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After the very commercial, very catchy, and overall very good Empire, Queensryche took a rather abrupt left turn and put out Promised Land. And it's really the crowning jewel in their crown, neck and neck with the Warning, but more original. There had never been an album like Promised Land, nor has there been one since.
But Promised Land is definitely an acquired taste as there is quite a lot less metal here than on previous releases, and even Queensryche's commercial aspects have been moreless forgotten. Promised Land is quiet, subtle and brooding, filled with melancholy and even a hint of genuine darkness. The lyrics detail some rather disturbing subject matter from mental health to broken families, which perfectly match the laid back, but explosive music.
There are only three real "heavy" songs on here, and the first, "I Am I" is largely forgettable. "Damaged" goes for the jugular, hitting the listener head on, and could have come off of Mindcrime with a driving riff and soaring guitars, whereas "My Global Mind" bounces around with an odd groove. But there are electric guitars on most of the other songs, but just played at a relaxed pace. "Disconnected" has a pulsing rhtyhm section and watery guitars, and even Geoff picking up a saxophone (to great effect).
The whole band is on top of their game here, especially Geoff. His voice already started to show its age, but it's absolutely wonderful, especially when only accompanied by piano on the ballad "Someone Else?" "Bridge" is another high point; a simple, three and a half minute acoustic track with a glorious solo. That's one thing that really rocks: excellent guitarwork. No shredding, but relatively simple melodies that remain in your mind long after listening to Promised Land.
I categorically despise such high-falutin, conceited, rock opera, piano bullshit like Savatage's Streets, but Promised Land avoids those pompous trappings and conquers by utilizing an extremely and creative touch. There's no choirs, no bloated keyboards, and no opera singing, just five guys doing what they do best.
Released four long years after Empire, Promised Land just might be the biggest black sheep of Queensryche’s classic era. While it did go gold and had a few successful singles to its name, a series of personal struggles kept the band from truly capitalizing on their last album’s success and this one remains one of their most obscure to date. These factors do give Promised Land a status not unlike that of Metallica’s Loads, but this album is much more consistent and forward thinking.
While Promised Land isn’t exactly inaccessible, it could be seen as an antithesis of Empire. Trading in big hooks for ambient textures and upbeat hard rock for spacy prog, it may be their most complex effort as well as one of their most restrained in execution. It also manages to be their most cynical as the heavier songs are more about creating a biting atmosphere than a truly metal riff and the lyrics deal with themes of disillusionment and detachment.
But with that, it isn’t as far removed from previous Queensryche albums as one would think. The upbeat “Damaged” plays out like an Empire outtake, the atmosphere on songs like “Dis Con Nec Ted” was forseen on “Della Brown,” and a good bulk of the softer songs on here had their roots in “No Sanctuary” and “I Will Remember” among others.
The band dynamics have also undergone a few changes to match the style. The guitars now seem to be the band’s strongest asset as they jump from a heavy crunch on “I Am I” to gentle acoustics and everything in between. On the flip side, the rhythm section seems to have been scaled back and Geoff Tate’s vocals show their first signs of wear but keep their composure by sticking to a lower range. A few members also get to flex some extra muscles as Scott Rockenfield breaks out the electronics, guitarist Chris DeGarmo plays the piano on “Lady Jane” and “Someone Else,” and Tate showcases his skills with a saxophone to chilling effect on the title track.
If Empire is Dark Side Of The Moon, then Promised Land is Queensryche’s answer to Wish You Were Here. It may not have the status of its predecessors but its classy execution may place it just below Mindcrime on the band’s overall hierarchy. It may be one of their trickiest releases to get into but it’s a hell of a lot easier to recommend than anything that would come out after it…
“I Am I”
“Out Of Mind”
Originally published at http://psychicshorts.blogspot.com
Promised Land is the last Queensrÿche record I can actually recall being excited for, or even having enjoyed, and to some extent it's the standard I hold up most of its successors to in terms of their comparative quality. I say this because, with few exceptions (Mindcrime II), most of the albums following it in their career have more or less attempted to copy its formula (Tribe coming the closest): balanced, melodic, and 'progressive' rock, occasionally getting mildly heavier, but usually not. That's not to say they were all conceptually influenced by this album, or precise clones, but clearly this was the benchmark, the blueprint from which they've continuously been drawing even though the audience have long since stolen their buckets off to wells elsewhere.
