Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Review: Queensryche, "Frequency Unknown"

It will come as no surprise to many Queensryche fans that the weakest link in Geoff Tate’s version of the band may be Tate himself.

To be fair, Frequency Unknown is actually a much better record than I expected from Tate-sryche, and if it had been a Geoff Tate solo record instead of something masquerading as Queensryche, I probably would have been more open to it. It’s certainly far better than Tate’s recent Kings and Thieves. But it’s not Queensryche, and it’s not really a band. It’s more of a Tate solo project with a whole bunch of guest musicians.

As I sat down to try to write this review, it was like putting together a puzzle trying to figure out who had done what on the record. Instead of being able to say, for example, Michael Wilton really shreds on this solo, I had to dig around and try to figure out who is part of the touring band and who actually played the instruments on the album, and often it’s a different person on each track. Hard to build any coherence that way.

Add the whole remix fiasco to it, with different songs being remixed by eight different people, and I had a headache before I started listening.

I didn’t try to get the remixed versions. This review was written from the original mix. And, yes, I kind of agree with the complaining fans that it’s not that great. It’s flat at times, muddy at others. In fact, in the case of lead single “Cold,” I believe that the song sounds better on Youtube than coming out of my earbuds.

A lot of the album wallows in the modern rock morass that Tate has led the band through for a number of years, but there are, surprisingly, a few tunes here that sound very much like Queensryche, at least the mellower version of the band. “Life Without You,” for example, wouldn’t have been incredibly jarring or out of place on Empire.

There are some pretty rocking tunes to be found here. I really like “Running Backwards,” one of the more aggressive tracks on the album. On the chorus, Tate gets a little Bruce Dickinson in his voice, and the lead guitar work by the mighty K.K. Downing (Judas Priest) is really nice and in your face. That, I believe, is what makes it. “Dare” also has a cool, churning riff, but it’s kind of spoiled by Tate’s vocal posturing. He’s trying to come off as a badass, but ends up sounding more like a douche. The Zakk Wylde-influenced guitar riff on “Slave” is one of the better on the record, but again, Tate’s vocal gyrations over it and the lack of creativity in the lyrics brings it down.

Even some of the slower songs have their moments. “In the Hands of God” might be the best of the bunch with one of the genuinely really good vocals from Tate. For the most part, he delivers what Queensryche fans expect and want, and King’s X guitarist Ty Tabor provides the perfect accompaniment in his soaring leads.

The chorus of “Give it to You” is pretty nice, though the verse leaves much to be desired. The heavier part of “Fallen” sounds a bit like a King’s X tune, though it’s not one of the two Tabor appears on, and it’s another high point of Frequency Unknown.

As for the four remakes, well, the least said the better. They’re pale, flat imitations of the originals, and in some instances, it sounds as if Tate’s vocals are the original tracks and not re-recordings at all. Their inclusion also puzzles me because they only serve to underscore that the new material isn’t nearly as strong. It’s just an odd all-around choice for someone trying to move on and convince fans that his version is the “real” Queensryche.

Now, we come to Tate. Much as on his solo album, his performance here is pretty indulgent, though he does play it straighter than on Kings and Thieves. At least there’s no rapping here.

I understand that he wants to prove that he can do more than wail like an air raid siren, but to be honest, that’s what Queensryche fans want to hear. We want that crisp voice that slices through the music like a Ginsu knife through a tomato. We don’t mind if you saw on the tin can for a while to show off, but then give us that pay off. There are shades of it here, particularly on tunes like “In the Hands of God,” but there’s not nearly enough of it.

Is it “the biggest shit sundae the rock and metal industry has ever seen” as one fan put it in a recent video rant? Hardly. Quite the opposite, actually, as it’s surprisingly better than I expected. Is it the “FU” that Tate hoped to deliver to his former bandmates? Again, hardly.

Frequency Unknown is a pretty good Geoff Tate solo CD, but it’s not Queensryche and probably never will be. Queensryche is a band, while this is one guy and a cascading cast of guest musicians. Many of those musicians are quite good — some of the guests, in fact, are legendary — but with seemingly no stake for other members, no back and forth and give and take, you end up with the vision of one person: Tate. And that seems to be pretty much what he’s wanted in recent years.

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