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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.