I don’t normally post RIP messages because I deal woth a lot of death and suffering at work and have a different response to it than a lot of people, but Slipknot were my generation’s Kiss or Metallica. The most beloved, talked about, read about, drawn, big deal band in my friend group way back in high school when they first entered the UK public knowledge around 1999-2000, and every album release since has been like a historic event or religious experience for me and a lot of people like me.
No other band had a bigger impact on my tastes, musical journey and even personality, friends and lifestyle choices.
One of their most defining and revered founding members, Joey Jordinson has died, still in his 40s.
I wouldn’t have learned to play drums without Joey, wouldn’t have joined bands without Joey, wouldn’t have become such an obsessive collector of music without Joey, wouldn’t have started a blog without Joey. Love of his band and even more specifically his drumming (and sometimes guitar, arrangements and lyrics) was absolutely fundamental to my tastes and how I spend most of my free time for the last 20 years.
Joey’s opinions on other bands, be it Biohazard, Fear Factory, Rob Zombie, Deicide or whoever, was also always a seal of approval that usually helped me discover new bands. He brightened up the music scene with his involvement in things like Roadrunner United, Hellbilly Deluxe 2 or Metallica that year at Download when Lars was unavailable.
He also seemed like a nice guy in interviews, and was a lot of fun in The Murderdolls.
I won’t pretend to being his absolute number one biggest fan ever, and havent checked out Scar The Martyr or Vimic yet, in the same way I didn’t check out Hellyeah even though I loved Vinnie Paul, but this is probably the celebrity death I have felt the most about to date.
First Dime & later Vinnie, then Niel Peart, now Joey. Sometimes even though you are so far removed, some of these celebrity deaths really hit you.
I have been putting off reviewing this album for a while since I feel a little unqualified to talk about it. Sure, I bought their live DVD about 7 years ago and listened to it a few times, and I bought two of their studio albums as a gift for my brother about 5 years ago and have heard those in passing. I’ve always known I should get into Gojira, but never quite got around to it. Basically, I have been hearing a constant gushing stream of praise about this band since about 2005 in print, online, in podcasts, from word of mouth and just about every source imaginable, yet somehow never really properly tried the band enough, and had certainly never personally “got” them.
For a good few years I had heard that they had toned down the extreme metal sections and upped the amount of prog on their previous album, Magma, which I kept meaning to buy but didn’t get around to, but I heard one single from it at the time which I was thoroughly impressed by, and I had already always said to myself, “if they get a little bit less extreme, I’ll start listening to Gojira.” Cut to 2021, and the environmentally-themed French Prog—Metal released their seventh full-length studio album (on Roadrunner Records), and to my delight all the reviews and press beforehand had been talking about how it was less heavy and more proggy, with a huge chunk of groove metal added to their palate. I finally decided to take the plunge.
Review in short: Love. At. First. Listen.
I listened to it every single day, sometimes twice, for about a month after release day and still try to listen to at least some of it very regularly now. I’m going to be coming back to this for years. I don’t think it is unfair to say this album has had as big an impact on me as some game changing album that you heard back in high-school and bonded with forever. Wow, I wasn’t sure you could get that feeling again as an adult, but wow, this record really floored me.
Take all the best parts of the proggy but accessible Crack The Skye by Mastodon, mix it with the best parts of the groovy but experimental Against by Sepultura, add in the best sort of Architects’ thought provoking the-planet-is-doomed lyrics, blend them together with an utterly unique and singular musical voice (which is the Gojira signature sound, I later discovered when going back to all their previous albums after this), and out comes Fortitude, one of the most instantly loveable metal albums I have heard in years and years.
From the teasing drum build-up of the disjointed and rhythmic opener “Born For One Thing” to the delicate acoustic fade out (following the otherwise brutal sonic bombardment) of “Grind” this album is sheer bloody perfection from start to finish, with not a wasted second. Everything is so perfectly balanced; each song is such an intriguing and hypnotic journey and they strike the perfect balance between expansive and catchy. It feels at times just about as cosmic and floaty as you can without disappearing up your own ass, but then by contrast still so instantaneous and crushingly metallic when it wants to, bouncing between the two at just the right moments so you never get sick of one style, and never staying at one pace long enough to get boring.
You know how some albums have to be listened to from start to finish in one go? This isn’t one of those. Its certainly benefits from that don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t reliant one it. The album has a brilliant flow, sequencing and journey, and travels across the sonic landscape with a clear beginning, middle and end, however, if you want, all the songs sound great without that context, and literally any single track from it sounds great away from the album if it comes up on shuffle. Basically, it has all the best features of a concept album without the drawbacks.
The production, by singer/guitarist Joe Duplantier is majestic, and Andy Wallace (who mixed Iowa and Toxicity) mixes everything to perfection. The actual sound of this record feels like it was made just to appeal to me. I can’t get enough. I just melts in the ear. Speaking of Duplantiers, drummer Joe Duplantier is one of the most instantly loveable drummers I have ever heard. What a drummer, such a unique drumming “voice.” Such a balance between virtuosity and restraint. Utter magnificence.
