While Operation:Mindcrime was an artistic highlight for the band and gained them a larger public awareness than they’d previously enjoyed, it seemed as though with its follow up Queensrÿche wanted to deliver some of the same powerful yet accessible, complex yet catchy Metal but without the constraints of the concept. They wanted every song to work individually and not just as one part of a whole that doesn’t always work out of context.
They also didn’t want to be specifically just a Prog band or just a Metal band anymore, they wanted to concentrate on songwriting and make every track as if it was a hit single.
For most people, Empire achieved exactly that. Buoyed by a trilogy of big singles in the form of the socially aware Title Track, the emotional ‘Jet City Woman’ and the superb ballad ‘Silent Lucidity,’ Empire was not only a hit among a legion of new fair-weather fans, but a success with the core fan base too, and now it is looked back on as a classic, almost as much as Operation:Mindcrime. If like me you weren’t there at the time and only heard of the band in recent years, it is a great record to get into even now, and stands the test of time really well.
There are some fans who disagree however and sometimes Empire gets painted as being a massive departure and slated for not sounding enough like what came before it, it can be seen as either (or both) a selling-out or an over-simplification if you got into the band through the channels of either a love of early Metal or a love of Prog more than just a love of Queensrÿche themselves.
For many fans however, there is more than enough similarity with the previous albums to be heard. Although there is nothing as straight forwardly Metal as ‘The Needle Lies,’ ‘Surgical Strike,’ ‘En Force’ or ‘Queen Of The Reich’ from their previous releases, Empire still fits in with the band’s overall sound rather well.
Tracks like ‘Della Brown’ and ‘Silent Lucidity’ fit with the band’s previous takes on balladry, such as ‘I Will Remember’ and ‘I Only Dream In Infrared,’ and also the synthy but dark and slightly proggy ‘The Thin Line’ fits in with things like ‘London’ and ‘Suite Sister Mary.’ The pre-chorus of ‘Jet City Woman’ is even a little reminiscent of ‘Take Hold Of The Flame’ after a fashion.
The band do undoubtedly push things in a more commercial direction on this album, but they still do things in a bit more of a complex and impressive way than most other commercial MTV Rock/Metal albums of the time and there are enough distorted riffs and lead guitar still there to keep most fans happy. It pretty much nails the balance between retaining what make Queensrÿche good and delivering big, bright and catchy, commercial rock music.
If you ignore musical-style altogether however, this is plain and simple a collection of very good songs. The musicianship is excellent, Geoff’s vocals are inspired and the lyrics are for the most part intelligent and interesting. There’s lots of little spidery riffs and vocal lines that will get stuck in your head, and most of the tracks can enliven any compilation or live set.
Overall, Empire is a great album and even if wasn’t what you wanted from the band in terms of musical-direction, it is a fine achievement purely in terms of songwriting and performance. This is one of the band’s biggest albums for a reason and the three big singles alone are reason enough to explore the album, never mind things like ‘Best I Can’ and ‘Resistance.’ If you are interested in Queensrÿche this is a must-listen album.