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In a world where so many bands only have one or two original members in their ranks, it is sad to see how severely Queensryche was affected by the loss of one guy. Having been the main writer and business overseer, Chris DeGarmo’s departure greatly changed the band’s dynamic as Geoff Tate assumed leadership and a series of guitarists were brought in to cover his tracks. The first of these was Seattle producer Kelly Gray, a former bandmate of Tate’s, who would quickly become a controversial figure among fans despite this being his only appearance as an official member.
Despite DeGarmo’s departure, Q2K’s sound isn’t too far removed from Hear In The Now Frontier. Some of the subtle nuances have lost their impact but the grunge influence has been kept in tact and most of the songs have kept their loose execution. However, there may be a little more variety and there is a fairly good mix of ballads and heavier tracks.
The band’s performances also don’t seem to be too affected though that has more to do with the style than anything else. While Gray isn’t much of a lead player, the focus on rhythms lets him fit in well and the vocals seem to be holding up as well as they were on previous efforts. In addition, Rockenfield seems to be a little more prominent as songs like the opening “Falling Down” and “Burning Man” are driven by his percussion skills.
Unfortunately, the lack of nuances and weaker songwriting do bring this album down to a degree. There is still nothing bad on here and having a few less songs on here does make it feel more solid than Hear In The Now Frontier, but this is the first Queensryche album where the listeners spends more time looking for diamonds in the rough than enjoying a consistent release.
Q2K’s diamond ends up being “The Right Side Of The Mind,” a brooding closer that channels the Promised Land days with its subdued vocals, spacy guitar and bass work, and unsettling chorus. In addition, “Falling Down” and “Sacred Ground” make decent grunge rockers while “How Could I” and “Beside You” respectively stand out for a passionate chorus and almost gospel motifs.
In addition to having the dumbest title for a Queensryche album this side of Operation: Mindcrime II, Q2K is the first that doesn’t feel like a true Queensryche album. Tate’s vocals may have been their most unique asset but their sophistication and strong dynamics made sure they still sounded like themselves through even the most blatant sellouts. It’s a slight step below Hear In The Now Frontier but it’s still great compared to just about everything that would come after it…
“How Could I?”
“The Right Side Of My Mind”
Originally published at http://psychicshorts.blogspot.com
Q2K beckoned forth the 21st century of Queensrÿche with a slightly more modern rock fixation than its two predecessors. One can still hear a bit of that 90s radio-alternative and grunge influence through what seems like a misplaced batch of B-sides for Hear in the Now Frontier or Promised Land. I shouldn't have been surprised, really, since this was the first full-length without Chris DeGarmo (his replacement was Kelly Gray), and he'd already contributed to the group's decline with the previous outing. I'll ignore the goofy title and the lame circuit board and icon cover, these guys had long been obsessed with the ramifications of technology in their lyrics: the music here needs no help in sinking to the bottom of the barrel, and Q2K is without any doubt one of the worst albums the band ever shoveled upon its audience.
Of course, the very notion of Queensrÿche as a proper 'metal' band was already a decade old. Bands like Tool were outpacing them in terms of base aggression and lyrical gravitas, but then they were never exactly comfortable on the heavier side of things, so perhaps its a moot argument. Rush's Counterparts is about as far as this record goes. At its limit, it's endowed with Pearl Jam style grooves ("Sacred Ground"), and deeper, thickened grunge paste riffing ("One Life") that attempts to contrast Tate's melodic business as usual. The problem is, none of the songs come anywhere near sticking to the listener's conscience. Even if I were to ignore the past and accept Queensrÿche as some sort of melodic rock band, they're still behaving like they belong deep on the bench. Second stringers at best. Just who is this for? Thirtysomething Goo Goo Doll and Soul Asylum fans pining for those college years in which they got laid to "Silent Lucidity"? As much as I might despise those other bands, they at least had the irritable characteristic of songwriting infectious enough to coerce millions of radio listeners...Q2K was nowhere to be found.
