I actually purchased my first ‘Ryche record by accident. I think I was about 16, just getting into rock music and liked what I heard from a band called Extreme. Everybody knows who they are right? If you don’t where were you when ‘More Than Words’ was at number one allover the world for what seemed like 400 years? Anyway they were allover MTV with ‘Get The Funk Out’ and ‘Pornograffiti’, and it was their album I was looking for when I walked into that record shop that day. The thing is, when I got there I couldn’t remember their name – and that was before the delights of marijuana had ever got near my dubious brain cells!! So I was flicking through the CD racks (been awhile since I did that!) and I came across ‘Empire’ by Queensryche. ‘Empire’ ‘Extreme’, you can maybe see why a 16 year old idiot was confused? Anyway, ‘Empire‘, the title track from the aforementioned album was allover MTV too at the time, and I remember liking it but didn’t really intend to buy it but somehow or other I got all muddled up and I ended up purchasing it in error.
Well it was a great mistake to make, because as a piece of hard rock music it had few flaws, probably QR’s slickest and most polished non concept album to date. Released off the back of the overwhelming success of ‘Operation Mindcrime’, it capitalized on the fervour of fan and critic alike, punching home the unique sound and building upon the incredible writing talent and six string harmonics that the previous album had already bestowed upon the metal music masses. I was an instant fan. With tracks like ‘Jet City Woman’, ‘Della Brown’, ‘Another Rainy Night’, ‘Empire’, ‘Silent Lucidity’ and ‘Anybody Listening’, all of which are now solid ‘Ryche anthems, how could any discerning metal fan not love this band? Infact I loved it so much I went out and got the tattoo!
Naturally I bought everything in their back catalogue, metal masterpieces like ‘The Warning’, ‘Rage For Order’, and of course the behemoth metal classic that is ‘Operation Mindcrime’ – THE greatest all time metal concept album. But sadly after ‘Empire’, it all kinda went downhill. Hardcore QR fans might argue, and some do that ‘Promised Land’ was of the same quality as what went before it, but for me it signaled a downturn and possibly a lack of direction or purpose for the band as it once was. And it seemed that founding member and lead guitarist Chris DeGarmo agreed, leaving the band soon after to embark upon a career as a pilot, of all things. The band had taken a big hit with his departure but soldiered on regardless, churning out mediocre albums every couple of years, making average music for a dwindling fan base, the only highlight of which for me being the release of ‘Mindcrime 2′, a move that could have been considered a little bit desperate – a bid to reclaim former glories off the back of their greatest ever achievement. The story didn’t need an ending. The magic of ‘Mindcrime 1’ was not only the quality of the music, but the fact that the fans had all come to their own conclusions about the fate of their beloved lead character Niki. Nevertheless Geoff Tate and the band did complete the story, and did so with another powerful and well crafted record. Some fans didn’t like it, but most did, and to me it seemed that the band, and essentially Geoff as the main songwriter, needed that concept to write anything worthwhile. Mediocrity then ensued once more, Geoff started inviting family members to play on albums, never really a good thing for any band unless your name is Frank Zappa and your son is called Dweezil. The whole QR project seemed to become nothing but an ego trip for the lead singer. I with others, lost interest. And to be honest I expected to hear that they had finally split and that was that for the once great rock band, which really would have been just fine.
Instead, I heard something quite different, and as a long time loyal fan, something quite sad. I read a gig review that stated that Geoff Tate had visibly spat at drummer Scott Rockenfield during a concert. I checked out the footage and low and behold, there it was as clear as day, Geoff spraying phlegm, intentionally, allover his drummer. Rumour has it that the band’s manager and Geoff’s wife, Susan Tate, had been fired by the rest of the band just before the gig, and that was Geoff’s somewhat childish reaction. Geoff was fired soon after, and then all hell broke loose! Legal teams were instructed, affidavits were served, and court cases ensued. The Judge made a ruling that Tate, and the rest of what was Queensryche, could each use the QR moniker going forward. Tate teamed up with ex ‘Ryche guitarist Kelly Gray, the guy who replaced DeGarmo and brought in members of other bands creating a semi-supergroup, under the guise of a new QR. though subsequently releasing an album under his own name, while the other QR replaced Tate with Crimson Glory frontman Todd La Torre, and continued to play gigs under the name Queensryche. Are you still with me? Yeah, it is a big f**king mess! In fact ex Dream Theater drummer and founding member Mike Portnoy, who’d had his own public spat with his former band-mates described his experience as a ‘walk in the park’, compared to the QR debacle. That said, he’d also had a very public argument with Tate himself when QR pulled out of a co-headlining tour with Dream Theater back in 2006 at the 11th hour, in favour of touring with Iron Maiden, so there probably isn’t much love lost there.
So where does this leave one of the greatest metal acts of all time? Well like I said it’s a big mess. Tate neglected to bite the bullet and face up his foes, choosing so far to release music under his own name while tossing copious amounts of bitchy mud at his former band-mates. I haven’t heard his new album, but I’ve read the reviews and they are not great. The other Queensryche, and for me what will always be the REAL Ryche – because a band is or should be the sum of its parts and not the over-inflated ego of one man alone, continue to tour and write music for a new album that should be released early this year. So far the live reviews are good, with writers describing a new found hunger and a return to form. One writer stating that ‘gone is the cabaret act and back is the sweaty rock show’. It sounds exciting, I’m certainly looking forward to hearing what they come up with. Could they possibly get close to re-creating past glories? They don’t need to, and frankly it’s unlikely. They just need to get back to enjoying what they do best. If that happens then the Queensryche fans of the world can rejoice. But right now I’ll let you form your own opinion about the new old original official whatevertheyarecallednow Queensryche, below are a couple of clips from a recent show, I hope you enjoy.
‘EMPIRE’ @ The Marquee Theater 29/12/2012
‘QUEEN OF THE REICH’ @ The Marquee Theater 29/12/2012