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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.