No, Promised Land is not on par with the more metallic Queensrÿche of the previous decade, but it's at least more solid than its predecessor Empire, and while it's readily accessible for all rock fans, the album doesn't feel like so much of a sellout. The music and production come first here, and both are vibrant and worldly, qualities I would not have thought of when listening through their earlier fare. In fact, if I'm basing the decision on just the mixing and engineering, then for sure this is their most beautiful full-length to date. The drums, the vocals, the bass and guitars are all prominent and brilliantly defined here. In those few instances where the band gets heavy (at least for Queensrÿche), you can really feel the emotion come out, despite the stark simplicity of the actual chords being used. Vocal arrangements are incredibly melodic, often crooning with such crystalline abandon that I am reminded of California's Lizzy Borden (in "One More Time", "My Global Mind" and a few others). What's more, this album manages to sound exotic, not only for the Eastern and tribal influenced percussion, cello and sitar progressions in the powerful single "I Am I", but even in the drifting, folksier Floyd-like pieces like "Bridge".
It's one of the few albums in my collection where I find myself forgiving of its power ballads, its numerous 'tender' moments, because they are very well written, whether it's "Bridge" and its warm everyman family appeal, "Out of Mind" with its tear wrenching chorus, or the sultry escalation of "Lady Jane". They don't quite shine as brightly for me as the soaring semi metallic anthems like "Damaged" or "Disconnected", the former with its pumping bass-lines, catchy and minimal chords and superb, rising vocal lines; the latter a lazy groove with a bit of Zeppelin influence and a mix of moody, lower ranged vocals and an almost funky/80s clamor. There are exceptions here, like the piano/vocal closer "Someone Else?" which I struggle to recall even moments after hearing it, but in general this is a tremendously focused and balanced effort, each of the members contributed hugely to its inspired swath of sound, whether it deigns to occasionally rock your face off or soothe and steady your troubled thoughts.
Since I'd rather erase its sad successors from memory than continuously suffer them, I often think of Promised Land as a personal 'last hurrah' for Queensrÿche. Granted, by 1994 the band was thriving off its name and its earlier hits, and despite solid sales (and high initial charting) this album didn't create quite the same stir as that before it, probably because it didn't possess a dreary-eyed prom ballad like "Silent Lucidity" for the 80s hairspray sect who gobbled that up alongside Warrant's "Heaven", Slaughter's "Fly to the Angels" or Extreme's "More Than Words". But fuck that crowd, because this is superior to Empire in all regards, and the thing sounds so gorgeous on most of my speakers that it doesn't even seem to have aged a day since its release. Producer James Barton truly killed it here. It's like the flimsy songwriting of Hear in the Now Frontier or Q2K done RIGHT, and would have made a great swan song to kick off a permanent vacation for the band...
For some people Queensrÿche’s downwards spiral began with this album, Promised Land. I however think that this album is actually the last album of the ‘classic’ albums and it is also quite a lot better than its predecessor, the commercial and overrated Empire. They took quite some time to come up with a new album after Empire and perhaps that’s one of the reasons this album did not chart as well as they had hoped. The second reason for that is one that counts for almost all 80s metalbands in the 90s; Nirvana was ruling the show now. Metal was out. Frankly, I’m quite sure that reason had a big influence on the sales and reviews of this release, since it actually is so typically Queensrÿche, but then just slightly darker. Perhaps if it was released in 1987 for example, it would’ve been received a lot better.
Though Promised Land brings us dark progressive metal, I can not deny that there are traces of Empire across the album. The funny thing is that this time the commercial aspect is well written and a lot more original than “Silent Lucidity”. And apart from that this album sounds far from uninspired; every bandmember is in top form. Geoff Tate’s voice has become a little lower and thicker, but he still sings full of emotion and still has his trademark wailing sound. Guitarists Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton still come up with the best of riffs and chord progressions and their solos are really inventive and inspiring. Scott Rockenfield still sounds as powerful as ever, which is going to change after this album. Eddie Jackson also sounds clear and cool with his bass. Together they sound great. Promised Land is the last time the band sounds like this. The songwriting department also did a great job. There’s a great amount of variation among the songs; where one song is dark and haunting, the next is gentle and touching, then we have one swinging and groovy, and there we have a poppy track. I’ll be discussing a few of the highlights.
