Anybody who reads these First Impressions articles will also doubtlessly be familiar with my love of Queensryche. I got into them so hard after FI-ing Operation Mindcrime here on this blog, becoming a gigantic fan overnight, and then just a few months later, there was the terrible Rocklahoma gig, which I watched and suddenly felt sad that this once exciting band had gone middle-of-the-road so badly. Then the fallout, the announcement of this new band Rising West, the excitement Rising West generated, the break up/firing of Geoff Tate from Queensryche, the war of words online, the renaming of Rising West to Queensryche, the announcement of Geoff’s new all-star version of Queensryche also existing, the court case, the two Queensryches, the fact that this album is called ‘F U,’ the horrible fans online spewing bile everyday… you know the story by now.
I just thought, ‘Yay…two Queensryche albums and two chances to see those great back catalougue songs live!’ …after all, when The Libertines split up you got both Babyshambles and Dirty Pretty Things and that was a pretty solid arrangement for a while. I thought, yay, the main band can be energeized by the new singer and make a great album based around the old days, and Geoff can go unrestrained and make the album of his dreams. How amazing would it be if the Todd version drop an album comparable to Accept’s Stalingrad and the Geoff version drop something like Fear Of A Blank Planet? What kind of dream come true would that be?
Then he announced some things about his Frequency Unknown album. When it as first announced, I got really excited because one of my favourite albums is Forbidden’s Forbidden Evil; and that album featured one of my favourite drummers, elevating God Hates Us All, Shovel Headed Kill Machine and The Formation Of Damnation to great heights, Paul Bostpah. Bostaph was announced to be the drummer for this new Queensryche album, along with fellow Forbidden guitarist Craig Locicero.
[“One half of Forbidden? Making a heavy Queensryche album? Count me in” I though. Admittedly, it seemed odd that Geoff would make a Metal album with two Thrash guys in the band instead of progging away, but whatever, cool, two Metal Queensryche albums, yay!]
Craig plays rhythm guitar on all of the 10 tacks although is billed as a guest musician, as when they play live, Kelly Grey of previous Queensryche membership, is the guitarist, but here, he only plays one guest guitar solo. It turns out that Paul Bostaph only drums on tracks 6, 7, 8 & 9. Their live drummer is actually Simon Wright who was brilliant in Dio (and according to one of my friends poor in AC/DC) but he only plays tracks 1 & 5.
The drummer on tracks 2, 3, 4 & 10 was a guy I’m not familiar with yet called Evan Bautista and on the bonus tracks, the drummer is a guy called Martín Irigoyen, a multi-instrumentalist, who also does the guitar and bass for those the bonus tracks too.
I also thought Quiet Riot’s (and Ozzy/Dio’s) bassist Rudy Sarzo played bass on here. Actually, he is their live bassist but only plays on track 1, 5 and 9 of this record. Jason Slater, who has produced the recent run of Queensryche albums since 2005, and co-written stuff with Geoff, plays bass on everything else, except the bonus tracks and the last main track (Which has bass by Randy Gane, the live Keyboardist of Queensryche in the 80s and recent keyboardist of Geoff’s solo album).
Rudy’s brother Robert also plays some of the guitar on track 3, but is now a member of Geoff’s live band.
I also heard that there were two guest guitar solos, one by Megadeth’s Chris Poland and one by Judas Priest’s KK Downing. Queensryche + Forbidden + Those two guitar heroes from bands I love? ….Count me even more in.
Apparently though, there’s also a guest solo from Dokken’s guitarist John Levin, Chirs Cannella, Ty Tarbour of King’s X, Brad Gillis of Night Ranger (and Ozzy) and Dave Meniketti of Y&T.
Now I’m a bit Skeptical. A limited, tasteful guest appearance is one thing, a big Probot style gang-album is a different thing. I’m still a bit uncomfortable with Soulfly’s first two albums having so many guests that it disrupts the “band feel.”
Soulfly’s debut is actually a good analogy for this record. Soulfly go out live, still playing Sepultura’s Roots Bloody Roots, The make music in a similar spirit to Sepultura’s Roots album, their new song “The Song Remains Insane” has lyrics from Sepultura’s ‘Attitude,’ There’s a bunch of guest musicians. Some metaphors get tortured. Its all good.