The best I can say for this is that Geoff Tate's voice still sounds reasonably well sharpened, though we were well past the point where he had anything new to offer. He syncs up well, loads of harmonies and piercing tones that would have sounded superb over an actual riff set worth a damn, but the band seems to think some reduced, rock & roll groove is squeak on by. Q2K practices a similar airy devotion to the rest of the band's 1994-2011 catalog, so you'll experience a lot of streaking melodies and tribal drum sets that would be better implemented on the followup (Tribe). To be fair, there are a few moments here, like the climax of "Burning Man" or the dreamy spaciousness of "Beside You" where the band does achieve the revelatory bliss you might recall from, say, Janes Addiction in the later 80s, but this comes through the arrangement alone, not from any particularly memorable vocal line or guitar progression, and thus the whole of the record is so painfully easy to forget. Production-wise, it's not a far cry from its nearest neighbors in the 'ryche catalog: clear, professional, pop-oriented, but just not as vibrant or effective as Promised Land.
While there weren't as many tracks here as its bloated predecessor, I have to wonder why, throughout 11 tunes (before re-issue bonus material), the band can't muster even ONE equivalent to something like "I Am I" or "Empire", at the very least. I'm not asking for or expecting Operation: Mindcrime level output, since that inspiration is clearly all washed up, but this is perhaps some of the most frustrating material they've released. The rockers rarely go anywhere, the softer tunes are meek, some of the lyrics are pretty awkward (I ain't no Romeo/I'm just the man for you, "Liquid Sky"), and you just get the sad impression that there is no more thunder down under, burning at this band's loins. After all, Hear in the Now Frontier might have just been a fluke, right? Any minute now, the band will return to form and shake this bullshit out of its system, right? Those were the questions this album posed, and we all know how they turned out. Were it not for the disgraceful disappointment of Operation: Mindcrime II, this would have nadir scrawled all over it in feces.
Don't be fooled, the futuristic artwork does not signify that Queensryche are bringing back any of their sci-fi inspired stuff from the first two albums, nor are they going to do anything even vaguely technical or enigmatic. Nope, it's just the same crap they vomited forth on Hear in the Now Frontier, but a little bit worse.
I really hoped that Chris Degarmo was the one who fucked up Hear in the Now Frontier, but it turns out it was probably his royal highness Geoff Tante, and his dislike of anything vaguely metallic. It's hard to say if newcomer Kelly Gray really brings anything to the table, because once again we have the same dumbed down solos from the previous album, the same weak, simplistic rock "riffs," and absolutely no interesting harmonies/melodies/wankery to mention. And yes, the rhythm section is still solid. But shit, a middle school band could hold down this abortion of an album. A lot of it reminds me of weak Bon Jovi, U2's post Joshua Tree output, and a good dose of modern rock like Matchbox 20 and Nickleback, but without any of their catchy elements.
This album is actually far worse than Hear in the Now Frontier. Whereas that one was merely drivel, this actually has some really embarrassing moments, most evident in the clearly pop oriented vocal patters and silly lyrics penned by Master Tante himself. I can't even try to ignore this album, and it's not bad enough give me something to laugh at. And sadly, the best element of this album is probably Master Tante's vocals, which occasionally do shine with a melody or two.
Once again, we are treated to a moody/gloomy closer, "Right Side of My Mind," which is damn good. Why they couldn't have written just one more song like this blows my mind...it would have made the album a hell of a lot better.
This is terrible music by any measure. How Queensryche managed to survive this career suicide attempt is beyond me.
When I recount the more fun aspects of the late 90s; such as Mortal Kombat games, Resident Evil and the resurgence of Helloween, there is little that can kill the inevitable good mood that usually follows. This album, however, is one of those rare things that can even bring me down when I’m at the height of Zen video game euphoria. It adopts all of the worst clichés of late 90s alternative rock ala Pearl Jam (particularly the shitty stuff put out after the band started their holy quest against Ticket Master) and several others, and divorces any notion of aggression from the equation. Whereas “Hear In The Now Frontier” had a few spots of brilliance amid the sloppy, blues inspired riffing and choppy beats on tinny drums, here the band can hardly find the resolve to disassociate themselves from a slew of post-grunge bands that were burning up the charts with little or no credibility to accompany the box office numbers.