Possibly the best thing about the album though, is that I always wanted to like Gojira but was a bit intimidated, and this album finally “unlocked” them. I’ve since gone back and been blown away by all their other amazing albums (I’m damn partial to a bit of The Way Of All Flesh now, and can finally see for myself what everyone was telling me about From Mars To Sirus for years. I guess some fans who love the heavier early days could potentially be a bit disappointed by the band being a bit too accessible with this album, but on the other hand, if anyone else like me out there knows they could like Gojira but don’t yet, this album is the way in for sure. For a few years, one of the thing that stopped me fully going in on Gojira was that the vocals were just a bit too abrasive for me, and the music was a bit mysterious. However, like the leap between Mastodon’s Lifesblood EP and their Crack The Skye album, the vocals here are so advanced and impressive compared to the earlier Gojira records my friends all told me to love in college like The Link of the fan-beloved From Mars To Sirus that it is like night and day. Sure, the more brutal vocal stylings suited those albums because the music was more brutal itself, but here, you can actually say, these are objectively fantastic vocals. The mid-section vocals on “Hold On” send a shiver up my spine in the way Tool sometimes do when they’re being particularly majestic.
If I was to choose one song to suggest to newcomers to test the waters, I think I would recommend the groovy mid-paced “Sphinx.” It has a few heavier moments, it grooves, the lead guitar section is proggy and weird and overall I think it is probably the mid-point of everything on the album. That said, if you do like things heavier, the one to go for is definitely the energetic and punchy album closer “Grind” which despite the aforementioned outro, is the most punch-to-the-face pick-scraping stomper on the record, and the closest thing to their more famous albums. For the opposite end of the spectrum, the surprising stoner-rock left turn of “The Chant” has the cleanest vocals of any Gojira to date, so if you don’t like any extreme metal at all, that is the one to check out first, after which you can graduate to “The Trials” which reminds me a bit of a darker version of the Title Track to Coheed And Cambria’sThe Afterman mixed with the haunting end of Roots Remain by Mastodon.
Never a dull moment, delicate, crushing diverse, intriguing, infinitely replayable, Fortitude is all these things and more. I don’t use this word often, and my opinion might not be worth much coming to the band so late, but to me this album is an utter masterpiece. Can’t recommend enough.
2021’s Aggression Continuum is the tenth full-length canonical studio album (discounting compilations, remix albums, demos, and their almost-debut Concrete – which doesn’t count) by the veteran Metal band Fear Factory. It has a long and storied history, which you can go into at length online should you wish, but the gist of it was that the band recorded an album called Monolith a few years ago, featuring less polished versions of these tunes, but that record got delayed due to legal issues and wasn’t released. Most of the various old band members hate each other, and all of them seem to hate guitarist and current band leader Dino Cazares, who crowdfunded for the cash to improve Monolith and turn it into this current album via a series of small upgrades. He used the cash to hire Mike Heller on drums (who’d done a great job on their previous album Genexus) to replace Monolith’s drum-machine tracks with actual drums, and to add in additional keyboards, electronics and atmosphere to flesh the whole thing out and give it the finishing touches. In the meantime however, iconic singer Burton C. Bell left the band in a less-than-amicable split, but rather than start afresh with a new singer, Dino decided to keep just his old vocal recordings from 2017 and release the album anyway, as a weird hybrid of old and new.
A messy genesis to be sure, but you better believe I crowdfunded this record and was looking forward to it, because despite the recent mess they have become, Fear Factory were actually one of my favourite bands growing up and when they are on top form they can be one of the best bands in the entire genre. After the uncivilized sniping by the press; I really wanted one more record from them, and I wanted it to be great. Even though it is sad to see how the mighty have fallen, and hard to believe they would ever continue without Burton, it is still good to have this one last record.
Even going in wating to like it, I am a bit skeptical of the album, and feel there is something a bit cynical on some of the tracks. Perhaps the biggest fault on Aggression Continuum is that there isn’t enough importance placed on the drums or especially not enough focus on the bass, whereas the band had one of the best rhythm sections in the history of Metal in the 90s, which was an equally big selling point to their sci-fi lyrics, clean/growl vocal dynamic and crunchy staccato guitar style that made them famous. Sure that was the hook, but there was always more to it than that. Maybe there is bit too much repeating old glories (one of the songs is a pretty shameless fan service reference to their ‘90s hit “Replica”) and maybe there is a bit to reliance on formula. The album lacks the diversity and nuance that made their earlier work pop, focusing instead on the aforementioned surface level similarity between those early records. Whereas their first four albums were a constant evolution and no two albums sounded that much alike, ever since Raymond and Christian left the band, Fear Factory have kind of just fall into a formula of what they think they should sound like, rather than pushing what they can sound like or even what they did actually sound like. Before, there was a signature guitar and lyrical style in a diverse catalogue. Now its all just riffs and robots, but lacking in all the other parts that complemented the surface level similarity of recurrent crunchy metallic terminator vibes, and stopped a recognisable style from being a gimmick, instead turning it into the basis for some utterly classic albums.
That all being said however, this album isn’t the worst thing the band have released. It may be a bit by-the-numbers. It may be a bit cynical. However; It is more realized and less rushed than 2005’s hit and miss Transgression, and it is better produced and less boring/forgettable than 2012’s The Industrialist (having a human drummer instead of a drum machine certainly helps it compare favourably to that record).
