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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Queensr├┐che

Empire

Review by Gary Hill

Operation Mindcrime is, in my opinion, the greatest album ever produced by any musical artist. It’s a true masterpiece. That had to make it a very hard act to follow. Rather than attempting to up the stakes, Queensryche changed directions almost completely. I wouldn’t consider this album to be metal at all – although there are a few full songs and a number of tracks with some metal portions. I’d hazard to say it could almost fall into the progressive rock zone. It has more in common with more modern Rush and Pink Floyd than with the metal associated with the band to this point.

 

I’d say that is a reasonably strong disc, although the vocals really are what makes it work as well as it does. One thing that it suffers from is a bit of a similarity in the way a number of the songs are constructed. The band adopted a “rock hard on the intro, drop it back for the verse and then power back up for the chorus” formula that shows up quite frequently here and the disc is weaker for this form of predictability. I know this was a very popular album for the band, but I’m going to say that it is not their strongest – in fact, I’d say it’s about middle of the road.

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Track by Track Review
Best I Can
Coming in with a proggy kind of sound, chorale vocals are the first ones heard on this song. Geoff Tate's vocals come over the top of that keyboard backdrop. They fire out from there into a killer metallic jam that's laced with keys. It drops back to more of an alternative rock sound for the next vocals. The chorus on this is positive and empowering. The cut has a lot of energy and does a nice job of combining the older Ryche sound with the more modern, prog meets alternative rock, kind of sound the band was beginning to embrace. The guitar solo section is meaty.
The Thin Line
They start this off with a metal motif that feels like it could have come straight off of Operation Mindcrime, but it drops to a moody balladic motif for the verse. There’s a cool “pre-echo” kind of effect on some of the vocals here and the chorus rocks out quite well. The vocal performance really steals the show, but there are points where the guitar gives it a run for its money.
Jet City Woman
Bass brings this in, but they quickly launch out into a hard rocking sound for the intro. We get another moody balladic approach for the verse and the pattern is not that different from the last track. Don’t get me wrong, both of these songs are quite strong – actually this is one my favorites from Queensryche (based mostly on the strength of Geoff Tate’s vocal performance) but there is too much similarity in the arrangement – and these aren’t the only two songs here to follow this kind of pattern. 
Della Brown
The format isn’t varied a lot, but they really pretty much eliminate the more metallic introduction here. This is powerful and pretty piece of music, moody that it is. It’s another highlight of the set. It would be quite easy to argue this track as progressive rock.
Another Rainy Night (Without You)
Here we’re back to the format used so much on this album. Now, while that imparts an air of sameness to this, the track is strong enough to excel despite that factor. This is another highlight of the set as far as I’m concerned. Again, though, Tate’s vocals really sell this. 
Empire
The title track, this rocks out more and feels more like it could have come from Operation Mindcrime. The lyrical theme is quite sociological in nature. There’s a more processed element to the music on this than on that preceding disc, but it’s still a metal song and a cool one at that. I like the spoken word section on this a lot.
Resistance
Here’s another metal number. This one again makes me think it could have fit pretty easily onto the CD that came directly before this one. It’s a good tune and, although not extremely special, is a definite change of pace. 
Silent Lucidity
People who only know one song from Queensryche know and love this track. For my money it was too much of a Pink Floyd rip off from the get go and time (and repeated playings on the radio) have not been kind to it. I say pass this one by, but I’m sure there are plenty of you who will disagree with that. 
Hand On Heart
The opening to this, mostly due to the drums, reminds me a lot of Rush. They drop it back to a motif that’s closer to the rest of the album – yet there is a modern Rush sound to it in a lot of ways. This is another that’s pretty close to the hard rocking intro, mellow verse and powered up chorus, formula. The chorus is the one part of this song that works quite well in my book. Beyond that this is fairly pedestrian. 
One And Only
Here’s the final cut on the disc that I’d really call “metal.” This is hard rocking one of the best metallic pieces here.
Anybody Listening?
They close the disc with a song that’s quite arguably progressive rock. It’s mostly mellow, but they do turn it a bit metallic here and there. It’s powerful and pretty – even if rather dark. Honestly, I’m a proponent of closing a disc with a harder rocking tune, but this works reasonably well and in many ways feels like a more proggy version of something from Rage For Order. It is one of the stronger pieces on show here.
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