The only thing that really separates the auditory rape of “Q2K” from the impending advent of Nickelback a few years later and the equally hideous banality of the already established Matchbox Twenty is Geoff Tate, who is still reasonably on point, though his years of cigarette smoking has taken a toll on his upper range. There’s not really a dynamic point of contrast between such vapid rock coasters as “One Life” and “Breakdown”, just a lot of stagnated grooves and droning lead lines that can’t seem to make its mind up between channeling U2 or Sonic Youth, while pretty well failing at both. Tate’s vocals are actually a bit overdone in an attempt to compensate, sounding more erratic than passionate, while the uninspired guitar work and overused wah pedal sounds meanders about with no real point of cadence.
That’s really the whole problem with this entire album, there is no point of actual cadence where the listener can say “this is worth hearing again”, it’s just there and then gone a few minutes later. Collective Soul was able to pull out a couple of reasonably catchy songs like “Gel” using the stylistic approach that’s going on here, but when listening to the semi-psychedelic plodding of “Burning Man” or the uninspired rock balladry of “When The Rain Comes...”, the closest analogy would be the pointless and forgettable mainstream pandering heard on Dokken’s “Shadow Life”. And even on said abomination by the former sleaze kings of Los Angelos, George Lynch made some time to at least give the leads some room to shine. The exodus of Chris DeGarmo might explain some of the shortcomings in the songwriting, but Michael Wilton is far more capable than the brief, uninspired melodic passages that filter in and out of a few key spots on these songs.
The bright spots on this mud stained disaster are few and far between and usually come about by the band reverting back to the better elements of the previous album. “Liquid Sky” plays up the semi-catchy yet atmospheric rock model fairly well, and at least moves in a more lateral way, rather than plodding on a singular beat and simply throwing 3 note ideas on top of each other to create a false sense of change. Or to put it more bluntly, it doesn’t sound like a cheap knockoff of a Stone Temple Pilots song the way most of the crap on here tends to. The opener “Falling Down” has a few solid points, but could stand to have about a minute of unnecessary repetition cut from it (which is telling given that that is slightly less than a quarter of the song’s length). The lead riffs are heavily blues/rock inspired and cliché, almost to the point of sounding like an early 80s Joan Jett song with a post-grunge production, but they are at least animated to a certain extent.
When I recount the majestic bands that gave us the amazing period that was the 1980s, Queensryche will likely stand as the most tragic and complete fall from greatness of them all. Dokken learned their lesson about seeking mainstream attention after 1 lackluster album and another throwaway and got themselves right back on track. Dio took a very short 1 album stint into a slightly more acceptable version of metal that was still reasonably credible though poorly done before getting their act together again. But to this day, this era of Queensryche still haunts the sound of every output up until the present, and even at the behest of a popular desire to see something more along the lines of “Mindcrime”, the ball just hasn’t been able to get rolling again. But historical comparisons aside, this should be treated with the same disdain as the latest Creed album, and dismissed as the trite that it is rather than dignified with monetary units.
Q2k is an album most people instantly throw in the trashcan after hearing it. Why? Queensrÿche is pursuing a different style, once again. While fans want nothing but progressive metal, the band tends to give them less and less of that genre. Now, what is this new genre and what is the result of this experimenting with new genres? It seems there are more alternative rock influences here than before. If you thought Q2k’s predecessor was clean of metal, then you should definitely check this one out. A total departure from anything they did before. About the result, I have mixed feelings.
It sure was a hard time for Queensrÿche back then in 1999. Their record company EMI America went bankrupt, Chris DeGarmo left the band and it sure weren’t the best days for their kind of music. I can imagine they wanted to do something totally new, something that would get them back in the picture. As I read in the booklet of the 2006 re-master, they were practically broke at that time. I can imagine their choice to try and pursue a style that is a bit more mainstream, hence the alternative rock style. And so Q2k was born. Personally, I don’t really mind bands trying something new. Mostly I like that a lot, such as the Scorpions’ Eye II Eye effort from 1999, and Sonata Arctica’s Unia from 2007. However, I’m not very sure about this release. Let’s go into the music a bit more.
That Queensrÿche pursued a different style here, we know. But did they pass the test? I am no expert at alternative rock, but I can judge the songs on what they are. About fifty percent of the songs suck and fifty percent doesn’t. Yet there are no standout tracks and there is no overall attractiveness. Although some songs get to hook themselves somewhere in the back of your mind, there are no instantly catchy anthems like on previous albums. This is one very difficult release, sometimes I really hate it and need to stop myself from throwing it away, but at other times I think I can appreciate it. At this moment, I can appreciate it, so I’ll keep this review nice, except when I really shouldn’t.