Sure the spark that made their best albums really shine is missing, but there are a few really quite good tracks, such as the exciting opener “Recode,” the energetic title track “Aggression Continuum,” the bouncy single “Disruptor” and also the deep track “Monolith” which has a nice little guitar solo (a rarity in Fear Factory songs). Its also short enough not to overstay its welcome, which is always a plus. I don’t think in years to come this album will be anyone’s absolute Fear Factory album, but it is an OK end to the Burton C Bell era of the band, and it is not an embarrassment.
Overall, not their best release, but not without its merits. Buy if you are already a fan, don’t start here.
Wow, what a dream come true. After the fan fantasy Pumpkins United tour, the astounding live-album United Alive and the killer one-off single “Pumpkins United” it is finally time for the long-awaited new full-length studio album from the German Power Metal icons Helloween.
Helloween are one of my all-time favourite bands, and I like all eras of the band. They started off in the early ‘80s on their early EPs and first album Walls Of Jericho as a heavier and thrashier proposition, fronted by Kai Hansen (who would later take a back seat but stay on guitar for the following two albums, before leaving and forming the equally excellent band Gamma Ray). After the early EPs and debut album, world-class singer Michael Kiske joined the band in the late ‘80s and helmed their two most beloved albums, the genre-defining Keeper Of The Seven Keys Parts 1 & 2, which are utter indisputable classics of the Power Metal genre and form much of the band’s live setlist even to this day. Kiske also presided over the next two less-popular, increasingly commercial and increasingly un-metal albums before leaving the band. In the early-mid ‘90s after a period of turbulence, declining popularity and declining band morale, singer Andi Deris joined the band and has been with the band ever since as they rebuilt, endured and produced some of their finest work along the way.
Each singer has their own fans. Kai is the original and heaviest, Kiske is the most popular and best technical singer, and Andi is the longest-serving and best showman/performer. This new album, like the wicked live album that precedes it, features all three singers on it, sometimes alone or usually mixed together. They are cleverly blended on this record; without a proper analysis it feels broadly like about Andi probably doing 55%, Kiske doing about 30% and Hansen doing about 15% which seems appropriate given their relative longevity in the band, and their relative commercial appeal (and the fact that Kai had talked about singing less in Gamma Ray a few years ago). Interestingly too, as a tribute to the late Helloween drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg, current drummer Daniel Löble actually recorded his drum parts using Ingo’s old drumkit. Nice touch!
Although there must have been some temptation to just dive back into a retro ‘80s sound musically and sonically now that Kai Hansen and Michael Kiske back in the fold and Ingo’s old kit is being used, the results are actually decidedly more modern. While there is clear influence from the ‘80s it is not a simple rehash or retreading of old ground. Shameless fan service is in low supply and they’ve made a concerted effort to blend modernity and nostalgia in a classy way. The production (courtesy of Charlie Bauerfeind & Dennis Ward) is slick and modern, feeling much more like the most recent Derris Era Helloween albums, My God Given Right and Straight Out Of Hell in terms of actual sonics. Even album art evokes simultaneously their classic Walls Of Jericho, Keeper Of The Seven Keys and Time Of The Oath album artworks all at once, which again feels like a clever blending of the three eras together.
The song-writing does sound like recent Helloween albums first and foremost, not too much like the ‘80s and not overly like Hansen’s work in Gamma Ray or Kiske’s work in Unisonic (there are bits here and there, but its not the main flavour). This record is not a rejection of all the progress the band have made over the years, and it isn’t just the Helloween of the ‘80s back in an anachronistic inappropriate revival cash-in.
That being said, the three singers meets numerous guitar players dynamic does help it stand apart from recent albums too though. It isn’t just business as usual with a cheap gimmick slapped on the top either. What this actually is, is a new hybrid-Helloween, bringing a best-of-both worlds approach, injected with extra energy and enthusiasm on top if that for good measure. It is a good record, in fact a very good record, and a brilliant payoff for fans who like more than one era of the band. I highly recommend it.
However; while it would be tempting to get carried away for the sake of the story and say that it is their best album to date, or even their best album since 1990 or whatever, that would be incredibly unfair to some of the amazing albums the band have been releasing all along. It is a good album, easily in the top half or even top third of their discography, but to say it tops everything since the Keepers’ would be an inaccurate nonsense. This album is good, but let’s not forget some of the other great work they’ve made for the sake of a good hyperbole-filled headline. I genuinely hope people who come back to the band because of the reunion vibe now go back and check out killer albums like 7 Sinners and especially Time Of The Oath and see how strong the band can be without Kai or Michael as well (if you’re interested, check out my ranking of all Helloween albums from best to worst).
Ok. Soapbox moment done. Album highlights include the 12-minute album closer “Skyfall,” (varied and triumphant), as well as the majestic 7-minute album opener “Out For The Glory” and the shorter/punchier “Cyanide” (both premium modern Power Metal) and the more Hard Rock number “Mass Pollution” which has some of the most memorable guitar moments.
Overall; 2021’s Helloween is a very noteworthy album that manages to live up to its potential, with killer songs, killer sounds and a killer premise. I’m pretty over the moon about this album and I hope you will be too.
PS. I’ve already got tickets to see them live, postponed due to the pandemic from before the album was out, and now I really hope they drop a few tunes from this album into the set too.
