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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?”.