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Grunge didn't kill metal. I'm tired of hearing people say that and I'm tired of people sticking to that narrative. Metal's not dead, and is stronger than ever right now, thanks to the new medium of internet promotion. What grunge killed was glam metal, but let's face it, glam metal was already dead due to the endless Poison and Motley Crue clones gumming up the scene by the time Nirvana came around. Besides, Alice in Chains was a pretty large "grunge" band that sounded more metal than 90% of the LA glam scene.
What does this rant have to do with Queensryche's Tribe? Everything. Queensryche seem to be suffering the delusion that grunge killed metal, and that since they were playing metal before, they must now play grunge to stay "with the times". This line of thinking resulted in two albums before Tribe, which were neither all that great nor terrible either. Tribe is a "more of the same" affair, with slowed down tempos, simplified riffs (if there even are riffs. Most of the guitar work is power chords at best) and a generic "rock" feel. For some reason, many fans seem to give Tribe a pass while scorning its two immediate predecessors. I don't know why this is, because Tribe doesn't sound too different to my ears than Q2K or Hear in the Now Frontier did, much less deserving of the praise it gets. Chris DeGarmo's renewed involvement is often cited, but even this is nominal at best; I can hear what his contributions are, but they aren't all that plenty, and if you wanna hear Queensryche play grunge with more involvement from DeGarmo, listen to Hear in the Now Frontier. Tribe is just... bleh. It's so bloody average and mediocre.
In fact, I'd probably paint the trajectory of Queensryche in the 90's and onward as a steady slide downward after a peak in Promised Land, with Tribe being a more boring and gimmicky version of Q2K, and Q2K likewise being a simplified and poppier version of Hear in the Now Frontier. Speaking of simplification, I know Queensryche have always been a band about the chorus, but many of these songs feel like nothing BUT chorii. The verse sections for songs like The Art of Life, Tribe, or Desert Dance are terrible imitations of bands like Tool at the very best, and uninspired riding of the low string at the worst. The bridge sections, already steadily shortened since Promised Land, are almost nonexistent now, with an otherwise good song "The Rhythm of Hope" trivialized by the absence of an appreciable bridge section, and after a couple listens, the album turned into an endless repetition of verses and chorii all done in this super formulaic fashion that brings serious question to Queensryche's classification as PROGRESSIVE rock/metal.
Don't be fooled by the "tribal" instrumentation or theme (what tribe are they anyway? They're a bunch of city slicker gringos, I dunno what all this "tribe" nonsense is), because much like how underneath Sepultura's tribal gimmick on Roots was braindead quasi-groove metal that was stale 2 years prior, underneath the "tribal" facade of Tribe is really boring rock that was already cliche' by the time "Willenium" was no longer a thing. I mean, shit, this is at the level of what U2 was doing at the time, and if I brought back memories of yuppie hipsters from the late 90's/early 00's, I'm sorry. The song "Losing Myself" is probably most guilty of this, but every song on here is stale. There's no aggression, there's no excitement, and I know the lyrics are about peace, but that's no excuse for making boring, formulaic rock with a serious lack of riffs and balls. My hair is practically receding from listening to this, that's how bad this screams "mid life crisis". This, however, underlines a serious flaw with Tribe:
It's too 90's. So much for progressive music being about looking ahead and being innovative, because this album is stuck in a decade that hasn't been kind to Queensryche's career, much like a victim of battery repeatedly returning to an abusive alcoholic spouse. "Behind the times" doesn't even cut it. It would be like playing disco in the 80's in an attempt to stay "with the times". If anything, grunge was dead by the time this came out, and boy does it show. Whereas Hear in the Now Frontier had some surprises up its sleeve with its lush, lazy chords, and Q2K had the song "Right Side of My Mind" at the very least, this album has no real strengths. No songs to put chills on my spine, no sense of discord, and much in the sense that books and stories with no discord or conflict are boring, so too songs with no discord or conflict are boring. Everything is too happy, too cheesy, and comes across as a bunch of middle aged men who were trying to emulate whoever was on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Another thing, too, are the lyrics. Queensryche always had an air of elitist sophistication about them, but I have not heard such a preachy set of lyrics in a long while, and it comes off the same way the spoken word genre does for me. See, I don't like spoken word because more often than not it is someone lecturing the audience with a rhythm in their voice. I don't need to be lectured. Perhaps it was because I was forced to go (it was in high school) but still, the self-righteous nature of the verses they were speaking rubbed me the wrong way, and so too do the lyrics of Tribe. It's particularly bad (and hilariously dated-sounding) in the song "The Great Divide", but Geoff Tate manages to sound a tad like that in all the songs, whether he's telling us to "open [y]our eyes" in the song "Open" or that "we're all the same tribe" in the song "Tribe" or (literally) telling us how to live our lives in "The Art of Life". Also, maybe it's the cigarettes that are starting to affect his voice, but the wheeze at the end of all his long notes makes him sound even less endearing. I dunno, but it's around this time in Queensryche's discography that I started to get annoyed by Geoff's voice. I dunno what it is, but it just sounds annoying now, and this is where it started. Annoying and arrogant.