But after months and months of reading about the live line-up shifts, the bad attitude and decision making of Geoff, the supposedly bad production job on this album, and all of the other Axl Rose style shenanigans surrounding this record, I began to get skeptical. I mean, I’d never go and see Guns N Roses now.
…but even with me having that skepticism, Chinese Democracy, which has the most complex song credit grid ever devised, and may have been written by a dislikable character, is actually a brilliant record that I frequently listen to even to this day. Hey, Axl Rose may continuously seem obnoxious and silly in the music media, like Geoff does now, but that album was great, and so, this one could be too. Right? Slim chance?
Lets find out…
Ok. The album opens up with the first single, ‘Cold.’ This one has drums by Simon Wright and a guitar solo by Kelly Gray. It kicks open with a fairly chunky Alternative-Metal riff, that ends in a pinch harmonic. Nice. Then, Geoff’s great vocals come in.
I love Tribe and Operation Mindcrime II, so its not like I’m expecting him to bust out long sustained 30 second screams or anything anyway. He has a good voice, that is just how it is. Well, in my opinion I suppose. But yeah. Its not like his voice is poor just because he’s not giving it all Keeper Of The Seven Keys stylistically anymore.
The chorus comes in, its melodic, its palatable. It’s a bit dull. Very radio. It’s a bit background-in-a-wrestling video. It’s a bit loading-menu-on-a-PS2-game.
There’s nothing dislikable about it, and the keyboards add a nice touch to it. Its just not something I’d sing back live. The verse that follows however, is very good. Its good a Chimaira/Deftones style support-keyboard, and the vocals have a lot more personal flavor. It then cuts out to silence bar a vocal. Regular readers will know that such a dynamic is my favourite thing in music.
The chorus comes back in. This reminds me of Operation Mindcrime II. Tracks like ‘Hostage’ and ‘The Hands.’ Then it speeds up, and the guitar solo comes in, it doesn’t feel like its got the right tone for the song, but I like guitar solos in general, and the song benefited from the bit under the solo. The intro riff comes back in and ends it. That feels right.
Yes. Good song. Its not a great one, but it wouldn’t feel qualitatively out of place on any Queensryche album post-Empire (its better than some of the filler on those albums, even if its not better than the gems on most of them) and stylistically, it could fit ok on anything between Tribe and American Soldier. Basically, its decent and it does sound like modern Queensryche material.
Side note, on the front of my CD there’s a sticker that says ‘featuring the smash hit single “Cold”’ which is pretty amusing. Nothing is a smash hit these days anyway. But ‘Cold’ definitely wasn’t. I mean, more often than not, nothing a Metal band does is a smash hit. Maybe some Bon Jovie, Sweet Child O’ Mine and The Final Countdown. I mean, at an absolute push, ‘Silent Lucidity’ was a smash hit. In a world where the Beatles exist even that is hard to definitely agree upon. But, come on… a 2013, alternative metal flavoured, not particularly energetic, not in any major soundtrack or game, not well selling, not massively MTV rotated, not always-on-the-radio song, from a spin off band of a band who’s albums have been selling less and less anyway, in an era when nobody buys music anyway…that doesn’t scream “smash hit” to me. And I’m not trying to be a dick. I’m not one of these people who can’t wait for Geoff to fail. I hope this album is good, I hope it does well enough to keep him afloat. I’d gladly have two happy Queensryches instead of one depressed in-fighting Queensryche.
The next track is called ‘Dare.’ Evan Bautista plays drums and there is no guitar solo, but apparently Jason Slater drops a therimin solo. It opens with another Alternative Metal riff. Less chunky though, less character. This feels more American Soldier than Mindcrime II. Ok. Everything that follows is a bit of a jumble. The song is quiet layered, but I’m not sure if the layers really fit together. At 2.00 it has a sort of breakdown, followed by a cool Porcupine Tree/Radiohead sounding middle.
