It’s an interesting project in that it seems the band had the music written, and Frontiers Records put them in touch with Tate. Apparently there was very little collaboration, which doesn’t seem to be the setup for a good record, but Sweet Oblivion defies the odds.
There’s definitely a classic Queensryche vibe to the music on this album, though if guitarist Simone Mularoni is to be believed, that may not be due to Tate. In an interview with Aardschok Magazine, he says that when he submitted the material to Tate, it came back with a closer resemblance to hip-hop than Queensryche. After a few rounds of disagreements between guitarist, singer and label, Mularoni says Tate recorded the vocals on his tour bus and sent them back. I’m guessing from this interview, we won’t see a tour for this project.
Regardless of what difficulties there were in recording Sweet Oblivion, the results speak for themselves. This may be the closest thing we’ve gotten to the Queensryche sound that old fans love since 1990. Is it a perfect record? No. In places, you can hear the cracks in Geoff Tate’s once near-perfect vocals – and on the band side, there are a couple of clunker songs. That said, it’s still damned good.
The first half of Sweet Oblivion is stacked with solid songs, beginning with opener and first single “True Colors,” a driving rocker that announces the band’s intention to recall the glory days of Tate’s former band. That’s followed up with one of the strongest tracks on the album, “Sweet Oblivion.” The song falls somewhere between Operation: Mindcrime and Empire, and the vocal work on the chorus sends me back in time 30 years with more than a slight nod to Queensryche’s “Breaking the Silence.”
Tate does manage to throw in some of his more recent stylings here and there, like the hip-hop flavor to some of the vocals on “Behind Your Eyes.” But it’s very muted compared to his solo work, and a really nice guitar riff from Mularoni cuts through it and leads to the big chorus.
The dark opening of “Hide Away” provides another of my favorite moments on Sweet Oblivion, and sets the mood for what may be the strongest song here. It’s heavy, loaded with attitude and also incorporates a little more of a progressive sound. I really like Geoff Tate’s performance here, you can almost picture the sneer on his face as he delivers the verse, and then he ramps up into the soaring chorus. It’s pretty much exactly what I would have loved to hear on pretty much any Queensryche album featuring the singer after Empire.
“My Last Story” slows things down a bit, but really gives Tate a chance to shine, then they crank it right back up with the energetic “A Recess from My Fate.” It’s at this point in the record, though, that things begin to slip a little.
“Transition” has a really nice guitar riff and verse, but the song just doesn’t hold up to the ones that came before. While they sound genuine, this one seems, at least to me, to sound like someone trying to write a song from Operation: Mindcrime. The lull continues with the ballad, “Disconnect.” It’s not an awful song, nothing on the record is, but it’s not particularly compelling. The same with “The Deceiver” and “Seek the Light,” both of which have strong points, but they don’t stick with me the way “Sweet Oblivion” or “Hide Away” do.
It’s sort of like the album runs out of gas after about six songs. The tracks toward the end just seem to lose that spark that the early tunes had. The soaring choruses seem to wander and flatten out a little instead of being focused as they were in the early going. Even with that, though, the record is still a contender on the strength of its first half.
For a while, I was keeping score between Geoff Tate and the new version of Queensryche. I’ve long since let that go, but given the strength of Sweet Oblivion and Queensryche’s lackluster The Verdict from earlier this year, Tate is the clear winner of this round.
At the end of the day, I don’t think Sweet Oblivion would have worked with another vocalist, and I don’t think that Geoff Tate could have recorded an album that I enjoy this much without this band. It’s a shame that there seems to be some animosity between the parties. I definitely wouldn’t mind hearing more from Sweet Oblivion.