The first highlight you’ll come across is the opening of the album. After a weird intro “9-28 AM” we quickly go to “I Am I”. After what seems a musical chaos it evolves into a dark and haunting riff with a creepy wailing entry by Tate. The entire song stays within this dark atmosphere and it flows over into “Damaged”; a slightly more down-to-earth song with also a very dark and cool riff. After its mid-paced verses we get a more up-tempo chorus. These two great opening songs really set the right atmosphere for Promised Land with their dark tone. The darkness continues on title track “Promised Land”; a real dragging track with weird yet very cool riffs. Absolute star here is Geoff Tate with his clear desperation in his voice as he screams ‘why am I?’. Furthermore the time reserved for this song, almost 8-minutes, also really adds to the epicness and to the despair. Queensrÿche wanted to try something completely new with “Dis Con Nec Ted” and it probably was written during a jam session. The whole song is based around this groovy and swinging bass line by Jackson, then Rockenfield comes in with appropriate rhythms and before you know it DeGarmo and Wilton add their riffs to the whole. The chorus is sung by an almost robotic voice and Tate only talks in the verses. This is the first time in Queensrÿche’s career that we see such an experimental type of song with spoken verses, but not the last time as we see it return on 2003’s “The Art of Life” and 2009’s “Unafraid” songs.
On to the more ballad-ish side of the album. “Bridge” is one that almost immediately comes to your attention. It has not been released as a single without a reason, for this is the catchiest song Rÿche have ever written. The lyrics are really great, they’re about a father and son who have grown to dislike each other and blame each other for blowing up the bridge between them. Was this a mirror to DeGarmo, who wrote this song? This track builds up steadily with a somewhat poppy clean guitar in the beginning and the full band joining after. Another ballad that is very hard not to notice is “Someone Else?”. There’s this sad piano accompaniment that lasts the entire song to guide Geoff Tate on his lament about his girl having an affair with someone else. Normally such a lyric would come out cheesy, but the sad and dark tone combined with Tate’s emotional vocals really makes the story credible. This is a great way to close the album as well. It’s what I’d call ‘the classic Rÿche closing ballad’.
In short, Promised Land is really part of the best Rÿche albums but sounds a bit darker and even heavier than its predecessors. It’s trademark Queensrÿche as we all love it; atmospheric, original and with emotional vocals. I’d recommend this album to every Queensrÿche fan and to people who are new with the band.
Strongest tracks: “I Am I”, “Damaged”, “Bridge”, “Promised Land” and “Someone Else?”.
I’ve spent the longest time trying to wrap my head around this poor, lost little CD. It isn’t lost so much in the sense that it didn’t have an audience, as it was quite a successful album in its time, but more so in its overall nature. If you go by the production and how it tries to be catchy and assessable, yet never quite succeeds amidst a sea of differing ideas, it becomes clear that this album was stuck between two worlds. Essentially half of this is a rehash of “Empire”, yet it also seems to be taking into account the growing prominence of the new sound of their east coast rivals Fates Warning and a younger sensation in Dream Theater and attempting to compete with them in some respects. The end result being something that is overproduced in the same way that its predecessor was, yet doesn’t have many good songs to speak of.
“Promised Land” isn’t so much a progressive metal album as it is a rock album that tries way too hard to be progressive. The familiar devices of mysterious sounding clean guitar sections and loose flowing straight rock drumming at mid tempo are present, but overused and occasionally dominate the songs. The high collection of ballads such as “Out Of Mind”, “Bridge”, “Lady Jane” and “Someone Else?” really steals any thunder that this album would attempt to have and all but turns it into easy listening music. Tate’s vocals are still in top form, but are often so subdued that there is a general feeling that he’s losing his edge articulated in each verse. A lot of the musical ideas in these songs are somewhat reminiscent of the past two albums, but they tend towards a feel similar to the jam sound of “Della Brown” than any of Queensryche’s more organized and methodical ballads like “I Dream In Infrared” and “The Lady Wore Black”.
The more rocking songs on here don’t really bode too well either, and mostly coast at mid tempo on powerfully produced guitars playing mediocre riffs. The album’s most memorable single “I Am I” has some semblance of commonality with this band’s metal history, but is so weighed down with studio gimmicks, vocal overdub tricks and has its rough edges smoothed out so much by the pristine, Desmond Child-like production that there’s no attitude to it, minus Tate’s vocal delivery. The guitars groove quite a bit but no really interesting riffs emerge save a single droning melody that pops in and out between the chorus and following verse. The title song “Promised Land” is a similar story only about twice as long, with about twice as many atmospheric gimmicks, and not really having a unifying theme to refer back to.