OK. I’ll admit it, the start was bad. The middle was very cool. Unfortunately, they leave it before its had a chance to really breathe and then the first bit comes back. And yes, the vocals in this song aren’t really that great in all honesty.
Track three opens up, with acoustics, Geoff adds a sort of country tinge to his vocals. Then, when the distorted guitar comes in, this sounds really specifically like material from Hear In The Now Frontier. The build to the pre-chorus is kind of cool and promising. Then instead of dropping a chorus it cuts back to the verse. The vocals are very interesting on this track. Ok. No chorus again. Or, it kind of has one that doesn’t feel like one, like ‘You Would Know’ by QOTSA does.
The solo on this track fits way better, its very good. Its got a bit of length and flavor to it. John Levin, he played it. Good on him.
The song continues in the grungey, Hear Now Frontier vein. It’s a good example of music in that style. It would be one of the better tracks on that album. Don’t let that read like I think ‘Frontier is worthless by the way. I don’t think it’s the best Queensryche album and I prefer things before and after Hear In The Now Frontier and Q2K, (eg. The aforementioned Tribe and Mindcrime 2) but I enjoy a good half or more of that album, and its bonus track ‘Chasing Blue Sky’ is one of my favourite Queensryche songs.
Its not as good as anything pre-Hear In The Now Frontier though. It would be the worst song on Promised Land, for example. I mean, ‘One More Time,’ ‘Bridge’ and ‘My Global Mind’ are near masterpieces in my mind. This would look pretty lackluster sitting beside them. But its not awful. It comes and goes a bit quickly and the end is nothing special, but it had some cool touches here and there. I don’t hate it.
Then comes ‘Slave.’ Some kick drums. Then the heaviest riff on the album yet. Lots of squeals. It’s a very Black Label Society sounding intro. Then it continues on that tack. It sounds out of place against what’s came before, but its pretty enjoyable.
The chorus is pretty bouncy. After the chorus it kind of dies a bit while Geoff calls people ‘bitch’ before repeating the two good parts again. Then it breaks down a bit. The bass comes in slowly. This bit reminds me of ‘Turn Me On Mr. Deadman’ but with this dark guitar lead fiddling over the top. Chris Cannella is credited as playing the guitar solo here. After that. The chorus comes back, then it fades out too-quickly in a way that sounds like a mistake. That song had potential that I don’t feel was really fulfilled to the best of its ability.
Also. I think I got one of the dodgy copies. You’ve probably read online about how some of the CDs were badly mixed and mastered and how you can trade them for a free, better version. I think I may have the bad version, because, its not very well produced if I’m being honest. The tracks don’t really sit beside each other right, there are audible hasty edits, and the whole sound is kind of tinny and withdrawn.
‘In The Hands Of God’ opens up next. It has a stomp of intent, and some interesting sounding background noises. It feels right so far. This has the most promise of anything so far. Its got that sort of certainty, that late-Queensryche at their best have. Some chugs.
Then in the bit where it seems like its going to go fast, it kind of slows down, Geoff’s vocals get good like they used to be. Then the chorus drops. Its good. Yay. We’ve got ourselves an actual good song. There’s a sort of eastern sounding scale, and interestingly shaped guitar pattern with personal finger-flavour.
Post 2nd Chorus, there’s a break, with interesting lead guitar, by the King’s X guy, there’s some synth, its got a cool pattern. When the chorus comes back, Geoff puts some umph back into the vocals. Hey. Yeah. A straight up actually good song. It’d be amongst the best songs (and stylistically fit) anywhere from Q2K-Dedicated To Chaos. See. If Geoff likes this kind of mildly prog flavoured pop-metal, he should follow that path instead of pandering to the metal crowd, because Toddryche have that covered and will do it better since they believe in it. Geoff should write songs like this, but just do it really, really well.
Then both types of Queensryche fan are happy and both bands have their artistic integrity.
