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+ {Geoff Tate}

Taking their leaf from the NWOBHM movement rather than their fellow Stateside metal brethren, QUEENSRYCHE had at least had some identity among the many AEROSMITH or KISS clones. Serving up a deadly dish of prog-rock-esque IRON MAIDEN, JUDAS PRIEST and, for the lighter touches, classic rock giants PINK FLOYD, the Bellevue bad boys more or less peaked on 1988’s acclaimed album, “Operation: Mindcrime”, but they’re still going strong (as two groups!) a quarter of a century on.
Formed 1981, in the aforementioned suburb of Seattle, Washington, initially as The Mob, high school friends-cum-twin guitarists Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton recruited the likeminded metallists Eddie Jackson (bass) and Scott Rockenfield (drums). With the addition of a German-born classically-trained vocalist Geoff Tate (plucked from The Myth), the 5-piece act assumed the QUEENSRYCHE moniker after the enduring track on their eponymous four-song demo cassette. Turned into a 12″ EP (and subsequent mini-set), the platter was released by record shop owners Kim and Diana Harris, who had set up the 206 Records imprint expressly for this purpose. Led by the power-driven `Queen Of The Reich’, and highlighting their earliest “dungeon and dragons”-themed gems, `The Lady Wore Black’, it promised much for the band.
Following the record’s underground success, EMI America snapped the band up for a seven-album deal and promptly re-issued the record into the charts, before setting them to work on a debut album with producer James Guthrie.
The result was THE WARNING (1984) {*6}, a rather underwhelming affair handicapped by an unsympathetic final mix. Still, tours supporting BON JOVI and METALLICA ensured its Top 75 rise; fans would put it down to three semi classic tracks, `Take Hold Of The Flame’, `NM 156’ and the 9-minute bow, `Roads To Madness’.
The Top 50 Neil Kernon-produced, RAGE FOR ORDER (1986) {*6}, was the first QUEENSRYCHE release to hint at the band’s future cerebro-metal direction; Tate’s impressive vocal muscle flexing on the likes of `Walk In The Shadows’, the emo-fuelled `The Killing Words’ and EUROPE-esque singles flop, `Gonna Get Close To You’ (penned by Lisa Diabello).
OPERATION: MINDCRIME (1988) {*9} was one, if not thee, landmark metal releases of the era. The Reagan-era record was an Orwellian-style concept affair dealing with media brainwashing and social turmoil, while conjuring up a convincingly chilling plot of a mercenary on a mission to assassinate corrupt senators. Interspersed with minute-long snippets of dialogue featuring orchestrated pieces conducted by movie composer MICHAL KAMEN, the songs effortlessly created an atmosphere of tension and portent, Tate veering between prophetic threat and despairing menace, while the band’s twin-guitar attack raged and insinuated in equal measure. Pamela Moore got into her role on the set’s longest piece, `Suite Sister Mary’, while a romantic setting was laid out for `I Don’t Believe In Love’ and `Eyes Of A Stranger’. “…Mindcrime” subsequently went gold in America while selling over a million copies worldwide with nary a hit single to support it.
Firmly established as the foremost thinking man’s metal band, they could afford to be a bit more instinctive with their next release, the acclaimed EMPIRE (1990) {*8}. Another double-LP collection of set pieces, again produced by Peter Collins, the record’s highlight was the hypnotic, `Silent Lucidity’, a “Comfortably Numb”-ing Top 10 hit with heavy MTV rotation; the album itself guaranteed equal chart status. Other highlights included the brawny `Jet City Woman’, `Best I Can’, `Della Brown’ and the title track. A Monsters Of Rock tour unearthed a unique CD + video combination of OPERATION: LIVECRIME (1991) {*6}, piecing together that great set and a few encores besides; the single `Anybody Listening?’ featured a B-side cover of SIMON & GARFUNKEL’s `Scarborough Fair’.
