Sunday Old School: Queensryche
Given the recent headlines about Bellevue, Washington natives, Queensryche, along with Sunday Old School’s promise last month to cover more progressive bands, it seemed inevitable that the band in question would soon be appearing in our Sunday column. Queensryche began life in 1981, originally using the moniker, The Mob, formed by two members of a heavy metal covers band named Cross + Fire. The duo (guitarist Michael Wilton and drummer Scott Rockenfield) soon added to their ranks by recruiting bassist Eddie Jackson, and a second guitarist, Chris DeGarmo. Initially they had trouble finding a vocalist, but the group was able to convince singer Geoff Tate, who fronted another band named Babylon, to perform with them at a local rock festival. Tate refused to commit to the band at first, citing a lack of interest in performing heavy metal, though he was soon coaxed back to The Mob to record vocals for their demo tape, but returned to his current band at the time, Myth, soon after. The Mob soon changed their name at the urging of their manager, taking the tag, Queensryche from a song on their demo tape, which by now had been circulating worldwide and received massively positive feedback from such publications as Kerrang!, which proved to be enough to finally convince Tate to join the group on a full time basis.
The reception to their demo led to Queensryche signing a major label deal with EMI Records, immediately finding chart success when their self-titled debut EP (a re-release of their demo) entered the Billboard Charts at number 81. After performing their first tour together, the band flew to London to begin work on their first full length album, which hit the shelves in September 1984 under the mysterious title, "The Warning." The album climbed twenty places higher than their EP and found success overseas, particularly the song, "Take Hold Of The Flame" which was a hit in Japan. In addition to this commercial success, Queensryche were hired to support Kiss on their Animalize tour and soon released their second album, "Rage For Order," a more glam orientated affair than their previous work and laden with keyboards, but continued their commercial success, hitting the charts in the United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands, as well as reaching number 47 on the Billboard Charts.
They then got to work on their third album, a highly ambitious effort entitled, "Operation: Mindcrime." The record was a concept album, telling the story of a heroin addict named Nikki who is brainwashed into becoming an assassin by an underground movement. The album was a massive success, hitting the charts worldwide and earning the band rave reviews, with many to this day ranking it as one of the greatest concept albums of all time, on par with "The Wall" by Pink Floyd and "Tommy" by The Who. They supported the album by touring with several other big name bands, including Metallica on their "… And Justice For All" tour and with the hugely popular Def Leppard and Guns N Roses. They followed. "Operation: Mindcrime" with their biggest smash to date, "Empire," which was not as well received as their previous effort by the press, but nevertheless entered the top ten in the Billboard Charts and has so far sold over three million copies in the United States alone, as well as garnering a Grammy nomination for the song, "Silent Lucidity," which was also a top ten single in America. This success allowed them to embark on a major tour as a headline act for the first time in their career, during which they performed, "Operation: Mindcrime"from start to finish.
A darker and more personal album followed in 1994 named, “Promised Land.” It was able to reach number 3 in the Billboard Charts and was eventually certified Platinum, but was considered something of a failure, having not really raised the bands profile nor being able to keep the group head and shoulders above the massive wave of grunge music, a style the band would implement on their next album, "Hear In the New Frontier," which was released in 1997 to a mixed reception from critics and fans alike. It was a top twenty record but quickly vanished from the charts and to make matters worse, EMI America soon went bankrupt, forcing the band to pay for touring from their own pocket, before being dealt another blow when Chris DeGarmo announced he was leaving the band, initially exploring other musical endeavours before becoming a pilot. He was replaced Kelly Gray, a producer and former guitarist of Tate’s previous band, Myth. Queensryche soon got back on their feet, signing to Atlantic Records and releasing their seventh album, "Q2K" in 1999, which shed some of their previous progressive style, before releasing a greatest hits album the next year and embarking on a tour supporting British heavy metal icons, Iron Maiden. Gray decided that he too would leave the band following the release of a live record, "Live Evolution" and the band recorded their eighth album, "Tribe" officially as a four piece, though DeGarmo would co-write and perform on four songs, but never rejoined the group. A new guitarist was finally found in Mike Stone, just prior to touring in support of the album, which including a package with Dream Theater and Fates Warning, a proverbial wet dream for fans of progressive metal.
Following another live album, Queensryche took a large gamble by recording a sequel to "Operation: Mindcrime," expectantly named, "Operation: Mindcrime II." Although not as revered as the original, the album received positive reviews and the single, "I’m American" went down well live. It also featured Pamela Moore returning to her role as "Sister Mary," with heavy metal deity Ronnie James Dio also performing as the villain, "Dr. X." While touring for the album, the band performed both "Mindcrime" albums in their entirety, with Moore joining the band for the whole tour and Dio putting an appearance at the Gibson Ampitheatre in California, a show which was later released on DVD. Knowing that following such a risky and grand effort with a new album would be a gamble, the band released another compilation album named, "Sign of the Times," before releasing a cover record entitled, "Take Cover." (See what they did there?)
A guitarist spot was once again opened afterwards, when Stone announced he was leaving the group, being replaced by Parker Lundgren. Queensryche finally released an album of new material in 2009 named, "American Soldier," another concept album which was inspired by the stories of American soldiers from World War Two up to the present day. A cabaret tour ensued before the band performed for American soldiers in Iraq, where explosive shells began raining on the base, though the group were unhurt in the attack. After signing a new deal Roadrunner/Loud and Proud Records, they released "Dedicated To Chaos" in 2011, which was received a mixed reaction from the press but was loathed by many long time fans of the group, claiming it to be their worst album to date. Despite this, Tate claimed that the band were already working on their next album but his behaviour was soon seen by some to be rather strange. Many claimed that his voice was not what it was and recently, a video circulated around the internet of him appearing to insult the crowd at the Rocklahoma festival. The future of the band seemed uncertain for a while, but on June 20th, the group announced that they had parted company with Tate, replacing him with Crimson Glory vocalist, Todd La Torre, with whom they will soon begin recording a new album. Where Queensryche goes from here remains to be seen, what with the change being so recent and all, but it’s truly an exciting time for a band that has lasted over thirty years, releasing a number of classic records along the way and making their mark on the progressive metal genre, one which will never be erased.
Queensryche - "Queen Of the Reich"
Queensryche - "I Don't Believe In Love"
Queensryche - "Jet City Woman"
Queensryche - "Bridge"
Queensryche - "I'm American"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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