This month, Seattle’s progressive metal goliath, Queensrÿche is expected to find a resolution over the use of the band’s name. If not, they head to trial in February. The rift that split the band into two variations; one fronted by original vocalist Geoff Tate and the other featuring the remaining members along with new vocalist Todd La Torre, saw two new albums released in 2013. Fans were often perplexed and torn, but as the year drew to a close it seemed apparent that a winner had been declared.
Tate, who released “Frequency Unknown” early in 2013, further alienated the Queensrÿche faithful with weak music and erratic behavior. The La Torre fronted version released its self-titled album mid-year which garnered rave reviews and outsold all recent Tate-fronted Queensrÿche efforts. This version of Queensrÿche, which features founders Scott Rockenfield (drums), Michael Wilton (guitar) and Eddie Jackson (bass), created an album that harks back to the classic QR sound fans have missed. Even guitarist Parker Lundgren, who was brought into the QR family by Tate, opted to join the others when the split took place. Not surprisingly fans responded positively to the rebirth and numerous critics placed the album on their Top 10 lists for the year. The Queensrÿche fans have been clamoring for since the 80s has returned.
While Geoff Tate remains an iconic rock vocalist, he is no longer the voice of Queensrÿche. Some die-hard fans believe Queensrÿche died the day founding guitarist Chris DeGarmo left the band, but the group’s eponymous 2013 release proves that the band is still as viable as it was with DeGarmo and Tate.
For the purposes of this ranking, “Frequency Unknown” is not included as it was recorded by Taterÿche and not the true band. Likewise, as it is a covers album, 2007’s “Take Cover” is not ranked.
13. American Soldier (2009)
The concept behind “American Soldier”, examining the war through the eyes of the soldiers, is heartwarming and powerful, but the end result of the record was not. Jason Slater returned to produce, and he did a wonderful job, but this entire record sounds tired: Geoff Tate’s voice sounds less powerful than usual and the songwriting is simply flat. While the other band members are listed in the credits, they were absent from the songwriting, making this another Geoff Tate solo effort. Had the band taken this concept and gone back to their classic Queensrÿche roots, this could have been an impressive affair, but sadly it is among the band’s weakest offerings, and arguably it is not even a Queensrÿche record.
12. Dedicated To Chaos (2011)
This was the end for Queensrÿche as fans knew it. Vocalist Geoff Tate continued to take the band’s music into new areas and farther away from its roots which is what fans were craving. Guitarist Michael Wilton did not even participate in the album’s creation. Because of this, guest guitarist Parker Lundgren would be the band’s lone guitarist on the record. All of Wilton’s work was snubbed or deleted. The subsequent tour would lead to constant antagonism and physical and verbal altercations. The album saw input from numerous outside writers. Despite the fact that the album continued further from the trademark Queensrÿche sound, the record was actually quite good, it simply was not what fans wanted, nor what the band’s members (save Tate) wanted for the Queensrÿche’s legacy.
11. Hear in the Now Frontier (1997)
The band’s sixth studio album is fairly universally considered to be Queensrÿche’s first in a series of weak albums. It followed on the heels of “Empire” and “Promised Land”, and it marks the last album with principal songwriter and guitarist, Chris DeGarmo. DeGarmo wrote 13 of the album’s 14 tracks. The album was too watered down to stand its ground. The writing was thin at best. The album gets off to a strong start with “Sign of the Times” but before the track ends the album is already in meandering mode. While there is a bit more heaviness to this record than its predecessor, it cannot sustain its impact for any duration. Highpoints are found in pieces of songs rather than full compositions. The band seems adrift here.
10. Tribe (2003)
“Tribe” marked the partial but temporary return of guitarist Chris DeGarmo who performed on the record and co-wrote several tracks. Unfortunately, clashes with vocalist Geoff Tate would keep him from staying in the band. This was perhaps a precursor of the eventual splintering of the band. Future guitarist Mike Stone also played as a guest on the record. Thom Jurek of AllMusic said of the record: “’Tribe‘ reflects a renewed vigor and vision in the Queensrÿche sound. This is prog metal at its best: knotty song structures, complex melodies, bruising guitars, and Geoff Tate’s voice and lyrics asking all the tough questions” The band returns to its more progressive roots, and tracks like “Blood” and “The Art of Life” are dynamic offerings for die-hard fans.
9. Q2K (1999)
This marks the first and only Queensrÿche album to feature guitarist Kelly Gray who was a sound man for the band. It was also their first effort for Atlantic Records. This was a heavier and edgier album than its predecessor, “Hear in the Now Frontier”, but the absence of Chris DeGarmo’s songwriting is apparent. It is neither a great nor a bad album: It hovers somewhere in the middle, with a few highlights and as many forgettable tracks. Among the brighter moments are “Scared Ground”, “Breakdown”, “Right Side Of My Mind” and “Liquid Sky”.