QUEENSRYCHE finally re-emerged in 1994 after what seemed a lengthy period of inactivity; fans having to make do with a soundtrack ballad, `Real World’, from the 1993 Arnie Schwarz movie Last Action Hero. The platinum-selling PROMISED LAND {*6} promised much, but this was a more introspective and meditative effort which nevertheless cemented the band’s position as prime purveyors of intelligent hard rock/metal. `I Am I’ and `Bridge’ gave the group further minor singles success in Britain, but they couldn’t buy a “…Lucidity”-type in their homeland.
Taking a little too much experimentation on board with their next Top 20 effort in 1997, HEAR IN THE NOW FRONTIER {*5}, QUEENSRYCHE for once failed to get the right response from the critics. Whether it was a `Sign Of The Times’ (as the opening title suggested), or it was their watered-down commercial compositions, it was hard to tell. DeGarmo and Tate were still finding the necessary nuance on the likes of `Some People Fly’ and the DEF LEPPARD-ish `Cuckoo’s Nest’, but something was missing; DeGarmo exited stage right thereafter, joining up with ALICE IN CHAINS moonlighting leader, Jerry Cantrell.
Shifting to Atlantic Records for Q2K (1999) {*5}, the band – with fill-in guitarist Kelly Gray – were treading water when the set only managed to squeeze into the US Top 50 for one week. QUEENSRYCHE’s old-school metal was suddenly overshadowed by new monsters of metal on the block, and run-of-the-mill songs such as `Sacred Ground’, `Liquid Sky’ and `The Right Side Of My Mind’ only served to emphasize the point.
The double CD/DVD concert set, LIVE EVOLUTION (2001) {*6}, compressed the band’s considerable legacy into four seamlessly executed suites (recorded over two nights at Seattle’s Moore Theatre), all the more impressive in its majesty given the absence of DeGarmo. He indeed augmented the band – Mike Stone was instated during recording – on the group’s next studio venture, TRIBE (2003) {*6}, before he took off again to become a professional charter pilot. The record’s encouraging critical reception may just have spurred them on to make the set one of their most cohesive and ambitious albums in over a decade, with the scope and reach of both the lyrics and music surpassing any of their contemporaries; check out `The Art Of Life’, `Blood’ and `Rhythm Of Hope’. The obligatory concert afterthought, THE ART OF LIVE (2004) {*5} – with no `Silent Lucidity’ – was a pattern that railed their loyal fans.
All was forgiven on the sequel of all sequels, OPERATION: MINDCRIME II (2006) {*7}, a return to the Top 20 and an album that picked up the pieces of junkie assassin, Nikki, a man fresh from the pen and on a mission to avenge the death of his hooker-turned-nun girlfriend. Produced by Jason Slater, Tate’s second bout of Bush-bashing (Mk.II) was realised when hero RONNIE JAMES DIO (as the voice of Dr. X), Pamela Moore and Miranda Tate agreed to take part(s); the composer’s composer KAMEN was posted missing, so Ashif Hakik stepped in. As blistering and bombastic as its predecessor of eighteen years past, the rock opera was re-born via `Murderer?’, `If I Could Change It All’ and the thrash-y `I’m American’.
Celebrating the genre-gelling “Operation(s)”, MINDCRIME AT THE MOORE (2007) {*7}, pieced together both volumes on a homecoming double-disc (and of course, a separate DVD). Released the same year, TAKE COVER {*6} unloaded the music of their makers, a self-indulgent but worthy attempt at rocking and reinventing some old tunes. Wilton and Stone managed to stick their own identity on many of the covers, while Tate is just majestic in his role of arena-rock kingpin. Every track has a certain degree of merit, so naming them all one can sense their eclectic stance: `Welcome To The Machine’ (PINK FLOYD), `Innuendo’ (QUEEN), `Neon Knights’ (BLACK SABBATH), a 10-minute live version of `Bullet The Blue Sky’ (U2), `Red Rain’ (PETER GABRIEL), `Synchronicity II’ (The POLICE), `Almost Cut My Hair’ (CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG), `For What It’s Worth’ (BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD), `For The Love Of Money’ (The O’JAYS), `Heaven On Their Minds’ (Tim Rice & Andrew Lloyd Webber) and `Odissea’ (Cheope & Carlo Marrale).