I haven’t had much time for blogging recently due to buying my first home, getting a promotion at work, trying to loose weight and parenting a hyperactive toddler. One thing I do have time for though is acquiring music. Since I bought my home instead of renting, I don’t have as much space for physical media anymore, so have been getting music from a mix of Bandcamp, Amazon mp3 and iTunes. Here’s what I’ve been buying lately, mostly filling gaps in my existing collection, but a few new things as well (the live Volbeat album, Aerosmith albums 9-12, several of the Dream Theater albums, and Smashing Pumkins’ Melon Coly’ were already in my collection, but I edited them in iTunes so they jumped forward in the list and it wasn’t worth editing the image):
Since being a teenager, my favourite subgenre of Metal has always been Thrash Metal. However, for some bizarre reason, when the New Wave Of Thrash Metal started, and lots of younger bands started making top quality Thrash, I utterly slept on it, not exploring it at all, or sometimes I even outright dismissed it.
This year I’ve been rectifying that, giving bands like Hazzerd, Harlott, Hyades, Havok, Power Trip, Lich King, Mosh-Pit Justice and Municipal Waste their fair shot and being won over time and time again.
The one exception to my New Thrash blind spot has always been Gama Bomb, maybe its because they’re my fellow countrymen, maybe its because they strike the right balance of humour and fun without descending into parody, maybe its just because they write the most memorable songs, but even when I had a “1980s or GTFO” attitude towards Thrash, I’d still find time to listen to Gama Bomb, recommend them to people, and I was even lucky enough to see them live (remember concerts guys?) when a guitarist I knew gave me a free ticket and transport (good guy!) back before I went to concerts regularly or was able to drive.
Many years since I first went in on the band with their Tales From The Grave In Space record, Gama Bomb have now released what I believe to be not only their best album to date, not only one of the best NWOTM albums I’ve heard, not only an album as good as what the ‘80s bands can put out nowadays, but one of the straight-up best Thrash albums I’ve heard to date from any era.
You heard that right. This album is their best one yet. This album can stand proudly up to the best things Slayer or Anthrax have been putting out since the ‘00s, and this album can stand up happily to some things Death Angel or Heathen were putting out in the late ‘80s. Never mind simply holding its own; this album is actively better than most of the output Thrash bands put out in the ‘90s and arguably better than some (if not a lot) classic Thrash and Proto-Thrash albums of 1983-1985 too!
I was a week one buyer (December 2020) after getting mega hyped by the pre-release singles, but it has taken me this long to write a review simply because I wanted to make sure how hard I like it wasn’t just hype or a sort of bubble-gum scenario where the flavour will go away really soon kind of thing. However, a few months later and I still think this record is a damn masterpiece of Thrash.
Songs like “Miami Super-Cops,” “Sea Savage,” “Ready, Steady…Goat!” and “Sheer Khan” just get stuck in my head for days. I have so often been on a walk these days and been unable not to sing aloud “Down, down, town!” during “Miami Super-Cops” when I had otherwise been walking in silence, sometimes leading passers-by to look at me like I am a lunatic. I don’t care, its so catchy it is irresistable!
Alongside top notch, catchy as hell tunes, everything else works perfectly. The production is tight, the playing is brilliant, the vocals just get better every time you hear them (some of those crazy Agent Steel-style screeches are so catchy) and the mixture between serious traditional Thrash music but goofy lyrics just works so well (but importantly, without being comedy music, which is always a turn-off for me). For example, when they go into “What shall we do with a drunken sailor” in the middle of the title track, it comes across as really clever even though it probably shouldn’t.
In summary, if you like Thrash Metal and can get over the fact that the band are not from the 1980s, you absolutely need this album in your collection, no questions asked.
2021 sees the release of the seventh full-length studio album from the horror and sci-fi obsessed industrial tinged larger than life rock icon Rob Zombie. Cumbersomely named; “The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy” sees Rob Zombie continued his tradition of excessively titled albums, but perhaps not topping his most OTT choice from a decade ago with his fourth record “Hellbilly Deluxe II: Noble Jackals, Penny Dreadfuls And The Systematic Dehumanization Of Cool.”
It was released on Nuclear Blast and follows up the very well received “The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser” album from 2016, which the general consensus around reckoned was one of Zombie’s best albums to date, but for me it was actually a bit of a let-down after my favourite album to date, Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor from 2013. Warlock had its highlights for sure, and I appreciated the attempt to be lean, succinct and have a big personality, but fell a bit flat a times in the song writing department of the deeper tracks.
As such, I approached this new album with a bit of trepidation, but luckily ‘Kool Aid really knocked it out of the park in my opinion, as it seems to fuse the best elements from ‘Venomous (Catchiness, hooks, better song-writing) and ‘Warlock (immediacy, character, eccentricity).
This is the second album to be produced by Christopher “Zeuss” Harris. It doesn’t have as clean nor big a sound as the old Scott Humphrey produced albums of yore, but it does has a lot of energy and seems to be going for a bit of a slightly punkier vibe than a typically industrial or even stadium sound.
