche had sat out much of the grunge era, skipping four years after Empire and before the next album, ‘Promised Land,’ which came in 1994 to a number 3 debut on the Billboard 200, along with a very successful tour complete with elaborate theatrics and a pair of unique hit singles, ‘Bridge,’ and ‘I Am I.’
All still seemed well, but in just a couple years the band returned with a challenging revamped image and slimmer, shorter songs in the loose concept of an album, ‘Hear in the Now Frontier,’ which resembled bits of Soundgarden and other like-minded artists. Both Tate and DeGarmo had taken to shortening their heavy metal hair styles, and the band embarked on their last major label tour, that did well in meshing the new experimental songs with classics from the past.
Then news broke that DeGarmo had quit. Queensryche was down to just four, meanwhile they were also done with EMI, their record label. For most fans the story ends there, and picks back up June 25th of 2013 with the release of the new rebooted self titled album, ‘Queensryche.’ This album returned the group to a top 23 debut on the Billboard charts, with a new singer and new attitude.
As if to lift the needle off the record player, making that scratching sound, in 1998 the band entered a very dark period with releases such as ‘Q2K,’ ‘Tribe,’ ‘American Soldier,’ a pair of live albums, a covers’ album and a few hits packages, for the most part trading out lead guitarists, and trading out record labels. What they were releasing was not the sort of music that brought them into the mainstream in the late 80’s/early 90’s, and things fell apart.
It was just Queensryche struggling, many of their peers saw their fortunes take a hit following Grunge. With many hard rock bands resorting to package tours, and a new phrase emerged soon after (hair metal), a term applied to bands of the hard rock era and their once chart topping image.
It became a parody, due to the artists seeming ‘outdated,’ as I said some bands tried to reinvent themselves to avoid the label. Def Leppard released a very experimental, hard rock/grunge driven album, ‘Slang,’ Poison delved into the blues with ‘Native Tongue,’ and Slaughter went psychedelic with ‘Revolution.’ As unfortunate as it sounds, once you’re out of nostalgia for these bands, and several hits albums are released, what’s left?
The same could be said for Queensryche. ‘Empire’ sold 3 million records, 23 years ago. ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ is legendary, but after struggling to find an audience from 1997 until 2012, nerves must have been wearing thin and the elephant in the room would’ve been, “How do we get back to the days of ‘Empire’ and what’s not clicking here?”