Unfortunately this is not the worst Queensryche would have to offer. The following albums would bring a new meaning to the phrase "auditory excrement" and stupefy many (increasingly former) fans with their lack of creativity. But for me, those get a pass because it seems that they weren't even written by the long-time members of Queensryche at all, so in my mind they're not really Queensryche. But Tribe is, and it shows that Wilton and co. were just as uninspired as the rest of the crew around this time. It seems the ejection of Tate from the fold has lit a new fire under the collective asses of Wilton, Jackson, and Rockenfield, as well as the other guitarist who isn't DeGarmo, and new vocalist Todd LaTorre. The eponymous album released with that lineup wasn't half bad, and in a way it's somewhat of a happy ending to this story. But that's a discussion for another album. Bottom line, Tribe isn't that happy ending. Tribe is just another unnecessary detour Queensryche took before they realized what they wanted to do with their career.
[EDIT: Just changed the score. Every time I listen to it it seems staler and more boring. Like how did they think this album was a good idea?]
Tribe could be seen as a sort of crossroads in Queensryche’s career. It certainly doesn’t reach for their metal days, but it does have a unified lyrical theme and was their last true band effort before their next three releases were handed off to Geoff Tate’s entourage of outside writers. It even sees the brief return of Chris DeGarmo as a session member, overshadowing guitarist Mike Stone’s official addition to the group’s ranks in place of Kelly Gray.
Being the last part of what I’m now calling Queensryche’s Grunge Trilogy, Tribe seems to serve as an odd cross between Promised Land and Q2K. Just as it stays close to the latter’s rhythmic emphasis and muddy guitar tone, it also has a contemplative theme and might be their most laid back release to date. Of course, there are a few songs like “Open” and the disjointed “Art Of Life” that are slightly heavier than those on the last couple efforts, but they don’t feel out of place with the album’s reflective outlook.
But even with DeGarmo’s contributions, there still aren’t many changes to the band dynamic. “Open” does have the distinct honor of having the first honest to God Queensryche riff since “Hit The Black” but there aren’t too many intricate moments on the ballads that made past somber tracks like “Out Of Mind” and “The Lady Wore Black” so captivating. This is also where the vocals would start to get a little grating though it seems to have more to do with the patterns and inflection than trying to hit notes that just can’t be hit anymore.
And in a way similar to St. Anger, there are some moments where things feel a little unfinished. But while that album spent too much time beating stale ideas into the ground, Tribe has songs that seem like they should’ve gone in a different direction than what was released. “Desert Dance” could’ve been a highlight if it had spent more time on its darker beginning and the title track would’ve been even stronger if the flow of the vocals wasn’t so awkward during the verses. The ballads also have a tendency to run together though a few of them do show signs of promise.
Overall, Tribe is a decent album though it somehow seems to be even weaker than the last couple despite DeGarmo’s contributions. The reflective tone is nicely delivered and fitting for a band of Queensryche’s experience and “Open” is easily their strongest latter day diamond, but his involvement is more of a point of hype and what could’ve been than anything that truly salvages the album’s more monotonous moments. Stick with Hear In The Now Frontier if you want to hear the band play grunge. That album needs more love anyway…
“Rhythm Of Hope”
Originally published at http://psychicshorts.blogspot.com
Tribe is the sole 21st century Queensrÿche studio effort to date which does not immediately induce nausea and disappointment, a testament to the album's cohesive vision and the obvious confidence manifest through Chris DeGarmo's rekindled involvement in the group, as short term as it would prove. At once, the music has a more positive and inspirational quality about it which doesn't feel like its dragging its knuckles behind the success of the Empire album. There are no cheap ploys to reenact a "Silent Lucidity", and the 'tribal', far Eastern incorporation of melody and percussion coursing through the rhythm section presents a worldly and distinct Queensrÿche which seems far more loyal to the band's ideals of progression and expansion than the sagging ennui of records like Hear in the Now Frontier or the laughable Q2K. Had Tribe been the album that followed up Promised Land in around 1996-1998, perhaps it would have cushioned the group's fall unto irrelevance...