The band line-up is also the same as last time around. Former Marilyn Manson member turned solo virtuoso John 5 has been in the band for years and years now, but his influence is particularly notable on this record, with all the little funk asides and effects laden guitar parts. I feel like he has been allowed to shine much more than say Educated Horses for example. I would argue that in terms of sheer guitar playing fun, this is definitely one of the most colourful Rob Zombie records to date. Its also the third studio with former Marilyn Manson drummer Ginger Fish on board. Now that Manson’s career is looking to be fast going downhill, its great to see some of the members from the iconic Holywood line-up are still out there making an impact.
There are a lot of damn fine songs to be found here. From the single “The Triumph Of King Freak” and “The Eternal Struggles Of The Howling Man” to the much talked about country tinged “18th Century Cannibals, Excitable Morlocks and a One-Way Ticket on the Ghost Train.” The real highlights for me personally are the stompy “The Satanic Rites of Blacula” and the groovy “Shadow of the Cemetery Man” as well as “The Ballad of Sleazy Rider.” I’d already rank it higher in the discography than Hellbilly Deluxe 2 or Educated Horses and in fact there is certainly a much higher hit to miss ratio than ‘Warlock on the deeper cuts. It hasn’t been out that long so its probably too early to tell, but already I’d estimate that this is in at least the top half of his discography.
Its not all glory though. There are 17 tracks here, totalling 42 mins, but there is a bit of fat that could be trimmed. Six of the Seventeen tracks here are effectively intros or interludes and this cumulatively makes up a full five minutes of the record. Zombie has never been a stranger to intros and interludes, the classic debut Hellbilly Deluxe certainly has its fair share, and the platinum selling follow up The Sinister Urge had a couple, and while I appreciate that one or two can add flavour and break things up, I think this record has perhaps the most extracurricular activity outside the main songs, which may affect the flow a little bit (its not a deal breaker or anything, but I’ll probably find myself skipping them a lot in the future).
To summarise; it has a silly name and a lot of interludes, it doesn’t sound as huge as the early records sonically, but it is consistently chocked full of strong and memorable songs, has some variety and in terms of quality it is even better than its much hyped predecessor. Well worth checking out.
Hate list features? Feel free to skip this article and others in this series.
Here I’ll be ranking the albums by certain bands in order from Best (actually my subjective favourite) to worst/least good (subjectively, in my opinion). Number 1 is obviously the best. The lowest number is my least favourite.
01. Operation: Mindcrime (1988) – An album so good they have released a live album of it in its entirety not once, but twice, with an additional third version as a bonus live album with the anniversary edition. This is the one you see in all the magazines, all the best metal albums lists, all the website countdowns, and with good reason. Not overrated, this one actually lives up to the reputation. Man do I love this record. I keep a framed vinyl copy on my wall as decoration. A concept album that doesn’t sacrifice good structure, and brilliant music just for the story, while also not going too far the other way and just sounding like a disconnected bunch of random tunes that you can only tell is a story because you’re told so. No, this is concept album perfection. Musically, it is also perfection, a brilliant melding of Hard ‘80s Rock, Metal, little touches of Prog without getting overblown, staggering lead guitar work, memorable drumming, utterly world class singing from one of the world’s best Metal singers back in his prime, and an expansive production job too. Masterpiece. I have such fond memories of discovering this. I can still remember in vivid detail the bus ride into Oxford to get it, in the basement part of the HMV where the Metal, Prog and other non-pop music was kept, and the staff who always had the music up waaaay to high.
Standout tunes include: “The Needle Lies,” “Revolution Calling,” “Spreading The Disease” & “Suite Sister Mary.”
02. The Warning + Self-Titled EP (1984 + 1983) – Although Mindcrime is the better record, when I think of Queensryche, the thing that comes into my mind, is the first 30 seconds of the title track to Warning, that vocal on its own ringing out, which then crashes into a metallic but rocky riff, and those brilliant, awkward, impressive drums. Mindcrime impressed me and I knew it was a great record, but Warning and the EP were what made me really fall in love with them. There was a period in my life when I was getting really physically fit and I used to always go for long walks, and my go to record at the time was Warning, (or both Warning and The EP together). When I went to see the band live, songs from this were some of the ones that made me smile the most and sing along the hardest. On their Live Evolution DVD, the songs from this era are my favourite section of that DVD’s era-by-era style setlist. As the music here is earlier, there is a bit more influence on the sleeve, it is a bit more of its time (and as such, it is incredibly charming and makes the fuzzy metalhead spot in my heart buzz every time I hear it). The EP is great because it is a short, sharp, filler free blast that covers a range of styles and gives a brilliant first impression, and the album is great because it takes everything the EP did and expands it, fleshes it out and gives you more. They’re both so perfect in their own way that I find it hard to rank one above the other, hence the joint number 2 slot. Standout tracks include: “Warning,” “En Force,” “NM 156,” “Roads To Madness” and “The Lady Wore Black.”
03. Rage For Order (1986) – This one took me a while to get into. I mean, I loved “Walk In The Shadows” the first time I heard it, I’m not a savage, but with the moody atmospheric tracks and semi-ballads, not to mention the weird cover song, and all the stuff in the CD’s linear notes about how the fans were turned off by their make up and fashion choices in this era, I don’t know, it just wasn’t as instant love at first listen as the other records. However, once I got into it, I really enjoy what they did here, it is a very clever sequel to the debut album, and shows that the band are no one trick pony. It really highlights their adventurous side, and is probably a bit more progressive than even Mindcrime although Queensryche always do it in a subtle way, it isn’t just writing 20 minute songs with lots of keyboard solos and ‘70s worship, they actually progress their metal by taking distinct and new approaches to it, (rather than actually regress to the golden age of Prog). Of the first five Queensryche albums, this is probably the most diverse, and the weird robotic production sound also makes it have this perfect oppressive atmosphere that suits the lyrical content. I’ve read a lot that this is a very “textured” album, and I think that is as good an explanation as any.