8. Operation Mindcrime II (2006)
It is difficult to hail Mindcrime II as a true Queensrÿche record as only vocalist Geoff Tate had much to do with the album. Tate had pushed his band-mates out the door at this point, and he and producer Jason Slater wrote the crux of the album. Drummer Scott Rockenfield did not perform on the album at all according to Slater, and Michael Wilton’s guitar parts were re-recorded by engineer Mitch Doran. Slater contributed many of the bass tracks. Of note is the cameo by the late Ronnie James Dio as Dr. X. Despite Tate’s takeover of the project, the sequel to their seminal 1988 album marks some of the band’s best output in years. Unfortunately this success emboldened Tate to further push the other members to the side, making this the band’s last solid album until the 2013 Tate-less, self-titled record.
7. Promised Land (1994)
This album followed the band’s most commercially successful effort, “Empire”, but musically it was nearly a 180 degrees different stylistically. It has been hailed as a black sheep album for the band as well as their “last great record”. The four-year gap between “Empire” and “Promised Land”, combined with the grunge explosion helped hold this album in obscurity. It was Queensrÿche’s least heavy album at the time, and arguably the band’s darkest in terms of tone and content. It featured vocalist Geoff Tate’s first appearance on saxophone, and guitarist Chris DeGarmo also played piano, sitar and cello on the record. A certain contingent of fans consider “Promised Land” to be superior to the highly successful (and commercial), “Empire”.
6. Queensrÿche EP (1983)
Technically not an album as the original release only had four tracks, but it was and remains a powerful and impressive opening nod to one or hard rock’s premiere progressive bands. The EP opener, “Queen of the Reich” is a signature anthem for the band, and to this day remains a highlight for fans when performed live. The band had not performed it much in recent years because vocalist Geoff Tate claimed he could no longer get behind the song’s message, but those close to the band stated it was because he had lost the range to effectively handle some of the song’s vocal highpoints. With the addition of new frontman Todd La Torre, Queensrÿche has once again made it an essential part of the live show. The EP was re-issued in 1989 with a bonus fifth track, “The Prophecy” which was recorded during the band’s “Rage for Order” sessions.
5. Queensrÿche (2013)
The band’s newest effort, and the first not to feature vocalist Geoff Tate, is a landmark tribute to the classic QR signature. All of the songs sound is if they could have come from the band’s late 80’s peak. For the first time since founding guitarist, Chris DeGarmo departed, Queensrÿche came together as a unified force with all members, old and new contributing music to the record. New guitarist Parker Lundgren tapped into the spirit of DeGarmo for the album’s lead off track, “Where Dreams Go to Die”. The entire album marks a brilliant rebirth. It comes as no surprise that it ended the year on many a “Best Of” list for 2013.
4. Empire (1990)
While its predecessor, “Operation: Mindcrime” remains the iconic favorite among most fans, “Empire” took the group to the next level. Although not a concept record, it was still quite sophisticated and progressive. The album marked the band’s apex of success, and some would argue its creative peak as well. “Empire” would go triple platinum for Queensrÿche, and launch multiple hits songs such as the title track, “Jet City Woman”, Another Rainy Night (Without You)”, “Best I Can”, and the #1 hit, “Silent Lucidity”. The latter earned a Grammy nomination for the band in 1992.
3. The Warning (1984)
This marks the debut full-length Queensrÿche effort. While it was mired with some problematic production flaws, primarily a poor mixing job, it remains a fan favorite. The album featured the hit, “Take Hold of the Flame” and earned the band touring gigs with Kiss and Iron Maiden. While fans continue to embrace the record, the band was not so enamored. Offered vocalist Geoff Tate: “The guy that mixed the album had no clue what Queensrÿche was. He never listened to hard rock music and didn’t take input from anyone in the band. He just mixed it according to how he thought it should sound. No one in the band could listen to that record. We all hated it.” Lyrically the album addressed world events and the 1949 George Orwell novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four”.
2. Rage for Order (1986)
“Rage for Order” found Queensrÿche pushing further into progressive waters. It was a much more complex record than “The Warning” or debut EP, with rich layers, a dual guitar texturing, and some keyboards added to the mix: The latter provided by producer Neil Kernon (Thin Lizzy, Queen, Judas Priest). It remains a masterpiece of an album and many fans consider it criminally overlooked. The album features concert staples such as “I Dream in Infrared”, “Screaming in Digital” and “Walk in the Shadows”, as well as the single, “Gonna Get Close to You”.
1. Operation: Mindcrime (1988)
Easily the number one choice for a majority of Ryche fans, devout and casual. The band’s third full-length studio album is one of the best hard rock/metal concept albums ever crafted. It is Queensrÿche’s seminal work, and the record can be found on countless Top 100 lists. The 15-track album features some of former guitarist Chris DeGarmo’s most inspired songwriting: The track’s “I Don’t Believe in Love”, which was nominated for 1990 Grammy Award, and “Eyes of a Stranger” were monster hits for the band. Fellow guitarist, Michael Wilton wrote another of the band’s calling card classics with “Revolution Calling”. Former vocalist, Geoff Tate, wrote some of his most brilliant lyrical compositions for this record.
It was the band’s first platinum effort. “Operation: Mindcrime” would spawn a sequel album in 2006, as well as three different live albums or DVDs. The album’s concept resonates as strongly, if not more so, today than it did 25 years ago.