Produced by James Barton
The most publicised and talked-about thing in the Queensrÿche world for the last couple of years has been the split with founding vocalist Geoff Tate, the recruitment of Crimson Glory front-man Todd La Torre, and the eventual existence of two bands claiming rights to the name.
To all intents and purposes, this one is the proper Queensrÿche, having simply fired their singer, and the other one is a Geoff Tate solo band. But it all doesn't really matter. They've both got new albums and it doesn't even matter which is better, just whether each of them are independently any good.
With the split in mind for a moment, the recruitment of La Torre was the remaining band's chance to give themselves their own identity separate from Tate's distinctive voice. It is therefore a shame that all concerned have clearly approached this new batch of songs with the attitude "how would Geoff sing this?", or at least La Torre has and the others haven't argued. At times therefore Queensrÿche can sound as though a competent tribute band have tried to have a go at creating original music and ended up with something passable but badly mixed as a result. They've got a singer who does his best to ape Tate and more or less pulls it off, guitar players trying to play in the style of the classic albums from the late '80s and early '90s, and songs which reproduce several of the elements of older songs, but don't really build upon them.
The saving grace is those songs themselves though. While perhaps not quite as lyrically intelligent as days of yore, this is a catchy collection of tracks which at times genuinely do evoke nostalgia effectively, with a few terrific guitar solos into the bargain. Songs like Where Dreams Go To Die, Don't Look Back and Open Road in particular sound like they belong in a previous period of the band's career, while others like Spore and Fallout hint at a slightly heavier, more melodic new direction. Interestingly, the worst song on the album by far is lead single Redemption, which has done a fine job of lowering expectations sufficiently that the rest of the album will sound like a surprising success.
The most disappointing part of the album is the mix, which is surprising given the involvement of Operation: Mindcrime/Empire mix engineer James Barton behind the production desk. It's been widely publicised that Frequency Unknown, the new effort by Tate's version of the band, was badly mixed, resulting in their label Cleopatra Records giving anyone who bought the album a new copy with an improved mixing job, and while Century Media probably don't need to follow suit, elements of Queensrÿche do sound terrible. The worst part is the distortion on the drums. There's some obvious clipping, and murky guitars in some areas. The only part of the whole record with consistent clarity throughout is La Torre's vocals.
For a first album with a new singer in forever, it is perhaps acceptable that they haven't gone in search of a new identity just yet, and although Redemption effectively lost the first battle against Tate's Cold, it seems Queensrÿche is winning the war against Frequency Unknown as far as the fans are concerned, and it is Tate's version of the band which will be branded the "tribute band" for the time being. It would be nice to see if this new line-up can create something a little different next time out. Whether driven by Tate or not, Queensrÿche have, for better or worse, never been a band to stand still, because if they do, that "tribute band" snipe could swing the other way.
“ saving grace is those songs themselves ”
Tracklist: X2 / Where Dreams Go To Die / Spore / In This Light / Redemption / Vindication / Midnight Lullaby / A World Without / Don't Look Back / Fallout / Open Road
Limited Edition Bonus Disc: Queen of The Reich (Live) / En Force (Live) / Prophecy (Live)
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