Standout tracks include: “Surgical Strike,” “Neue Regel,” “Screaming In Digital” & “Chemical Youth (We Are Rebellion).”
04. Empire (1990) – The band’s biggest selling and most successful record, Empire is perhaps most famous for the big hit single “Silent Lucidity” which feels like the second coming of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” (in a good way, not a derivative way). That song was so good, but also so easy on the ear, that I had it playing at my wedding while we cut the cake, and none of the relatives realised they were listening to a metal band. I know its not a love ballad lyrically, but it has that sort of sound musically at times, its not exactly “Queen Of The Reich” and so won’t scare off the elderly grandmas, aunts and uncles at the party. Mega hit aside; there is a lot more to the album, from the commercial Hard Rock bangers, to the moody emotional moments, to dark metallic tracks with political or socially conscious themes. There is a smattering of keyboards and an even bigger production than Mindcrime. Everything here is dialled up, the vocals, the guitar solos, the drum fills. It all just has so much “umph.” This album deserves its success.
05. Self-Titled Album (2013) – After a year or two of nasty mudslinging in the media, the infamous spitting and knife-threat incidents, long time singer Geoff Tate was out, and after a brief period of being called Rising West, Queensryche were back, this time with new singer Todd La Torre at the microphone. After a few of their least well received albums in a row, where Tate had allegedly been in control and stifled contributions from the other members, the rest of the band were ready to show off. This is a revitalised, refocused, reenergised album from a band re-evaluating their legacy and direction, and remembering what made them so good in the first place. Honestly, I almost had this album even higher in the list, but I’d fear being lynched if it was in front of any of the first four albums (being above the fifth album is still heresy enough!). Not unlike the EP, this album is short, sweet, succinct and shows off everything the new line-up would go on to do on the next albums here in one near-perfect little package. Take away the two intro tracks “X2” and “Midnight Lullabye” and it is just nine songs clocking in at just over half an hour. Every song has a unique flavour, every performance is noteworthy, there’s basically no fat on the bones. Next to the aforementioned Warning/EP era tracks, the parts of the live show I loved the most when I got to see them were tracks from this. When Todd sang “As Goooooood as my witness” both live and hearing it on record for the first time, it was straight up chills-in-the-spine stuff! When I make Queensryche playlists now, most of this record finds its way on there. When I fantasise about seeing them live again, it is always songs from this that I picture. I can still see Todd’s gesturing and facial expressions from that show in my mind’s eye every time I listen to the album.
Standout tracks include: “Where Dreams Go To Die,” “Redemption,” “Fallout” & “Vindication.”
06. Promised Land (1994) – Less metallic than the previous albums, and more of a slow burn, Promised Land is one of the band’s proggier, more experimental records. I guess the financial success of Empire allowed the band a bit more creative freedom and confidence to just do what felt right at the time. There is a sense of freedom and exploration here, a sort of “anything goes” atmosphere. A lot of the things that characterise the band’s later work make their first appearance here, like touches of alternative, saxophone, a greater focus on hypnotic moods than in the face power, lower pitched vocals. In short, nobody is going to mistake any song on here for Judas Priest, I’ll tell you that much! However; While this album may have introduced some of the things that lead to Metal fans not liking their mid-late-90s/00s material, the delivery and songwriting is just so good here that it will really win you over if you give it the chance. What makes this album stylistically different from any of the albums that preceded it, is exactly what makes it such a rewarding and captivating listen, especially if you are in the right mood/headspace. Catch me on the right day and this may even be anywhere from one to three places higher in my rankings. Yes, it has some of the style that turns Metal fans off their post-’80s output, but the song writing is better, the mood is more interesting, the guitar work is more impressive, the emotion is more genuine, the saxophone is less intrusive and the Alternative feel is more natural than on any of the subsequent late-Tate-era albums that would follow. This is how it could and should be done.
Standout tracks include: “My Global Mind,” “Real World,” “I Am I” & “Bridge.”
07. The Verdict (2019) – At the time of writing, this is the Rycher’s newest record, and boy is it a strong one. Ok, it isn’t as much of a revelation as the self-titled, and it doesn’t have all the media hype swirling around it, nor did I get to see them live on this cycle so don’t have all the personalised memories about it, and it is about 15 minutes longer so it is less succinct too, but I’d still say it is near as good. The main talking point about this record at the time was that long time drummer Scott Rockenfield was on paternity leave, so drums were handled by singer Todd La Torre instead. He does a good job making it feel like Queensryche (although I am an utter mark for Scott so I’d also say there is no real chance of being exactly right). Apart from Scott being on leave; the new line up was relatively stable, the new formula was established, the band had toured enough together to figure out what works and what could change, and turned in another superb set of songs. I feel like maybe this album doesn’t get as much praise as it deserves as it is kind of another version of the last two records, whereas Queensryche fans are used to massive leaps and changes all the time. This one was more like business as usual. But it’s a hell of business, and I’m glad they’re sticking with it and perfecting it rather than abandoning it too quickly without writing this set of songs.