Helped once again by producer Slater, assistant and former ‘Ryche-ian Kelly Gray, his wife Susan Tate on the songs, Geoff Tate was back on conceptual focus for Top 30 set, AMERICAN SOLDIER (2009) {*6}; Mike Stone had now bailed. Reflecting war through the postscript journals of serviceman from WWII and Vietnam to the Gulf Wars, the empathetic Tate and Co channel their hurt and pain via prime pieces `Hundred Mile Stare’, `A Dead Man’s Words’, `The Killer’ and `Man Down!’.
DEDICATED TO CHAOS (2011) {*4} broke from concept OTT approach, however, it proved a breaking point for a group going in other directions. Unsatisfied by Tate’s crooning BOWIE-in-Berlin-era antics, the group’s reliance on a groovier hard-rock (`Got It Bad’ the example), left loyal fans wondering what the hell was going on.
Their answer was just around the corner, when, shockingly, Tate was fired from the band in 2012. Court actions and lawsuits prevailed over the following months, only for the judge to grant the group members the song rights, although Geoff was allowed to carry on in his own version of QUEENSRYCHE. Meanwhile, he’d already set the ball rolling with his second solo set, the disappointing KINGS & THIEVES (2012) {*3} – his first had been a decade back with the eponymous GEOFF TATE {*4}.
Confusion was rife when Tate was behind the first post-break-up QUEENSRYCHE album, FREQUENCY UNKNOWN (2013) {*4}, a poor showing if it must be told with only `Cold’, `Slave’ and `Running Backwards’ excelling. The man hired fast guns Kelly Gray, fellow guitarist Robert Sarzo (QUIET RIOT), bassist brother Rudy Sarzo and former AC/DC drummer Simon Wright, to perform on the album. A guest list that comprised K.K. Downing (JUDAS PRIEST), Ty Tabor (KINGS X), Paul Bostaph (SLAYER) and Craig Locicero (FORBIDDEN), gave curious metal fans at least an opportunity to compare notes with the other touring QUEENSRYCHE; Wilton, Rockenfield, Eddie Jackson and a 2011 session guy, Parker Lundgren (on second guitar), plus former CRIMSON GLORY frontman Todd La Torre, countersuing as their eponymous QUEENSRYCHE (2013) {*6} album was ready in the wings. The better of the two records, and one that cracked the Top 30, the soaring La Torre was definitely up for the task of leading the anthemic choruses; `Vindication’, `Where Dreams Go To Die’ and `The Open Road’, matching any of their post-“Mindcrime” pieces.
But to save further chaos and ridicule about the fight for the group moniker, how about tossing a coin, penalty kicks, or, better still, first to scribe “Operation: Mindcrime III” – on your marks… get set. Funnily enough, OPERATION: MINDCRIME was name chosen by vocalist Geoff Tate when he lost the performing rights to the QUEENSRYCHE billing. Beating off a pending QUEENSRYCHE release by a fortnight with September 2015’s chart-shy `The Key’, the battle for supremacy was won by his former group when the Chris “Zeuss” Harris-produced CONDITION HUMAN {*7} raced into the Top 30. Like a prog-style IRON MAIDEN, La Torre and Co were worthy winners if brand tracks `Arrow Of Time’, `Guardian’, `Bulletproof’ and the concluding 7-minute title track were anything to go by.
On the back of a subsequent world tour, Rockenfield decided that raising his new-born son rightly took precedence over band commitments; therefore an indefinite paternal leave was granted in March 2017. KAMELOT drummer Casey Grillo would fill in on future live dates, however it would be the dexterous La Torre who’d take up the sticks for the outfit’s fifteenth studio set, THE VERDICT (2019) {*8}. The Tate-less QUEENSRYCHE’s resurgence had been nigh-on remarkable in recent times, and nobody in the metal biz could begrudge them their return to Top 20 status. Produced by Zeuss Harris, “the verdict” was unanimous among their loyal fan base, and soaring above the heavens in sound and spirit, the dynamic La Torre proved an unstoppable force on the likes of `Man The Machine’, `Dark Reverie’, `Blood Of The Levant’, `Launder The Conscience’ et al.
© MC Strong 1994-2001/GRD // rev-up MCS Apr-Aug2013-Jun2019

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