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The first release of Washington progressive metal pioneers Queensrÿche fails to predict the innovative style the band would later be associated with, similar to how the first album of their genre contemporaries Dream Theater sounds like just another inferior clone of Rush. This self-titled E.P., originally of four tracks but later amended to five, is considered by many to be the band’s most consistent work, despite being entirely derivative of the NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) explosion. Lacking the prog rock and glam influences that would later define the band’s most commercially successful period, the songs on this 1983 release can be very easily attributed to the two English leaders of the afore-mentioned movement; to apply a rough and admittedly crude formula, tracks one and four are very similar to Iron Maiden, while the middle two sound a lot like Judas Priest. Then again, even at this early stage the band chooses to spell its name with an umlaut over the ÿ; perhaps foreshadowing their later flamboyant tendencies.
Singer Geoff Tate, possessing a background in opera, expertly adopts the falsetto wails of Bruce Dickinson particularly, and Rob Halford to a lesser extent, and develops a unique style that is instantly recognisable. Tate’s high vocals certainly tend to overpower the listening experience, especially for listeners not accustomed to the style, but are at least matched by the really excellent twin guitar leads across all the songs, especially impressive in the solo sections and easily comparable to their mentors (the same thing happens, to a far more ridiculous degree, with the excellent but overpowered musicianship of any band featuring King Diamond). The dual guitar assault is most prevalent in the relatively short ‘Blinded,’ dominating the latter half of that song before Tate once again takes centre stage for the record’s obligatory ballad.
The four (or five) songs here are recognised Queensrÿche classics, and the evident decision never to incorporate the material into any ‘proper’ studio albums preserves the vitality of this first release as a vital purchase for all fans, rather than a mere rare collectable. Opener ‘Queen of the Reich’ would become the most well-known song on this release, giving the band its peculiar name and nowadays, apparently featured in the latest ‘Grand Theft Auto’ video game. A slow build up subsequently unveils a nice riff and Tate’s almost-so-high-only-dogs-and-bats-can-hear scream and the Iron Maidenesque song kicks in, sounding very similar to the faster songs being performed by that band in this period but lacking some of the power of the guitar riffs. This is remedied in the next two songs, which receive a Judas Priest style ‘speed metal’ kick, and Tate’s more measured performance allows the band to work together more cohesively, producing two great and perfectly short fast metal songs.
The final song on the original release, ‘The Lady Wore Black’ is noticeably different, but only in the way that ‘Strange World’ was different from the rest of the songs on the first Iron Maiden album, the most comparable near-ballad to this piece. At six minutes it unfortunately drags on a little with the repetition at the end, unlike the previous songs which all remain powerfully to-the-point, but the clanging acoustic guitar and Tate’s eerie, sorrowful singing create an excellent atmosphere, enhanced by wind sound effects that remain understated, but are still perhaps a little gimmicky. Nevertheless, the diversification of style makes this the most memorable song on the album, as does the catchy chorus, also present in ‘Queen of the Reich.’ Later releases of the E.P. conclude with a fifth track, which provides a less resonant ending but is another nice piece of early Queensrÿche, possessing the polished production of the later ‘Rage for Order’ sessions from whence it came, but still suitably riff-oriented to fit into the rawer style of this first offering. The band seems to gel together far better on this track, but the corresponding lack of one-upmanship contests between the singing and the guitar melodies means the song loses a little something.
The band’s follow-up album ‘Warning’ began to incorporate the progressive elements that have earned the band a place in metal history, but not until 1988’s classic ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ would Queensrÿche achieve something as wholly enjoyable as this little piece of competently derivative heavy metal. This E.P. should reasonably be enjoyed by anyone fond of the bands mentioned earlier, and a certain degree of tolerance is advised when confronting Geoff Tate’s womanly vocals, rivalling the most effeminate of modern power metal frontmen. Guitarists Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton, the latter of whom is still in the band today, really make this release stand strong with their excellent melodic breaks, solos and more restrained riffs in the verses.
Meanwhile, other long-serving band members Eddie Jackson and Scott Rockenfield keep things grounded by providing bass guitar and drums, I guess. They don’t make quite the lasting impression that their fellow musicians manage, but I’m sure a bass player or drummer would disagree. I’ve spent so long tuning my ears to discern the screams of Geoff Tate that the bass range is becoming lost to me.