Standout tracks include: “Launder The Conscience,” “Man The Machine,” “Bent” & “Propaganda Fashion.”
08. Condition Human (2015) – I guess the band might have got a bit of criticism from reviewers about the self-titled being a bit short (I personally liked that about it; I’d call a succinct but great set of songs better value for money that a long album with some lesser tracks tacked on for padding) because this album is about 20 minutes longer than the previous one. Apart from the brilliant lead single “Arrow Of Time” which is just an all out rager and clearly meant to evoke feelings of being the modern day equivalent of “Queen Of The Reich” as their short fast bruiser, this album sees the band try and solidify and define their sound. The previous album was a no-two-songs-alike kind of affair and this record sees the band try and take all those ingredients and combine them together in various ways to make a more cohesive whole. What it lacks in impact, it makes up for in craft. Easily half this album would make it into any ‘Ryche playlist or fantasy live set of mine, and just because I like the other Todd albums a bit more, doesn’t mean it isn’t one heck of a record.
09. Tribe (2003) – Now we get to the more controversial period of the band’s history. This album came out when the band’s fanbase was shrinking, when Geoff was taking a bigger part in the song-writing, when Chris was out of the band (save guest appearances) and when the media cared less about the band in general. Some people dismiss this whole period entirely. Nowadays the band don’t play anything from this period live at all, and many amazon reviewers may urge you to steer away from this period altogether. Not me though, apart from Chris (and on this album he still makes an appearance) the rest of the band are still the same great musicians/singer as on all the classic albums, and if you are the kind of person who listens to Nu Metal, Grunge or Alternative Rock anyway, the flavours won’t be too off-putting. Queenryche were never exactly Possessed or Morbid Saint anyway, and you can’t expect them to be all metal, all the time. Of all the late-Tate period record, Tribe is my favourite. Whereas the two records before this were a bit too samey and lacking in the song writing department, Tribe really feels like the true sequel to Promised Land (hey even then album art is a bit similar). This album still has a lot of the energy, inspiration and passion that the best albums had and the least favourable albums lacked. If you keep an open mind, there are simply some very strong songs here. The drumming is particularly impactful at times, and Tate’s vocals are explorative and diverse. Don’t miss out on this one just because the common consensus dismisses everything between 1997-2013.
Standout tracks include: “The Art Of Life,” “Rhythm Of Hope,” “Great Divide” & “Tribe.”
10. Operation: Mindcrime 2 (2006) – Well, how many late career concept album sequels do you know that people like better than the original? Are King Diamond fans more inclined to listen to Abigail 2 than Abigail? Do most Jethro Tull fans prefer Tick As A Brick 2 to the original? No, creating a sequel to a beloved album from your early days is almost never met with universal acclaim, it is an almost guaranteed instant backlash-generator that draws unfavourable comparison with your best work and creative halcyon days, rather than where you are up to lately, and it can almost never stand on its own without the built in criticism that it fails to live up to its predecessor (and also draws out a very vocal minority of haters who claim you are making a cash grab and spitting on your legacy). Mindcrime 2 is no exception. Go online, have a few cursory searches, and you will most likely be met with a pretty red hot stream of hate for this record. I don’t think its that bad, I quite like a lot of it actually. Now, as you can tell by my rankings, it is not close to the original… but it is also not in the bottom third either. There’s a lot of good things going for this album, the production is strong, the concept helps inject some interesting drama into the lyrics, there’s a guest vocal from the late great Ronnie James Dio, and the bass gets to be the star a lot of the time. There are certainly some positives going for the record to be sure.
Now for the negatives; first of all, it is just too long, 17 songs is just too many to hold the listener’s interest when you aren’t in your prime anymore. Secondly, it is pretty front loaded, and all of the best material is over by track 11 and 12, which makes the conclusion to the story hard to follow for me as my mind tunes out over the final six songs. Thirdly, and perhaps worst of all the record sacrifices structure, cohesion and a band-feel in favour of serving the concept (the opposite of what made the first Mindcrime so great), in places this feels a bit more like a musical than a killer album, and much of it works as a whole, but little of it stands up on its own. Of all the albums in the list so far, while I do still like it and respect the attempt, this one is the one I would want to see the least from live, or expect to see the least from on a compilation, or that I put the least from (percentage wise and just straight up numerically) into any playlist. If you are not a devoted fan, you would probably be better off skipping this one unfortunately. It is not as bad as everyone says, not even close, but it is missing something, in need of an editor and definitely not the first Queensryche album you should try out if you are a new fan.
Standout tracks include: “I’m American,” “Murderer?,” “Hostage” & “The Change.”
