Monday, June 3, 2013

Queensrÿche - Frequency Unknown

Queensrÿche
Frequency Unknown
Deadline Music/Cleopatra Records

There was a time when I considered Seattle based progressive rock outfit Queensrÿche one of the most forward thinking metal acts of their time. Everything the band released up until 1994’s ‘Promised Land’ was daring, innovative and unlike any other band on the scene. In my eyes, Queensrÿche could do no wrong.
But by 1997, around the time the band released ‘Hear In The Now Frontier’, it was clear that things weren’t what they once were within the Queensrÿche camp. And confirmation of that arrived with the announcement that guitarist Chris DeGarmo had decided to leave the band.
Although DeGarmo played a big part in Queensrÿche’s success, I still remained a fan of the band. But with each and every new release, I couldn’t help but feel that things were never the same within the group, and that their releases post 1994 were merely a shadow of the band’s once greatness.
Fast forward to 2012, and the internal issues within Queensrÿche came to a head, with vocalist Geoff Tate being given his marching orders from the rest of the band.
What has followed has been nothing short of embarrassing. While the remaining members of Queensrÿche (Former Crimson Glory vocalist Todd La Torre has replaced Tate) have kept quiet on the split and instead have focussed their attention on their upcoming album (Due later this year through Century Media Records), Tate has taken every opportunity to air the band’s dirty laundry in the press, which has in the eyes of many, tarnished his image in a major way.
But the soap opera that surrounds the Queensrÿche/Tate split isn’t what’s important here. What’s really important is the music.
Tate made a quick return to the scene with his sophomore solo effort ‘Kings & Thieves’ in late 2012 (Through Century Media Records) after splitting with Queensrÿche, and while it was a little more rock orientated than his self-titled debut release from 2002, it wasn’t a huge departure from the direction Tate was steering Queensrÿche on their disappointing ‘Dedicated To Chaos’ release from 2011.
Now returning with his follow-up effort ‘Frequency Unknown’, Tate has decided to reclaim the Queensrÿche name, and beat the La Torre fronted version of the band to the punch. But given Tate’s guidance in terms of musical direction in Queensrÿche over the last fourteen years, and his own solo release from last year, is ‘Frequency Unknown’ the kind of Queensrÿche album fans have been holding out for?
In short, the answer is no.
The opening track ‘Cold’ is a surprisingly heavy sounding track with the guitars up-front in the mix, and boasts some strong melody lines from Tate that allow the choruses to stand out in a good way. But even though the song is a good one, it’s doesn’t really have what you would call the classic Queensrÿche sound. And as for Kelly Gray’s guitar solo, it sounds too tacked on.
The follow-up track ‘Dare’ is something completely different sounding from the opening track, and gives the impression that most of the tracks on the album do as a whole – ‘Frequency Unknown’ is merely a collection of songs that aren’t in any way connected in the sound sense. The song itself is a little thin on the ground ideas wise, and the blatant stab at his former band in the lyrics is far from Tate (Or Queensrÿche for that matter) at his best.
‘Give It To You’ sees Tate attempt to go for something a little more atmospheric and minimalistic, but falls well short of the mark with Tate failing to hit some of the notes on the lower end of his range, and the overly repetitive line of ‘How do you like me so far?’.
‘Slave’ is an aggressive track that packs plenty of bite, and is a solid enough track if you overlook its overall simplicity and lack of daring in the song writing department, while the Middle Eastern influences on the atmospheric and darker edged ‘In The Hands Of God’ is undoubtedly the
albums true stand out cut. Sounding more akin to ‘Promised Land’ era Queensrÿche than anything Tate has laid down in years, it’s clear that Tate is capable of injecting some passion into his performance, and that given the right song writing, he’s able to produce a gem worthy of the adorning the Queensrÿche title.
Unfortunately, ‘Running Backwards’ is far from a gem. Sounding like a leftover from ‘Dedicated To Chaos’, the song features a lacklustre chorus, and the guitar solo from K. K. Downing (Ex-Judas Priest) adds little to the song.
Towards the tail end of the album, the bulk of the songs take on a slower pace, with ‘Life Without You’ and the groove driven ‘Fallen’ overshadowing the somewhat forgettable ‘Everything’ (Although it has to be said that Ty Tabor’s extended solo work on the track is noteworthy).
The final track on the album, ‘The Weight Of The World’, is a sweeping epic ballad with some subtle progressive influences and some great guitar work from Chris Poland (Ex-Megadeth/OHM:). Although far from breaking the mould, the track is another example of Tate finding the right blend of song writing and passion, and producing something special rather than uninspired.
Although listed initially as bonus tracks, it would appear that all versions of ‘Frequency Unknown’ come with Tate’s four re-recorded version of Queensrÿche classics. I won’t go into too much detail about the tracks themselves (Which are ‘Silent Lucidity’, ‘Empire’, ‘Jet City Woman’ and ‘I Don’t Believe In Love’), but I will say that these versions don’t stand up to the originals at all.  Tate isn’t capable of hitting the notes he once did, and it’s obvious on these new versions (Especially on ‘I Don’t Believe In Love’). The idea to re-record these songs probably looked great on paper, but in reality, unless you’re planning on changing the arrangements or try something new, they’ll always be inferior to the far superior originals.
Hastily put together over six week period, and featuring a long list of well known session musicians, ‘Frequency Unknown’ sounds patchy, uninspired and rush released in order for Tate to get the jump on a new Queensrÿche product before his former band members get the chance to.
Had this been released under Tate’s own name, and not included the four re-recorded Queensrÿche tracks, the album may have fared better. But as it stands, ‘Frequency Unknown’ is not only an insult to the La Torre fronted version of the band, but to Queensrÿche fans as well.

For more information on Geoff Tate, check out - http://www.geofftate.com/

© Justin Donnelly