By David Perri
It gets to the point where it makes you laugh, but not in the good, life-extending way: almost 30 years after Queensrÿche’s classic and influential self-titled debut, the band is now in the same absurd situation as the much-maligned L.A. GUNS once was, what with two different line-ups laying claim to the same, worse-for-the-wear brand. It’s an embarrassing and unprofessional situation for all involved, and it’s one that probably stems from interpersonal band issues that we’ll never know the exact, proper sequence or comings and goings of (remember the title of that EXTREME album, Three Sides To Every Story?).
And so we now have a Queensrÿche featuring founding members Michael Wilton, Scott Rockenfield and Eddie Jackson along with Parker Lundgren and new vocalist Todd La Torre (ex-CRIMSON GLORY), and a rag-tag Queensrÿche with original vocalist Geoff Tate, ex-Queensrÿche guitarist Kelly Gray, journeymen Rudy Sarzo, Robert Sarzo and Randy Gane as well as former AC/DC (!) drummer Simon Wright. Much like Mike Portnoy absurdly leaving DREAM THEATER for the hotter, younger chick that summarily dumped him once he was too available (hi there, AVENGED SEVENFOLD), the mid-life crisis the original members of Queensrÿche are collectively going through just seems unnecessary and something that will be regretted as soon as the reunion happens sometime in, like, 2016 or so (maybe Queensrÿche and a reunited Dream Theater can co-headline?). But, like so many situations in the perpetual grey zone that is life, there is an ‘unless’ here...
Unless one or both of these two Queensrÿches writes a killer album. Which, (very) surprisingly, might actually end up being the case.
Let’s start with the more high-profile of the Queensrÿches, the Wilton/Rockenfield/Jackson version. The band is signed to worldwide powerhouse Century Media and the first single from its upcoming record, ‘Redemption’, begins in classic Queensrÿche form, the dual leads reminiscent, in spirit, of ‘Warning’ or ‘Queen Of The Ryche’. Though it would be impossible for the band to recreate the debut EP, The Warning or Rage For Order, this version of Queensrÿche has channeled the elements that made those records classics while remaining wholly in the modern era, a feat that rarely works but shows flashes of promise here. Aside from ‘Redemption’’s enthralling intro, the solo at 2:36 to 2:52 is also notable in its ability to bring you back, exactly, to how you once felt in those initial years of exploring metal and all its trappings, headphones permanently locked on the ears and turntable/CD player tapping the vein with full force. Though ‘Redemption’’s chorus does disappoint as a result of its typical Magna Carta/InsideOut-isms, the song, both generally and specifically, is exactly where classic Queensrÿche should be 30 years into a career: strong foundations in its prog-inflected IRON MAIDEN beginnings while also having expanded to match life’s call for adaptability and change. And, man, can Todd La Torre sing. Geoff Tate fans need not worry. At all.
On the other side, Geoff Tate’s Queensrÿche debuts with ‘Cold’ from upcoming record Frequency Unknown on Cleopatra Records, the label once known primarily for its tribute albums. Like his former compatriots, Tate has chosen to start off this new era on a heavier front, ‘Cold’ beginning with a slowed down IN FLAMES riff that then continues the dual leads over a surprisingly effective atmospheric keyboard progression. ‘Cold’’s chorus comes fast and, truth be told, it’s better than ‘Redemption’’s, as ‘Cold’’s is a more introspective, subdued one that is confident and streamlined, without all the negative connotations of that word. ‘Cold’ also nods to Queensrÿche’s earliest moments with its slicing, retro and tasteful solo, one that is reminiscent of all of Queensrÿche’s better yesterdays. That said, ‘Cold’ is a disappointing first foray for this version of Queensrÿche: if first impressions are being formed by those who still care, they’re going to side with Wilton/Rockenfield/Jackson, if only because that version of the band is making amends by self-awarely re-making the Queensrÿche brand into what it should be. ‘Cold’, instead, feels like a second single from a group that is heavy only sometimes, and when it’s convenient.
And that, when all the dusts of not-so-silent lucidity have cleared in this fiasco, is what’s at stake here: brand loyalty. The members of Queensrÿche have already been to a Seattle court to duke out who owns the trademark and the Judge in the case ruled that both versions of Queensrÿche can use the moniker until the November 18, 2013 court date. Trademark law is heavily influenced by the idea of confusion; you’re not allowed to call your company MacDonaldz and use yellow golden arches because it will cause confusion in the minds of customers. Right now, confusion reigns supreme in the Queensrÿche camp, and whoever eventually loses will probably have to change their band name entirely to avoid competing and confusing claims in the marketplace. Until then, the Judge in this case has decided that both parties can use the Queensrÿche brand and has said that, for now, “the market can get these things sorted out".
It certainly wouldn’t be the first time the market has sorted things out for Queensrÿche. The band has been persona non grata since the wildly underrated Promised Land and, for the most part, it's been deserved as Queensrÿche has underachieved over the last two decades (that includes the much hyped Operation: Mindcrime II which, still, remains a painfully naive idea that only confirms the group’s lack of relevance). But, if the market is to decide the fate of the two Queensrÿches, then first impressions are important. And first impressions are indeed being formed here. First impression that will lead to fan loyalty and dollars and cents. There’s a lot at stake.
Which probably explains why both Queensrÿches have come out of the gates with relatively heavy tracks instead of the contemporary radio rock of American Soldier or Dedicated to Chaos that no one, other than the band, favored or was excited about. So now that the laurels that have been rested upon for too long have unceremoniously been taken out from under Queensrÿche, motivation and incentive are no longer at a premium and are, once again, taking their place in the Queensrÿche environs. Which, ultimately, will only benefit the listener: if both Wilton/Rockenfield/Jackson and Tate are looking to solidify your loyalty with old-school records, then you're finally getting what you've hoped for all these years. Maybe breakups and divorces, for all their various dramas and pain sequences, lead to better paths indeed?
Who else is wondering what Chris DeGarmo is thinking?
'Redemption' and 'Cold' can be heard in the clips below: