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Queensryche’s sixth studio album is widely regarded as the first true misstep of their career. While having a few initial signs of success, it ultimately faded from sight due to their label folding combined with the Seattle group’s futile response to a movement that had already passed. To add insult to injury, guitarist/bandleader Chris DeGarmo left the band shortly after its release despite (or perhaps because of) his overwhelming influence on its development.
For the first time since the days of the EP, Hear In The Now Frontier sees the band emulating the styles of others as opposed to incorporating a wide variety of influences under a signature sound. Despite coming out a couple years after grunge was beginning to decline, Soundgarden and Stone Temple Pilots are the album’s leading aspirations though one can also finds reference to U2, Pearl Jam, and what Metallica was doing around the time. In short, it’s a very basic record that puts a bunch of jams out there without any signs of a bigger picture.
And while there aren’t any prog or ambient touches left, the band hierarchy isn’t too far off from the Promised Land dynamic. The guitars are still the prime focus and while there aren’t any strong riffs or solos on display, they do their job and are backed by a decent rhythm section. And like the EP before it, Tate’s vocals are what keep the music from sounding too generic. However, he has stuck with a mid-range approach that rarely ventures into extreme pitches.
When it comes down to it, the success of Hear In The Now Frontier heavily depends on how the songs themselves are written and presented. Unfortunately, having fourteen songs on a single disc does lead to a mixed bag as several of them end up running together. Fortunately, the running times are short and the songs themselves are pleasant to listen to, but it’s definitely not as consistent as everything that came before it.
In addition, there are still some pretty brilliant songs on here. “Hit The Black” may be the easiest song to get into for established fans thanks to its Mindcrime-esque guitar lines though “Saved” stands out for its explosive Soundgarden-isms and “You” reminds me of KISS with its simple but catchy hook. In addition, “Get A Life” brings in a little heaviness, “Miles Away” and “All I Want” bring in a little pop, and “Sign Of The Times” makes for a decent opener.
Much like Bruce Dickinson’s Skunkworks, Queensryche’s sixth full-length album is an experiment that is pretty enjoyable but ultimately came too late. Its reputation is deserved when you consider its plain presentation and the band’s over the top past, but it is worth looking into for grunge fans and makes for an entertaining character study. And the fact that it’s in every used CD store ever does mean that you won’t have to pay too much for a copy…
“Sign of The Times”
“Get A Life”
“Hit The Black”
Originally published at http://psychicshorts.blogspot.com
Have you ever found yourself in a situation in which you were exposed to a group of musicians suffering from a massive disconnect with their audience? Think back on the days of junior high or high school, where you might have been granted a 'concert recess period' in which some band of middle-aged cover rockers showed up play Beatles and Cream for an audience more concerned with Justin Bieber's latest tweets. Or perhaps you were at some holiday festival, where instead of hiring the younger hotness genre bands of your county, they wrangled up some wedding band who wanted to show their 'edge' and play Nirvana for the crowd? Hear in the Now Frontier is much like this, only if you were to magnify the sentiment tenfold and apply it to a well established act who had enjoyed immense popularity over the previous decade.
Much has been made of Queensrÿche's sixth studio full-length as their 'grunge' inflected work, or their 'coping with the 90s' sound in which they were attempting to stay competitive with the enormously popular indie to radio rock 'alternative' market (which itself had already begun to peak by the later half of the decade) reared on Lollapalooza. This is certainly true to an extent. Tracks like "Anytime, Anywhere" or "Miles Away" shoot for vapid, uninspired heavy rock riff patterns redolent of the Stone Temple Pilots or any of the other hangers on of the whole Seattle vibe. But I think, viewing the album as a whole, it's far more of a hearkening back to the band members' own roots in classic rock. I can hear a lot of Beatles, for instance, in the vocal arrangements and general pop attitude of the music. Perhaps some Cream, or non-metallic Black Sabbath in the bluesier elements that permeate the guitars. Certainly Pink Floyd finds its way onto a track like "Some People Fly" or "All I Want", the latter of which boasts a surprise vocal spot from none other than Chris DeGarmo, which is competent if nowhere near so powerful as Tate. But you really get a sense Hear that Queensrÿche was continuing to distance itself from the metal foundation that built its audience and industry support net, even further than Empire or Promised Land...
To put it bluntly: I was not on board for this flight, and neither were many other Queensrÿche fans. Sure, with the incendiary commercial success of Empire, and its higher quality successor, this album was bound to push units on its name brand alone, but I was stunningly disappointed with what manifest here, from the limpid Jars of Ears generic progressive rock cover art (Rush pass on this one?) to the music itself, which at best is inferior, throwaway radio rock uninspired that I felt myself longing for even a return to the glories of the harder songs on the previous album like "I Am I". Usually, a band evolves through its career but retains trace elements of its formative, rugged youth, but I'd honestly find it impossible to connect this with something like The Warning or Operation: Mindcrime if it weren't for Tate's smooth, melodic vocals. In all fairness, he still seems to put some effort into his arrangements, and the range is still there, but he so rarely flexes his pipes since they'd seem at odds with the boring rock being performed by the band. The lyrics run through the usual gauntlet of social relations, introspection, aging, and they're not entirely shabby: the real problem is that the album lacks even a single, distinct and staggering chorus sequence...
A few of the harder, grooving guitar rhythms, used at their best in "Hit the Black" or "Get the Life" seem like they might have been mildly engaging for a group like STP or Alice in Chains. Wilton and DeGarmo use a huge tone with a lot of low-end to amplify the grooves, but the actual patterns of notes become tired even after a half dozen repetitions, and add to this the fact that the drums usually move at two speeds: slow and simple tribal thunder to mid-paced rock. Even where Rockenfield is hitting as hard as possible, the very banal nature of the music just doesn't lend itself to much percussive excitement, and once again Eddie Jackson is just sort of plumbing along below the guitars without much personality to his own choice in lines. The production is comparable to some of the sounds Rush was using on its 90s output, fluid and crystal clear, a cushioned seat for just about anything the band are willing to mete out, but it's just one of those albums which had me scratching my head as to who its intended to impress (only a few seconds in "You" with the higher pitched, counter rhythm guitars remind me of the 80s 'Ryche I so adore.)
This also turned out to be the first in a long series of quickly stagnating sounds and poor choices the band would pursue over the course of 15 years, before the recent split in 2012 (Tate going solo, the rest of the roster replacing him to return to their metal roots). There is not one album post-Promised Land that I can honestly say I enjoyed, so Hear in the Now Frontier serves like a flagship or herald of diminishing relevance and misery. It's a weak album in just about ever department outside of its studio sound. Sterile songwriting that should have been relegated to a side project or 'solo album' for one of the members. Gone are the epic overtures and ambitions of the 80s, replaced with snugly vapor-rock for sad, aging men. To even think back on this disc fills me with emptiness and bafflement at who thought it was a good idea.
I had never really listened to Queensryche (yes, I will botch the spelling for the duration of this review, I’m far too lazy to do the umlaut), and this album is not really what I was expecting to hear considering the reverence people have for Mindcrime and other albums balanced with the furious hate that critics seem to feel for anything after 1990. To be blunt, this album is not exciting. Rather, it is a collection of cool, alt/prog rock songs that are relaxing, enjoyable, and naturally flowing, creating a sort of lounging metal that is not violently engaging but rather thoughtful like progressive rock, but without the menacing desire to demonstrate one’s chops.
The music is not incredibly complex, yielding most of its nuances in the first couple of listens, but the music is just fun and entertaining. For a band that made its trademark on dystopian concepts, this album feels incredibly organic, with the tracks really flowing and not seeming forced in the least. The album as a whole flows really well, as there are certain characteristics to each song that really attaches itself to the album as a whole in some way. Queensryche is not trying to turn the world on its head here, they are just happy to sit around and jam out some tunes (I do realize that is kind of the antithesis of metal, but deal with it). In 20 years I’m not going to look back and say that this was the album that changed my life, but it is difficult to stay angry or not enjoy this album in some small capacity while listening to it, unless you still worship black noise recorded on cassette as all that music can and should be.
Hear in the Now Frontier (which is a nice, ponderous title for an album) is one of those album that moves from point A to point B instead of being simply a hodgepodge of ‘Hey, look what we wrote!’. Early tracks like opener Sign of the Times and Get a Life start things off with basic 90’s rock/grunge with subtle motions, while the middle of the album are slow to fast tempo thinking songs that tap into a more emotional side of things, with most songs carrying quiet, ballad like qualities, i.e. Some People Fly, Saved, and Miles Away. And finally, things start to get aggressive towards the end of the album, with strong riff based anthems like Reach and Hit the Black. And then HitnF ends with its oddest offering, spOOL.
As with any good rock or metal album, most of these conclusions draw from guitar work that let’s everything else be transcend notes on a page. Tracks like You and The Voice Inside both feature really well developed melodic leads and solos, while Some People Fly and Miles Away deliver on sincere and energized acoustic guitar passages. Most of the riffs and guitar work really conveys a high degree of skill, where Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton can create complex yet engaging and memorable melody lines that settle well within the whole mix and are not limited to their physical capabilities, but rather, what seems to work for the song.
These guitar parts also draw on a variety of places. Cuckoo’s Nest really carries a lot of classic AOR feeling, and if you don’t hear a bit of grunge in Hit the Black or Anytime/Anywhere, you need to go up some Alice in Chains or Soundgarden (Nirvana sucks! (Foo Fighters was the only good that came of that group)). The tracks Hero and spOOL also feel decidedly progressive, although they both accomplish that in significantly different ways. Despite pulling from all these varying sounds, the production creates a very recognizable and pleasant sounding guitar tone that carries the ideas and riffs in each of these songs.
The bass is well put together as well, bringing a certain warming rhythm to songs. Get a Life and The Voice Inside really develop a thrumming and independent bass riff that brings the songs together and prevents them from becoming guitar exercises and brings them more into a well rounded state. Jackson is also placed high enough in the mix that it takes the rocker cuts like Reach and turns the buzz up a little bit and allows things to feel headbanging worthy.
The are actually the weaker link in the rhythm section; as they simply isn’t a whole lot going on, which I maintain as one of the main reasons I don’t get the same enjoyment from this type of music as compared to metal (or however you want to put it; the lines kind of blur here). Complex rhythms rarely show up, and he keeps a similar tempo on all of the tracks, give or take a little bit for ballads and rocking songs. The production on the drums is very good, though, and they fit nicely into the band as a whole, but the album would be vastly improved by some fancy footwork and off beat percussion.
Whereas the drums can draw a lot of critique, the exact opposite is true of the vocals, courtesy of Geoff Tate (business as usual). He displays solid control of his voice, and he does a splendid job of adding more meaning to the words just in the way he enunciates, which serves to add another level of detail to the songs, like on the sarcastic Get a Life and the complex and varying emotions of Miles Away. He can take it from outlandish and controlled wails to a coffee house-barely-audible-sensitive-guy-voice-over-acoustic-guitar kind of thing, and yet it does not come off as sappy at all.
The strength of Hear in the Now Frontier doesn’t lie in the skill and dexterity of its individual musicians, but rather in how they blend nicely together. The subtle nuances of the guitar leads melding with the changes in lyrics displays a moderate reverence for the spoken word, especially well done since the lyrics are so well written, with a myriad of topics, such as the social critiques of Sign of the Times and Cuckoo’s Nest to the love songs of All I Want and Saved, the latter of which is the best this album has to offer, for those of you that prefer to try before you buy.
Queensryche have given us something that, in its inability to be adventurous, is actually quite polarizing. I mean that in that you know whether or not you are going to enjoy this. If you dig alternative rock, classic rock, or grunge, you will enjoy this cut, as there is nary a note on here that does not scream the 1990’s. What really makes this album what it is is the natural flow and organic songwriting; this will not take many listens to truly grasp, which helps to prove the point that Hear in the Now Frontier is akin to coffee house metal. Which I’m almost certain doesn’t exist. All right, I’ve contradicted myself enough already. Best songs: Saved, Miles Away, Reach, and Hit the Black.
The album artwork is awesome. It has a nice surrealist feel that suits the laidback nature of the album. Also, it literally took me until writing this review (3 months after getting the album) to notice that the Queensryche logo is on the jars. Neat stuff.
I'm reading all of these glowing reviews of Hear in the Now Frontier on this site, and I feel like I just don't get it. Am I even listening to the same album?
This is Queensryche. Or so it says. And it features all 5 original members. Yeah, that's Geoff Tate's voice, but what the fuck is going on with the dumbed down, grungy riffs?
Welcome to the Now Frontier! Simultaneously an identity crisis and a harbinger of the darkest days of Queensryche's existence. Gone are the exquisite, moody solos. Gone are the quasi-technical riffs. In fact, there really aren't any riffs on here...just dumbed down rock jams. Geoff Tate sounds good. No real upper range, but that's not really necessary. Scott and Ed Bass are a solid rhthym section...and they better be on such trite drivel. This is just dumb, dumb, dumb
Grunge was all the rage in the 90's. So Queensryche tried to cash in on it. Sadly, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and even fucking Green Day did it way better than this. You can tell Michael and Chris are capable of much better riffage than what is present on here, and that they are pretty inept at coming up with convincing simple rock.
There is one moment where it works really well, and that's on the gloomy closer, "Spool." It sounds like they took a few hints from the mighty Alice In Chains on how to do a brand of grunge that is more in line with what Queensryche is known for. This song works well, recalls a bit of Promised Land, and provides really the only enjoyable part of an otherwise dull album.
Hear in the Now Frontier is strikingly similar to Metallica's mid 90's output, but lacking anything of real depth, or intriguing experimentation. And like Load and Reload, it is excruciatingly long. Devoid of real highlights, catchy melodies, or moody interludes, I am at a loss to recall any particular moments after having listened to it, save "Spool."
This album sucked when it came out. I hated it. Now, 15 years later, I only begrudge that fact that it is taking up a bit of space in my album collection. That does not, however, warrant it ever gracing my ears again. Inoffensive enough, but utterly forgettable and a failure at selling out.
Just like a lot of 80s bands that entered the 90s, Queensrÿche felt it was no longer the time for their kind of music. Haven’t we been here before? Yes we have. A lot of bands made albums in the 90s that are not well accepted by the fans, like Scorpions’ Eye II Eye, Megadeth’s Risk, Dio’s Angry Machines or Iron Maiden’s Virtual XI. Queensrÿche were not much different, oh well perhaps the main difference is Queensrÿche never fully returned to their old status. With 1994’s Promised Land lacking commercial success, these gentlemen seriously considered making music that was more in the picture at the time.
Hence, Hear In The Now Frontier basically contains Queensrÿche’s interpretation of alternative rock and grunge. They reinvented their entire sound as a band and redeveloped their formula of songwriting. If it wasn’t for Geoff Tate’s trademark wailing vocals, you would never have recognized the band. Gone is the colour palette with which they painted classic, colourful releases like Rage For Order, Operation: Mindcrime and Promised Land. In return, the album contains down-to-earth straightforward songs with a very intimate production. Everything is close to the listener. Straightforward and heavy guitar riffs with relaxing and mostly groovy drum rhythms are the main focus on this record, with the necessary catchy vocal melodies on top. The band focuses a lot more on the feel of the songs, rather than the instrumental performances. We still have the great guitar leads by Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton to make this stand out from the other alternative albums and the star on this album really is drummer Scott Rockenfield who once again proves to be an amazing drummer and handles these grooves just as well as he handled the metal material on previous releases. Really, this band makes a change too huge for most fans to grasp. It’s not really a surprise that therefore this album is not quite popular. Nevertheless, once you get the feel of it, you will know it’s outstanding.
The album begins very direct with lead single “Sign of the Times”; a catchy and quick introduction to the new Rÿche with the catchy chorus and straightforward-sounding guitars. Most naysayers of this record will say this song is the one to get, but it’s not more than an introduction as it’s not getting as intense as later songs. “Cuckoo’s Nest” begins quite dry and doesn’t really suit as a second track, but nevertheless has a nice groove. The real thing begins with “Get A Life”. Though lyrically it’s a true failure, the song itself really kicks in with a heavy riff and driving rhythm. This is where the album truly starts. “The Voice Inside” and “Some People Fly” are two tracks that actually sound like Queensrÿche but are still unmistakably on this album; two little highlights though. With “Saved” we hear another song like “Get A Life”, but this time a little less aggressive. “You” is one of my favorites, containing a bit of an industrial rhythm and the best guitar riff. We get some rest on the ballad “Hero”, before we hear a very dry and direct intro to “Miles Away”. The dryness of a lot of songs is actually very much in favour of the intimate ambience. The track contains one of the finest choruses on the record. It's time to kick some true ass again with the heavy and groovy “Reach”, before we get to hear Chris DeGarmo sing on the power ballad “All I Want”. “Hit the Black” and “Anytime Anywhere” are more of those heavy, groovy tracks, which in the end are the best ones on this record. “sp00l” concludes the record in a classic Queensrÿche vibe like we heard on Promised Land. Its lyrics are critical towards modern day society, like we hear a lot from the band.
In the end, Hear In The Now Frontier is far from a bad album. It’s just a little hard to accept this change if you were expecting the progressive metal from the previous albums. Once you are open for Queensrÿche’s ‘obscure’ period, this record would be a good start; it’s easily the one that bears the most resemblance to the classic Rÿche sound at some tracks, possibly due to the presence of guitarist Chris DeGarmo, who called it quits after this record. This album is highly recommended to those that liked what they just read.
Highlights: “The Voice Inside”, “You”, “Hit the Black” and “sp00l”.
Queensryche is an interesting band for all intents and purposes. Starting life as America’s answer to Iron Maiden and Helloween to gradually loosing their Metallic skin to become another nameless faceless head in the crowd of over populated pop/rock. In various interviews over the years front man Geoff Tate has openly expressed his disdain for Heavy Metal and cited that his band was never a Heavy Metal band, especially after 'Warning'. While this is debated amongst Metalheads on all sides, on thing remains certain. This album isn't Heavy Metal, its Hard Rock with some Alternative and Grunge influence thrown in.
The production is good for what is presented to us. The guitars are light, almost as if the amp distortion was barely on. There are a few solos and of course a bunch of leads. The guitars are very bluesy and laidback. There are clean, distorted and acoustic moments sprinkled throughout.
The bass does what it has since 'Empire' and that’s play follow the guitars. The drums are also fairly bland as well, lacking the bombast and intrigue of previous efforts. In stead of adding some balls to this album they too, are very melodic.
Another let down would be Geoff's lack of singing on this album. Sadly this is the last Queensryche album to have him hit his higher register. When he does, he does so sparingly and mostly for chorus effect. The lyrics are more upbeat and droll. This is a stark contrast compared to the bleak and damning album that came just before it. Gone are the lyrics of old, of corruption, struggle and fantasy.
This album does have one Metal song on it in the form of 'You'. This coupled with the opening track 'Sign of the Times' were the only hits off this album. Over all, this is actually a very well done piece of somewhat Progressive Rock. All the tracks as well done and well executed. As far as Queensryche albums go, this is the last one you should ever buy, assuming that you have all the albums that came before it anyway. Everything after this is just the band pointlessly pandering to generation X and unwilling to accept that they just don't care. This is for fans only as others will probably be sorely let down.
Many have opined on the fall of metal from the mainstream back into the underground in the early 1990s, offering theories as to why and how it happened. Somewhere between Metallica’s Black Album and a host of substandard work by a large collection of bands, things just fell apart. One of the albums that I had come to blame for helping this happen was the album that preceded this one “Promised Land”, which carried some of the most musically confused songs I’ve ever heard.
The state of confusion had been rectified with the recording of “Hear in the Now Frontier”, and what resulted was something that sounds like a metal band playing Grunge Rock with a bit more originality and intrigue than what Dokken presented at this time. The album has plenty of melodic and idiomatic guitar solos superimposed over a collection of blues inspired riffs and a fairly muddy atmosphere. The lyrics vary from being socially conscious and occasionally articulating feelings of passion, particularly in the case of “Saved” and “You”.
A few songs on here are quite complex and musically apt considering the skill level of most outfits that helped to pioneer this sound, and sometimes traces of Queensryche’s better days come up. “You” is the best track on here, almost sounding like some of the tracks on the later half of Mindcrime, although without the same dense atmosphere. “Saved” is the heaviest of the lot and the closest to the heavier and more aggressive side of Grunge pioneered by more Metal influenced acts such as Alice in Chains, although the blues sounds at the beginning deceive the listener quite a bit. “Sign of the Times” is the catchiest and also the most structurally intricate, although “Cuckoo’s Nest” is also quite listener friendly as well.
Some stuff on here gets a bit boring and tedious, particularly the light material that occasionally pops up through out the album. “Some People Fly” is too long for its own good and doesn’t really develop its stronger moments enough. “Hero” has a neat bass line and some slide guitar at the beginning, but otherwise suffers from the exact same problems that the last song mentioned had. “All I Want” has a piano and Chris DeGarmo singing (he sounds a bit like Jerry Cantrell actually), but ultimately succeeds only in sounding like something the Gin Blossom’s would concoct. “Spool” is my pick for the worst song here, too much meandering sounds and a complete lack of any real brilliance.
The rest of the music on here falls between being highly memorable and being boring. Most of the songs are nice and heavy, particularly in the cases of “Reach” and “Hit the Black”, but don’t quite cross over into being overpowering or inspirational. You get some good riffs, you get Geoff Tate doing a decent job on vocals (though not nearly as amazing as past work), but you don’t get a song that moves you the way most of the stuff found on “Operation Mindcrime” or “The Warning” would.
Although normally I would not have bothered with such an album considering the influences at the time it came out, there is a sentimental element to this album that still keeps me coming back, as someone very special to me whom I’ll never forget, introduced it to me. It is essentially the only thing I’ve heard out of Queensryche during the 1990s that I can say I like, though I do have to skip around a bit when I listen to it. I bought it for $10 and I think that’s about the right value for something with 4 solid songs, a collection of fairly good stuff, and a few throwaways. If you like Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, a lot of the stuff on here will appeal to you, although there is a healthy amount of Soul Asylum and Pearl Jam tendencies in some parts as well.