Tag Archives: Queensryche

2015 Albums of the Year – Part One

It’s that time of year again, when us music bloggers write our end-of-year lists of the albums that have impressed us over the past twelve months.

Usual caveats apply, of course, there are no doubt plenty of superb albums from 2015 I have yet to hear, and won’t be on my radar screen until I see them on other people’s end-of-year lists. Which, in a nutshell, is really the whole point of these things. I still think lists compiled by committees for general music publications are largely a waste of time. But this is not one of those lists.

There are 25 in my list this year, and here’s part one, going from 25 down to 18. They’re not in any particular order, consider them all 18-equal.

Caligula’s Horse – Bloom

Caligulas Horse - BloomState of the art twin-guitar prog-metal from Australia, filled with serpentine riffs, memorable vocal melodies and some spectacular soloing. It combines the dynamics of mid-period Opeth with the modern jazz-metal experimentation of Haken and Maschine with the atmospherics of Riverside, while managing to avoid sounding remotely derivaive.

Kamchatka – A Long Road Made of Gold

Long Road Made Of GoldThe Swedish power-trio deliver some classy blues-based hard rock. There’s an emphasis on tight arrangements, with punchy songs and short but effective blasts of shredding lead guitar, with a superb production that makes it sound as though the band are playing in your living room.

Muse – Drones

Muse DronesTeignmouth’s finest take a step back from the Queen-with-kitchen-sinks approach of their last couple of albums in favour of something of stripped-down guitar-driven power trio approach of their early albums. But when you’ve got Mutt Lange of AC/DC fame as producer, “stripped-down” is still a relative thing. There’s still a big expansive sounds that goes from hard rock boogie to a nod to spaghetti western soundtracks. This is still a Muse album, after all.

Pope Francis – Wake Up

Pope Fancis Wake UoNot many people would have put “The Pope releases bonkers prog-rock album” in their musical predictions for 2015. One of the years strangest releases mixes excepts from sermons with a blend of traditional church music and progressive rock with a nod to world music. The combination of spoken word with big minor-key choral crescendos and the occasional blast of full-on rock guitar is worth a listen for anyone who appreciates things like Mostly Autumn’s “The Gap Is Too Wide”. It certainly makes evangelical protestant worship music look tame by comparison.

Praying Mantis – Legacy

Praying Mantis - LegacyThe tenth album by one-time NWOBHM heroes is polished twin-guitar hard rock, more AOR than metal, with echoes of Uriah Heep and Journey. Remarkable in its consistency, there is no filler and every track has something to like about it. Just occasionally it skirts on the edge of cheese, but most of the time this is a classy piece of work.

Queensrÿche – Condition: Hüman

Queensryche Condition HumanWith new vocalist Todd Le Torre the prog-metal pioneers recover some of their mojo, with a record that evokes the spirit of the 1980s heyday, with soaring vocals and razor-sharp riffs. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of their peerless 80s masterpieces, but it’s still the best thing they’ve done for many years, and certainly blows Geoff Tate’s lacklustre album “The Key” clean out of the water.

Secrets of the Sky – Pathway

Secrets of the Sky - PathwayThis Californian band brew up a monstrous wall of sound. With no choruses or solos the songs take the form of dense soundscapes of layered guitars, doom-laden drums and washes of keys. With evil-sounding growls for the heavy parts and clean vocals for the reflective, atmospheric moments, the end result is an intense and in places very heavy record where even the lighter parts can sound truly menacing.

Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle

Spocks Beard The Oblivion ParticleTheir twelfth album has verything we’ve come to expect from a Spock’s Beard record; swirling Mellotron and Hammond organ, blasts of hard rock guitar, rich layered vocal harmonies, and a strong sense of melody. Spock’s Beard again succeed by having one foot in the past and one in the present; creating a delightfully retro sound with a modern sensibility.

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Operation Mindcrime – The Key

Operation Mindcrime The KeyAfter making their name in the 1980s with the ambitious concept album “Operation Mindcrime” and its more commercial successor “Empire”, Queensrÿche crashed hard in the 90s. A combination of internal problems and an ill-judged attempt to move with musical fashions rather then play to their strengths saw a string of lacklustre albums including the dull “Q2K” and the directionless “Operation Mindcrime II”. It all ended in an acrimonious split that finished up in court over who would be allowed to perform what.

The result was singer Geoff Tate forming a new outfit “Operation Mindcrime” while his former bandmates regrouped with a new singer as a new incarnation of Queensrÿche. The name of the band and the legal agreement that only he can perform material from the album of the same name infers an intention to build on the legacy of the album that made his reputation rather than start anew with a clean sheet. So how does the album stack up?

Opener “Choices” builds on a repeating pattern sounding uncannily like “Eclipse” from “Dark Side of the Moon” and despite being a little derivative makes an impressive opener. But doubts set in when the bass-heavy riff of “Burn” swamps Tate’s rather tuneless vocal. The big guitar riffs and prog-metal stylings of “Re-Inventing the Future” and “Ready to Fly” both manage to evoke a hint of Queensrÿche’s glory days instrumentally but both are let down by weak vocals. When the next track, merely a short atmospheric piece to bridge the gap between two songs is the best so far purely because it’s an instrumental, the album’s biggest problem becomes apparent.

The truth is that Geoff Tate’s voice, once a magnificent lead instrument, is a shadow of what it once was. Even when Queensrÿche toured Operation Mindcrime II a decade ago he was relying on Pamela Moore to sing the high notes he could no longer reach, and now he’s got little of his former power and range. One could draw comparisons with former Marillion singer Fish, except that Fish has adapted his style over the years to work within his limitations, giving greater emphasis on lyrics and delivery, and still manages to make strong records. Tate, meanwhile, is trying to create the same sort of music as he did years ago, and much of it falls flat without the soaring vocals of old.

The album hits the lowest point with “The Stranger”, which marries an industrial guitar sound with what comes over as a half-arsed attempt at rapping. Things do improve towards the end; the instrumental “An Ambush of Sadness” leading into the ballad “Kicking in the Door” again give something of a Pink Floyd feel, and album signs off with the almost epic “The Fall” ending in some climactic soloing. But even here the vocals let things down.

The saddest thing is that there are still good musical ideas on the record, but Tate’s consistently weak vocal lines fail to do the rest of the music justice.

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No, Geoff Tate. Firing you is not ‘career suicide’ for Queensrÿche. It may be different in other genres, but in the world of rock and metal, career suicide is releasing a string of substandard records, not getting rid of a prima donna once the band have long since jumped the shark.

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