The only song on here that really breaks away from this rut of mid tempo plodding and random stylistic mish mashing is “Damaged”. It’s the only thing on here that isn’t loaded with clean guitar interludes and atmospheric fluff, and it’s the only case where the pace actually gets picked up. It actually seems to hearken back to “Operation Mindcrime” during the chorus, having a really good hook and a wickedly dark atmosphere by prog. rock standards. Geoff Tate’s vocal lines are relatively free of excessive overdubs and has a discernable main line that can be followed, though harmonies and counter themes do work themselves in and out at times.
It’s a funny thing, but this is one of those rare occasions where a band actually got better that what they’d become when they adopted some of the elements of the alternative rock scene. Although this listens closer to something that most associate with Queensryche, the songwriting on “Hear In The Now Frontier” is far stronger than the aimless meandering that occupies this. Even though only one of these songs actually goes over 5 minutes, most of them seem to go on forever and almost beg the listener to hit the skip button in search of something else. It’s one of those albums that much like “The Black Album”, appealed to people because of how large sounding it is, though at least that album had some riffs and sections with staying power. In short, this is something to be ignored unless you like listening to a bad version of a Pink Floyd album with a 90s production.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on May 13, 2009.
'Promised Land ' is the first of the non-Metal Queensryche albums and as such, their second to last good album. In this, we hear a darker and bitter Queensryche the likes of which we've not seen before or since. This album is best categorized as 'Dark Progressive Rock'.
The production is more or less the same as it was on 'Empire'(in short nothing to write home about but it gets the job done). The guitars are light, and mostly clean or with some kind of effect on them. They are rarely if ever distorted. There are several leads and no real solos to speak of. The riffs are dark and abstract in some instances.
The bass is still in full 80's Metal bass player mode, and sadly follows the others throughout the entire release. The drums play some interesting somewhat polyrhythms here and there, just barely breaking out of a more standard Rock format. There are some light keyboards and samples strewn throughout the release as well.
The vocals are very minimalistic and work with the sparse guitar work. Geoff does use his full range but it’s limited. This album sees the beginning of the "new" Tate voice, thankfully it’s not dominate here.
This album is by far the darkest album that band ever release which is interesting given that its easily their lightest album as well. Most of the songs are set at a moderate pace and never leave that rut. This really is a lost gem as it’s crafty and intricate, delicate to a point even. There is more going on then what you truly hear and that is one of the better parts about this album. It’s an album that makes you think. This is recommended to fans and those who enjoy immersing themselves in dark moody music.
The first time I heard Promised Land was when all of the songs from the album, except for the title track, were aired on radio show Rockline just prior to the albums release in 1994. Being a huge Ryche fan I was quite disappointed when not a single song jumped out and grabbed me by the throat. After buying the album and listening to it for a few months I decided that it was decent enough but couldn't hold a candle to any of their previous classic releases.
A surprising number of Ryche fans actually consider Promised Land to be the band's best effort. While I will never rate the album as highly as Rage For Order, The Warning or Operation:mindcrime, over time I have developed more of an appreciation for Promised Land. Certainly the lyrical theme of the album has always been a powerful one, as many can relate to the disaffectation and disillusionment voiced here.
After the brief introduction of 9:28am,the agression-fuelled duo of I Am I and Damaged kick the album off in fine style, before slowing things down with the Floydesque Out of Mind. The acoustic Bridge then leads into the eight and a half minute title track, a plodding number that sits well within the context of the album and forms the crux of the lyrical theme. This is followed by Disconnected, which is made unique by Geoff Tate's vocal approach, as well as ending in a chugging fashion that is quite compelling.
Next up is the atmospheric tune Lady Jane, which is followed by the very average My Global Mind. To my ears, this one sounds like a leftover from the Empire sessions. One More Time is an infectious lament, that leads into the album closer Someone Else?, an emotive piano-driven number that is admittedly rather bloated but serves to highlight Geoff Tate's amazing voice.
Promised Land contains a diverse collection of songs and is truly an adventurous work. Songs that may not seem as powerful when standing alone, serve to complement one another to create something more potent. Yes, it took some time, but I now feel comfortable singing the praises of Promised Land.