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2012 marks the year this notable Seattle quintet completes three decades of a quite attention-grabbing career (and are touring in order to celebrate it), so I just figured it would be quite right to review some albums they’ve put out, be them just good, bad, masterpieces or utter pieces of excrement, so let’s just get to it before they write another rap song or some asinine hymn about buying shit and I feel compelled enough to give up on them again.
First of all, I must say how, being slightly more used to post-Empire Queensrÿche, it just feels exhilarating to review a CD (In this case, an EP) from these guys that features no such things as filler tracks or experimental, ego-indulging bullshit. There’s something about this particular EP... A certain mindset that I sense Queensrÿche never did revisit (Maybe they did to a slightly lesser extent on Op: Mindcrime), and I don’t exactly mean the youthful energy, but more like the strong focus on the music itself rather than how cerebral and deep the whole thing sounds.
What I mean it’s that there’s no apparent concern to make it all sound grandiose and complex. You can feel these guys just feel like rocking out like there’s no tomorrow, but since they’re goddamn Queensrÿche, they do it the classy way, because that’s the way they roll and, here, they did not let it go over their heads. Every song is straightforward but full of small intricacies, featuring really memorable guitar work, a powerful bass, more than competent drum work and, of course, Geoff Tate’s trained, monstrous vocal pipes, but I’ll get to ‘em shortly.
First, the lyrics here feature none of the band’s forthcoming political critiques and statements, and are more focused on mysterious and vaguely supernatural themes (“The Lady Wore Black” being the most captivating of the bunch), except for maybe Queen of the Reich’s, that shows a Sci-Fi vibe as we can gather from the hilariously cheese-infused 80’s video clip (which I just fucking love and simply cannot get enough of). This approach may scare off Mindcrime or Empire fans looking for something else than the music itself to chew on, but the lyrics are actually pretty well written for a band of such young dudes, showing a sense of flow and mixing well with the music accompanying them instead of being just scribbled bullcrap for the singer to hum along to.
Then we get to the best performance here, belonging to Tate’s sharp voice. As I said before, this is some monstrous stuff. There’s some great technique at work here and he managed to find himself a quite particular, scandalous tone that few can match, and his penchant for constantly belting out the E5 like it was the easiest high note ever constantly steals the spotlight from the stellar guitar riffs and potent, in-your-face bass of “Queen of the Reich”. Later on this would evolve to become one of Tate’s most frequently sung notes, pretty much always used with the same conviction and power.
Instrumentally, the little EP also excels, as the DeGarmo/Wilton tandem flesh out really cool NWOBHM inspired old school riffing (and showing their future taste for rich atmospheres in “The Lady wore Black”), made even more vintage-sounding by the slightly fuzzy rhythm tone and a warm, wet lead tone, as Eddie Jackson kicks ass with some furiously thumping bass that gives an absolutely dense feel to the songs. Can you imagine any of these tracks without that power? I just can’t. “Blinded” or Queen of the Reich’s chorus (After “It’s the ending of your precious life”, as it blasts along with the kick drums, complementing the killer main riff) wouldn’t sound nearly as potent. And acting as a backbone for the awesomeness, drummer Scott Rockenfield shows that one can sound both heavy and quite fast without sacrificing groove and/or sounding sloppy (coughLarscough).
It will always be amazing how these young dudes could show such a level of sophistication in their craft. In 1982, Queensrÿche left their mark on both the Seattle scene and in Heavy Metal, and this was the first step of a long, glorious (and strange) road.
Highlights: Every track, damn it.