Stronger tracks on the album. “Falling Down” immediately comes to mind with the uplifting drum beat and the refreshing entrance by Geoff Tate. Even the guitar duel between Michael Wilton and newbie Kelly Gray has something you might like. Then “Sacred Ground” comes. A quite relaxing upbeat song. Dirty lyrics though. “One Life” is also enjoyable, perhaps one of the better songs of this album. Other stronger songs here are “When the Rain Comes”, “How Could I”, “Beside You”, “Liquid Sky” and “The Right Side of My Mind”. But please remember what I said, none of these songs are even comparable to stuff that features on Rage for Order or Promised Land.
Weak tracks. “Breakdown” would immediately be qualified for the worst song of the year. No, scratch that. It’s the worst song of the century. That guitar riff sounds so unbelievably uninspired. I could make that up in two seconds and I would never like it. Not liking metal, fine. Not wanting to make metal anymore, fine. But there is no excuse for an abomination as “Breakdown”. Then we have “Burning Man”. Ethically, this song is a scandal. This is just not a song you may write as a progmetal band, yet it has some kind of swinging vibe that makes you like it at some occasions. At other occasions, this might as well be one of the worst songs of the album. “Wot Kinda Man” is shamelessly misspelled with the means of being popular, which makes you hate the song instantly without having heard it. Now, I must say I hated the song for a long time. But actually it’s quite relaxing and laidback, and has variation throughout the verses, making it a decent song after all. It took some time before I realized that though.
Album closer “Right Side of my Mind” is one that would remind to earlier Rÿche releases like Promised Land. A worthy closer, even though it’s still in the Q2k style.
After lots of thinking and revising and drinking and sleeping, I may as well come to a conclusion. My problem is, however, that I still don’t know whether to like or to dislike this album. At times I can enjoy it, but at other times I really despise it. There are good songs on it, but the overall feeling of Q2k is a bit mellow and clumsy. I would almost go for a 50% rating, yet there is one thing that tells me to add 10%. The bonus tracks of the re-mastered edition! Indeed, those tracks were left off the original album, and that is really remarkable, since they are easily better songs than half of the others. Yeah, the bonustracks are great, except for the “Breakdown” radio edit of course, the only thing that makes this version thrive over the original is the reduced length, the sooner that song is finished the better.
To cut this long story short, Q2k is an album you will hate. Still I like it at times. They chose to pursue an entirely different style than before, and you will hate that. But this album has an entirely different purpose than the others, it’s more somewhat of a relaxing album. Now, I will not recommend it to you, unless you like alternative rock or are an open-minded Rÿche fan.
Strongest tracks (no re-master): Sacred Ground, One Life, and The Right Side of My Mind. And if you have the re-master, the bonus tracks of course.
Queensryche is yet another victim of the "must play generic alternative rock" syndrome. It's as if 3 Doors Down and Nickelback have polluted the water supply leading to dozens of musicians' houses. This disease is dangerous and it seems to be apparently contagious.
But enough medical mumbo-jumbo. The result of this disease striking Queensrcyche is this parody of a metal album, "Q2K". Right from the beginning album it is all set up to be a complete waste of time. The first song, "Falling Down" is so devoid of musical ingenuity or creativity it makes Geoff Tate resort to growling like some king of 90's grunge singer. The drum beat makes me want to shove pencils in my ears. While not every song is as bad as this pathetic excuse for music, it doesn't get much better.
Every song sounds the same pretty much. While this has plagued previous Queensryche efforts, it's actually a major problem on this one, because all the songs sound so damn pathetic. The music isn't even catchy for Christ's sake! The melodies of these songs sound like random pitches which Tate belts out with a tacky grunge intensity which sounds really foolish. The guitar work is mediocre, never doing anything interesting, but rather taking the alt-rock route and playing long chords, and generic riffs over and over again. These riffs aren't good the first, second, or third time, and what Queensryche apparently doesn't realize is that playing them over and over hundreds of times doesn't make them better. The bass is for the most part inaudible. The drums plod along like the drums you'd hear in a radio alt-rock anthem. They are repetive, always loud, and never doing anything interesting or different. I am trying to find something good to say about this album, but I can't.