Next. ‘Running Backwards.’ Some kind of Nu Metal flavoured guitars and a bouncy beat, with a eastern-tinged guitar lead. This reminds me a bit of Unquestionable Truth era Bizkit (only without the dark atmosphere and the sweaty, earthy production, and …probably the intensity. Granted I’m only like 10 seconds in, but I can’t see it hammering as hard as ‘The Propaganda’). Hey. First Bostaph appearance. The chorus is a bit similar to that of ‘Cold.’ In fact, the whole song is. Its kind of like, Davidian-Ten Ton Hammer, or 21st Century Schizoid Man-Pictures Of A City, or Metal Health-Sign Of The Times …y’know, one of those relationships, except not across two albums.
[PS. There’s a secret Mastodon one in Blood And Thunder-Hunters Of The Sky. Disclude the first Hunters’ riff and then compare the two songs structure and intent.]
There’s a quick but effective build up. A genuinely good guitar solo. Hey, KK Downing. Of course it is. Yes. When I heard that Geoff was making an album with two Forbiden guys and KK Downing, this was the minimum level of quality I was expecting. Well done song. If you only try out one song from the album, let it be this one. Its succinct, its got KK and Bostpah. Geoff actually puts some life in at times.
‘Life Without You’ starts. It seems like it might have some depth. Its got that certainty again. Hey. When it breaks down into that main staccato part that’s pretty effective. This has a sort of half-ballad feel. Its got a can-be-assed feeling so far which is nice. This cared that they’d written it, unlike the majority of ‘Dare.’ Again, its nothing special in and of itself, but as a song buried towards the end of a modern Queensryche album, it wouldn’t feel offensive.
The guitar solo doesn’t really fit. Brad Gillis. But its more of a structural thing. Oh hey. Another solo that does fit! Ok. Fair dos.
Then comes the piano laced ‘Everything.’ It starts off like its going to be a ballad. Then it has a decent and decently-paced alternative Metal verse with a nice heavy riff calmed by pianos. Hmm. An electronic breakbeat segue. Chinese Democracy much?
The chorus is a bit too syrupy sweet. Its got something of a Journey feel to it. When it comes back the 2nd time with no drums it reminds me of a wedding. The little touches on the rhythm guitar and drums (Forbidden gang!) actually save it from sounding totally cheesy though, and inject some interest into it. I think if heard this one four or five times I’d get used to the chorus and like the song all the way through.
‘Fallen’ next. A slightly waltzy, slightly ballady feeling alternative type3 riff. Then it blends into jangly wristy acoustics. It actually improves by doing so. This is back in the Hear Frontier ballpark. Its got some good vocals and some inoffensive compositional choices. Yup. There’s nothing wrong with this one. It too would be better than the worst songs on Q2K or Dedicated To Chaos. The chorus gets pretty catchy by the third time and Bosptaph adds some fun fills. Y&T’s Dave adds a really appropriate guitar solo. Ok, by the end of it, this is just a straight up good song. Yup. Not only not bad, but actually actively decent. If the whole album was as good as this, ‘In The Hands Of God’ and ‘Running Backwards’ then Geoff would have a genuinely face-saving good album to parade around and say, “Look, you thought I’d fail, but there’s actually something to my vision of the band.” It wasn’t though. And actually, that would have to be quality of the decent tracks between the gems. But still. Save yourself some money and only buy those three songs. Or add ‘Cold’ too, and make an EP of two decent Rock/Radio-Metal singles, and two good Modernryche style mid-album tracks. That’d have been a good EP to open up with, and then go and drop a higher quality album afterwards post-tour.
The last song on the album (excluding bonus tracks) is a ballad. ‘The Weight Of The World.’ It opens up with just acoustic guitar, sorrowful and Geoff gives a very nice vocal performance in his modern style (ignore reports that he’s a tuneless hack, that’s only live). Then, the band comes in a bit, a touch of electric, some bells and cymbal washing. This actually does feel very much like Classic Queensryche.
Fuck it. That fictional EP I suggested, yeah? End it with this.
I straight up unapologetically enjoy this. Especially when the heavier, moody Ozzy-during-the-Zack-era style chugs come in. And the echoing, repeating ‘remember’ that is clearly pandering to Mindcrime/Empire fans that I should be above, but enjoy regardless.
Chris Poland comes in for a solo. Of course its going to be good. Ok. Admittedly, its not mind-bending, but it ticks about three quarters of my boxes.
