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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.