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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.