In fact, because there is nothing good about this album, the bad things become all more noticeable. For "Q2K", Queensryche decided not to play any dynamics at all. For you non-musical folks, that means loud and soft. Usually in "progressive metal" the dynamics are interesting. Songs have soft and loud sections, light and heavy. Here all we have is loud, mid-tempo, rock songs. There is no variation, and it makes the album gets increasingly more annoying as it trudges along.
"Liquid Sky" is the only song which comes close to being relatively entertaining, maybe because it sounds different than every other song on the album. Bur even still, it's nowhere as good as any other Queensryche song off "Empire" or "Midcrime". The truth is, there is no reason to listen to this album instead of another Queensryche album. And if there is no reason to listen to it, well, it's not worth owning, or touching, or thinking about, or anything. If you are a fan of the band, don't even go near this album, it will only make you sad, depressed, possibly suicidal, and very dissapointed. I overexaggerate, but this disc is bad.
If you like 3 Doors Down, or Creed, then you ought to buy this album immeadiately. But, if you're like me, and you like interesting, though provoking progressive metal, then you better stick to Queensryche's better albums. "Q2K" is a genuine flop.
So the legendary Queensryche go for the gold (aka THE DOLLAR) and release a pop-rocking prog record that repeats the same drum beat OVER and OVER on every song. The production places this one beat so high that it becomes obvious that Scott Rockenfield didn't want any variation of any sort. At worst, it sounds as if the man looped his drums for every song. Otherwise...one may find the artwork, lyrics and production on this release to be quite classy and a good 2-4 songs work well as listening junkfood. Even so, I suggest that people buy the "Live Evolution" CD to hear the best songs from this album performed with a better mix and a lesser sense of annoyance with the drumming.
The few key tracks that poke out are the Led Zepplin-esque "Falling Down", the sliding "Liquid Sky" and the rumbling "Sacred Ground". The rest has some classy guitar work and the typical "new-Tate" vocal styles but because of the one-trick drumming and lazy riff-craft the album does little but drift by, hammering that annoying drum beat into your skull again and again. The few good tracks make it worth buying for the Queensryche fan...but if you're a fairweather...stay FAR away.
Queensryche keep evolving as in the past, but I don't think have any clue of what or who they wish to be anymore. This record shows a band trying to embrace progressive elements AND pop elements and sacrificing the best of both in an attempt to please everyone and spark sales.
Sadly for them...this was not to be and they found themselves (for the first time) being kicked from a major label.
Yes, I'm ripping off Spinal Tap with the title of this review......so what? I actually have a good reason for stealing this phrase from one of the funniest movies of all time: because Q2K is literally a shit sandwich. How, you ask? Because the band took the only two semi-decent songs on the album, made them the first and last tracks, and filled the rest with pure, unlistenable shit. So imagine if you will, the two semi-decent songs acting as two slices of bread, with a heaping pile of shit in between. There you have it --- one giant shit sandwich of an album.
Let me get this out of the way: Queensryche is one of my favorite bands of all time, so don't get the (wrong) idea that I hate the band and am just giving them a bad review for the hell of it. I think that albums like Rage for Order, Operation: Mindcrime, The Warning, the self-titled EP, and even Empire are all fantastic albums, with RFO and O:M probably two of the best albums ever recorded. It goes downhill after Empire, but even Promised Land and Hear in the Now Frontier had some damn good songs on them. Then came this --- Q2K, which is the first album recorded by the band after the departure of Chris DeGarmo. Terminal drunkard Kelly Gray took his place, and didn't do such a hot job either, so at least there is some reasoning behind why this album sucks so much. Although you can't blame Gray completely for why this album is so shitty, since Geoff Tate was probably the main creative force behind the album since DeGarmo left, and he doesn't like metal anymore, remember?