11. Hear In The Now Frontier (1997) – Now we are really getting to the material I like the least. I find myself listening to the following albums the least. I hesitate to call them bad, but when your other material is as good as Queenryche’s best material, this does sort of pale in comparison. As I’ve shown in my Tribe and Promised Land comments, I still like when the band do less metallic and more alternative music, the issue with this album is not the stylistic direction, and Chris DeGarmo is still here, so it isn’t the lack of Chris (which people tend to attribute the cause of band’s later work not being as good to), its just that it is a bit samey, forgettable and basically not captivating. There is no single song I can single out and go “This is bad” about, I just don’t remember most of it later. Since Queensryche have written some of the most memorable songs I’ve ever heard on my whole life on other albums, “Not actually bad, but just forgettable” may be a pretty damning form of faint praise even if I am trying to be nice about it.
Standout tracks include: “Spool,” “Hit The Black,” & “Sign Of The Times.” (The bonus track “Chasing Blue Sky” is arguably better than anything on the record though).
12. American Soldier (2009) – This album deserves an A for the idea, A for effort, but maybe something lower for the execution. It is very well designed with an elaborate concept about how being a soldier can effect someone (and their family) mentally, physically, emotionally and socially. It was designed by visiting veterans and hearing their stories. A whole lot of care and attention went into the planning, concept and lyrics. I really respect what Tate was trying to do here. Just a shame about the music. Again, there’s nothing wrong with it, there’s no “yuck, what a disaster” moment (well, some people say Geoff doing a duet with his daughter is that moment, but I liked the spirit of that), but again, most of it is totally forgettable, samey and interchangeable. I think this is one of the controversial ones where Tate and management allegedly stifled the rest of the band from being energetic, proggy, metallic or in any way impressive, in favour of safe, bland, beige radio rock. If that is indeed the case, you can really tell. If not, the music certainly gives creedance to the rumor.
Its all as my dad would say, “much of a muchness,” but just to finish out my formula, the closest thing to standout tracks include: “Hundred Mile State,” “Middle Of Hell,” & “Man Down!”
13. Frequency Unknown (2013) – At the time of this album, Geoff Tate released an album under the name Queensryche, but it was a bit of a Chinese Democracy situation with most of the key members missing, several line up changes around the release, different members on record to live, and the other key members in a different band with a new singer (Velvet Revolver in this weak analogy). Unlike Chinese Democracy though, it was infamously rushed out quickly. Some people, due to the ugly things said in the media got very divisive and chose one side or the other. I was a bit too impartial and gave them both a fair shake, but lets be honest, one of the two Queenrcyhe albums from 2013 is near the top of my list, and one is near the bottom. A lot of people complain about the production, to the point it was rereleased later with better production, but to be honest it isn’t all that egregious. A lot of people hate the stylistic direction, but other bands have done this kind of thing fine. Some people say it is utterly unlistenable but I think that is a bit harsh; it is better than some things the band or Geoff solo have released. The only real flaw here, is that a lot of the songs could be better. I mean, you’d really think an album with Chris Poland, Paul Bostaph, KK Downing and Rudy Sarso on it would be much better. It just isn’t good enough.
Standout tracks include: “The Weight Of The World,” “Running Backwards,” & “Cold.”
14. Q2K (1999) – Sometimes I feel a bit defensive about this album. “Hey, its not that bad” I always seem to find myself thinking. However, when it comes down to it, when I go listen to a Queensryche album, it is not this one. I think everything I said about Hear In The Now Frontier also applies here too, except the material is even blander and even more forgettable. I guess it doesn’t help that for the first time, I don’t particularly dig this musical direction, it is a bit too U2 for my own personal tastes, but usually I can get into any stylistic change if the songs are good enough. I guess barring a few standouts, they just perhaps weren’t good enough this time. I want to like it more than I actually seem to.
Standout tracks include: “Liquid Sky,” “The Right Side Of My Mind,” & “Breakdown.”
15. Dedicated To Chaos (2011) – I like to try and say that Queensryche have no bad albums. I try to say that even when I like one album better that just means the one is better not that the other one is worse. I try to say that when they try a new style, that its all valid and that they are good to try new things, and that it is impressive they don’t just repeat themselves. I try to defend thier less popular work and I try to tell people to keep an open mind, that they always make something worth listening to in the end. The one album where this all falls apart though is Dedicated To Chaos, I just do not like it. I just can’t think of anything nice to say about it. As my mother always said, when you can’t think of something nice to say, its probably best to blog another few paragraphs about it to explain yourself…
I think it may simply be a genuinely bad album, and I almost never say that. I remember being in a band, and how much work it is to write, record, and play material live on even an amateur level, and can extrapolate how much harder that must be for the professionals. I don’t like to make light of people’s hard work and effort but this is just a bad album, plain and simple, no getting around it. I remember reviews at the time comparing this to Rage For Order, but all I can think of is that they must have been listening to a different record, this sounds and feels about as much like Rage For Order as Lulu feels like Ride The Lightning.
I don’t want to drag this out any more than I have to, so that’s all I’ll say on the matter. I won’t do multiple standout tracks for this, because there’s none I’d want to see live, add to a greatest hits compilation, or even discuss enthusiastically on a blog. I recon the only song I really like is “At The Edge” but even then, they’ve done variations on that kind of thing better already on American Soldier, Operation Mindcrime 2, and even Frequency Unknown.
If you were to use this list as a buyer’s guide, 1-6 are utter must haves, 7-9 are next up once you’ve got into the band, 10-14 are optional if you are obsessed with the band and have already bought all the best stuff, and 15 is really only for the most ardent collectors.