Yup. That was a very good closer.
So. What was the album overall like then?
Well. It was badly mixed and mastered. Some of the tracks felt like they were too short without having that ‘succinct bonus points’ feeling. Some of Geoff’s vocals weren’t red hot. Some of the guest guitarists fit better than others. Bostpah didn’t get to knock it out of the park like on a noughties Thrash comeback album, the guitar was a bit quiet and not-heavy-enough, Track 2 just didn’t really work, some of the choruses were a little dull, safe and generic, and some of the songs didn’t end up as cool as they could have been.
That being said. This album is not a big pile of horse shit. It is not the worst album ever written. Over three quarters of it is decent and over half of it kind of good. With more time in development, one single band only working on it, and a bit of a more inspired performance the whole way through, and this could’ve been a good album.
That being said however, I can already tell Toddryche have the better album, based on the fact that I enjoy the songs they’ve previewed so much more than anything off of this. And, Todd is a much better singer right now (nowhere near as good as Geoff in his prime, but way, way better than Geoff now). And the fact that its production seems a lot better… and I just kind of trust them more. But anyway. Why do we have to compare everything? Back when I was judging this on its own merits I had some good things to say about parts of it, now that I’ve compared it in my mind to either Old Queensryche or the other Queensryche suddenly it seems a bit poo.
I guess if you weren’t generous you’d call Frequency Unknown rushed, a waste of potential and a bit of a mess. I’m feeling generous in this moment however. I think of it after this one and only one listen as, surprisingly decent. With a few kinks that need working out.
My feelings are all over the place through this. Expecting to love, it, expecting to hate it, expecting ‘meh.’ Trying to excuse its flaws, trying to highlight its flaws. Its just hard. Its not easy to be fair about something that’s essentially subjective but ultimately so controversial. I don’t want to blindly hate it or blindly love it, or not give it a fair chance or give it more chance than I’d give a normal album, or… awwwwgh you just can’t win. I want to just scream its not good or shit and have done with it. Meh power.
Ok. But that’s not even the end just yet. Because there’s the bonus tracks. Four re-recordings of preexisting Queensryche hits, with new, less-good vocals by Geoff and all the music by one multi-instrumentalist with nothing to do with Queensryche. And guest singing by Geoff’s Wife and Daughter. The very oxygen that internet trolls breath.
Rerecords are always a bad idea anyway. Even Kiss couldn’t make them better than the originals. Even Testament couldn’t, and their Rerecords album was pretty savage.
“I Don’t Believe In Love” just sounds wrong. That’s all the brain does. It says “that bit’s not right, that bit’s not right, that bit was better on the original’ etc. Also. This production is not helping matters. This sort of move should be saved for trying to redo something poorly produced with new technology. Like Testament. Or Exodus. Exodus made probably the best ever Re-recrods album because Bonded By Blood was so oddly produced that a savage, full-sounding modern production actually added something, instead of just taking away the original charm. Plus I just like Rob Dukes.
“Empire” again, just sounds wrong. The tempo is wrong. The reverb is wrong. The vocals have less energy and conviction.
Oh. I’ll tell you a good re-record. Medicine 2001 by Monster Magnet. They take a Spine Of God track and give it the feeling of the Powerslave-God Says No era. That change in attitude makes a very interesting attitude.
This ‘Empire’ isn’t really anything, except another not-as-good version of ‘Empire,’ which I don’t need because ‘Empire’ is one of my very favourite songs and it does me no favours hearing it a bit shitty and lifeless.
I’ll give it some credit though, the bit with the solo does sound kind of big and spacey. There’s an interesting spacey to it certainly. But then, was that worth doing the whole song for? Because, the rest of the song isn’t the kind of thing that would make me buy Empire for, if I heard this version. Even though ‘Empire’ played properly absolutely is.