The cover art is pretty cool; looking at it, you'd think that the band would be returning to some of the technological themes present on The Warning and Rage For Order; nope, mostly just terrible lyrics dealing with love and such. The album sputters off to a start with "Falling Down", one of only two passable songs on the album. Right away, it's apparent that this is not a heavy metal album; maybe progressive rock or something? Anyways, there is some decent riffage in the beginning, and Tate's vocals sound pretty good, with some good use of backing vocals in the bridge and the chorus. I do kinda dig the guitar solos, because there is some dueling going on between Michael Wilton and Kelly Gray, and then they both combine together to play some more leads before the solo is over. Kind of reminiscent of some of the solos in Rage For Order in the way that it's structured, although nowhere near as good. It's a decent song, but not even in the same neighborhood of anything appearing on RFO or Mindcrime.
Now the album goes downhill, fast. "Sacred Ground" sounds like a really bad alternative rock song, featuring absent-minded guitar riffs, tambourine banging, and inane lyrics. Even worse, Tate sounds like he is talking through a lot of the song, I can't even call it singing. "One Life" starts off sounding like bad elevator music, and when the song "kicks in" it doesn't get much better. The riffs are terrible and are horribly structured; the notes don't even sound like they flow together at all. Who wrote these riffs, and why was the whole band under the impression that they sounded good? Another annoyance that can be heard here and a lot throughout the album is that Kelly Gray loves to use weird guitar effects, probably to compensate for the fact he can't play leads very well. If you've heard/seen the live CD/DVD Live Evolution, then you've heard Gray butchering DeGarmo solos while trying to hide his mistakes through layers of guitar effects. Mike Stone is a much better fit for the band, but that's another story entirely. "When the Rain Comes" is a pathetic attempt at soft, contemporary music.......is this the same band that did "Queen of the Ryche" or what? "How Could I" and "Beside You" is just more of the same --- terrible lyrics, terrible guitar work, extremely boring songs.
When I first heard the next track, "Liquid Sky", I thought it sounded pretty cool.......maybe there was some hope for the rest of the album! A nice little guitar part starts the song out, very refreshing after all of the boring riffs present through the rest of the album. However, 17 seconds into the song, the guitar part stops and in comes Tate with more horrible lyrics, something about he's not no Romeo and he's the man for you. Real deep and thought provoking, is it not? I thought Queensryche was supposed to be the thinking man's heavy metal band. There aren't even anymore cool guitar parts in the rest of the song to partially redeem it (just a short reprise of the same part from the beginning in the middle of the song); it blends nicely with the rest of the shitty songs on the album. "Burning Man" drags the album down further, if that's even possible at this point. The bass riff and drum work through the verse & chorus sounds like it should be in some jingle on a TV commercial trying to sell a new sports drink or something. Awful, awful, awful. "Wot Kinda Man" follows, and yes, it also sucks. First of all, I can't get over the title --- why are they misspelling "what"? Is it supposed to be cool or something? I hate that, a lot. It's fucking stupid. The song is just as forgettable as anything else on the record, with no memorable guitar or vocal work anywhere to be heard (hey, those two factors used to be Ryche trademarks, but I guess the band forgot that while recording Q2K).
The album is mercifully brought to a close with "Right Side of My Mind", which is actually kinda decent. It sort of reminds me of a weird Pink Floyd song in some parts, and hey --- there is actually some listenable guitar work in this song! Nothing to get too excited about, but it's a hell of a lot better than anything else on the album (besides "Falling Down"). Still, this is nowhere near what the band is capable of. I think the big problem with Q2K is that everything sounds so uninspired. Tate sounds like he's hardly putting out any effort and doesn't even really hit any high notes. Like I mentioned, most of the riffs sound like they were haphazardly thrown together, and when you combine it all, you get one boring, very forgettable album.
I hate to give Queensryche such a low score, but they truly deserve it with this album. Maybe everyone was all shaken up after DeGarmo left and they just couldn't write anything decent without him (although Wilton and Tate have written some of the band's finest work on their classic albums without DeGarmo, so it's not like the rest of the band can't write songs or anything). On their recent tours, they didn't even bother to play any Q2K material (based on the shows I saw, at least), so maybe the band realizes now that Q2K was just a big mistake. Their latest album, Tribe, isn't exactly a return to top form, but it's definitely a step in the right direction. It's nice to see that the band bounced back a little after this horrible album, but I'm still waiting for Queensryche to really get it back together and start making some real metal again. Come on, Tate, save the soft stuff for your solo albums and let's get some of the old, heavy Queensryche back again.