‘Jet City Woman.’ Again. What’s really left to be said. I don’t like re-records much usually. These aren’t particularly great re-records anyway. I just notice the bits that are “wrong” more than hear the actual track. Geoff’s voice isn’t as good as the old version. These add nothing to the album (arguably they detract from it considerably). The public didn’t want them. The entire internet dislikes them. What you’ve just got is a song that is great, played not-great and sang not-great and produced not-great, and kind of making the great song seem a whole lot less great really. Why do that? Even Axl Rose had the good sense not to release his re-recording of the entire of Appetite To Destruction. Because. Really. What does the world gain by having Appetite again but without the charm?
Unless your re-record turns out VERY well. All you really do is sort of bruise the charm of the original. It doesn’t ruin the original. But in the back of your mind, you think of that song, and suddenly its not utterly perfect anymore. Even if you just lose 0.00001% of your love for it, that’s 0.00001% you could’ve done without loosing to be honest.
I mean, on this re-record of ‘Silent Lucidity’ that closes out the album, the guitar solo lacks the emotional impact of the original, and the big amazing choral ‘IIIIIIIIIIIII’ that should sound like ‘Comfortably Numb’ doesn’t have anything close to the umph it should have. That bit was fucking magic, and its not here. It’s a bit of a song. Why do that? Wouldn’t it benefit new fans better to hear the fucking magic bit and then go out and buy all the back catalogue. Not hear these unexciting re-records and kid of say “what’s all the fuss about?” and then not bother exploring Queensryche further?
I was all positive on the album. Now I’m all negative about it.
Ok. There’s a straight up five songs on this ten track album that I’m happy to have in my collection and another four I don’t mind having there. There are however, four massive turkeys I sort of resent ever having heard. And I’m not as enthusiastic about the good parts as I am unenthusiastic about the ok bits and actively against the bad bits. So. Yeah. Bad decision adding those re-records. Really leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
Luckily, the outrageously fun ‘Metal Health’ has come on next and is sort of cleansing the palate. Dun, DunDun, Dun-Duhn. What a song. Speaking of Rudy Sarzo, he’s on this track. Hey. Why don’t they record it again with no passion and dodgy cymbal sounds, and deliver the vocals less interestingly?
Oh yeah. Because nobody would want that.
Because when people thought about that song, they wouldn’t think of it as “That was a cool song remember?” They’d think “That was a cool song before it turned bad.” And they’d be wrong to think that, because the original is still there, but wrong or not they’d think it, so don’t bloody risk it unless you can afford to.
Geoff can’t really afford to be throwing away listeners when Toddryche are scorching it live and dropping an album with more passion on it. If this was business as usual, post Dedicated To Chaos, maybe you could get away with it. Slightly. But when the stakes are higher, and comparisons are being made, and people are either expecting high things or waiting for you to slip up, its not worth giving them such obvious troll album.
Its like calling your album ‘Big Pile.’ Everyone’s obviously going to call it ‘Big Pile…OF SHIT!’ which is not what you want happening on a risky album. If you are on an unstoppable roll of classic album after classic album maybe you can make that kind of mistake and escape, but when the situation is as it is for Geoffryche, its not a business decision I’d make.
But what do I know? I’m just yet another douchebag on the internet gossiping about people he’s never met, and being judgmental and over-analytical about things that are ultimately just options. Frequency Unkown and all its individual tracks are just options for entertainment. Pick one. …or Don’t. It doesn’t matter. Its just an option for some entertainment. Appels exist and so does Soup and Steak and Cadbury’s Fudge and so does Haggis. They’re all just options. Pick something, eat it. Who gives a fuck?
This is Geoff’s life and his job and I wouldn’t want someone gossiping about me and my break up so maybe I shouldn’t look so much into the background of this album and just listen to it. At the end of the day, Its just a thing I listened to. It could have stimulated me more, could’ve done less. It was what it was. Geoff is who he is, he’s done what he’s done .
Does any of it even fucking matter? What’s the difference between getting a good loaf of bread, or a shit film or an OK Queensryche album? Its just stuff, of varying quality.
I don’t go writing about how the baker got divorced and since his hip surgery, doesn’t make the bread as tasty because he walks funny nowadays.
BUT. People have opinions. And I’m a person. And I experienced a thing. And formed some opinions. And you can read them. …or not. Just an option.