That's not to say that I think this is necessarily a 'good' album, and Queensrÿche was still quite distant from a point at which it could muster the chops and chorus strength of its 80s fare, but Tribe is at least soothing and complacent to its average songwriting, and the ideas here aren't unworkable. The lyrics are largely the product of life-affirming, globe-spanning introspection that many of the band's more humble fans might not be able to relate much to; either that, or a shared midlife crisis which they could. Beyond that, though, they are not poorly composed, and there is enough imagery cast about in the verses to exhibit some effort in their composition. Cliches are often paired up with more unique prose, as in the very first verse on the album: 'You're an angel with your wings broken, wearing sandals that I tripped in/You're a holiday already taken, a cocktail that's stirred never shaken.' Also, as one finds so often in radio oriented highest bidder pop music, the chorus lyrics are pretty bland, since the band figures you'll be more attentive to the actual melody of Tate's voice than what is being said. Not that Queensrÿche was ever the haven of expert wordsmiths, but where "Eyes of a Stranger" gave me chills, this record couldn't even summon a goosebump.
Musically, Tribe exists at this crossroads of airy progressive rock circa Promised Land or Hear in the Now Frontier, infused with a more eclectic array of Rockenfield's percussion, and an almost groove metal subtext during its 'heaviest' moments, which are not exactly very heavy. You can certainly make out Chris DeGarmo's presence, since several of the note progressions hearken back to that haunting breadth of the 80s, and he loves to just let some atmospheric series of chords ring out against the drums and bass, but the harder, slight grooves that fuel tunes like "Open", "Tribe" or "Desert Dance" would not be entirely out of place on a Tool record, so much of the aggression here, where it exists, is borne more out of the 90s than the band's own 80s efforts like The Warning or the eponymous EP. This isn't necessarily an unwelcome strategy for the Washingtonians, who are attempting to keep themselves fresh and not entirely lose that metal undercurrent which won them their career; but at the same time, it renders Tribe immune from any tangible sense of intensity. They never sound pissed, or petulant, and this limits the emotional range of the album.
Other issues I took with Tribe were the lack of spectacular chorus vocal melodies, and the presence of some lamentably generic, escalating chord patterns that any listener will have heard a few hundred times before (at least). For instance, "Losing Myself" throws away a curious, uncanny verse segment for a totally pathetic "Higher Ground" style chorus which is lazy and ineffectual. "The Art of Life" builds a busy enough momentum and then...never really goes anywhere. Acoustic ramblers "Rhythm of Hope" and "Falling Behind" have a great tone, but once the band electrifies for the chorus, they just don't deliver the expected money shots. It's a shame, really, because Geoff Tate is technically in fine form through the album, keeping busy through "Desert Dance" or "Tribe" itself across numerous harmonies and interchanges, but once they hit those presumably climactic points of the songs, they feel stubbornly unsticky, occasionally tragic and lame (like the jumpy white man's hip hop bit that closes out the chorus of "Desert Dance"). The only tunes here which stood out to me were "The Great Divide", for the strong flow of the moody, oft bluesy guitars, and the closer "Doin' Fine", which sounds like something Rush might have written for a 90s record, with a few decent chord choices in the chorus that bring it all together.
I also dug Scott's drumming in "Losing Myself", "Tribe" and elsewhere. Again, it's pretty reminiscent of Danny Carey from Tool, but the fills and steadiness match well with the aesthetics Queensrÿche wanted here; if only the riffs and vocal melodies would had chosen to more fully capitalize on his foundation. One area in which I could find no fault was the production, as clear as day. The guitars were dense and chuggy enough where they needed some weight, and graceful enough elsewhere, especially on the slightly distorted tinge in "Blood" or "Desert Dance", and the bluesy, wistful leads work well in flushing out the atmosphere. Jackson's bass is ample and flood-written, but otherwise he's not much of a presence throughout most of the record, with the exception of a few choruses (like "Desert Dance") where he veers away from the guitar. On the whole, Tribe was not a complete embarrassment. It was certainly the strongest record they'd released in almost a decade, and it's superior to what they've put out since, but it's not without its own flaws that place it well below the threshold of quality the band had established in their early win streak with DeGarmo.
I’ve heard lots of people say the following about Queensrÿche: “what the hell are they doing?” This question is probably a consequence of the mediocre Q2k release and the different style they seem to be pursuing. Well, fortunately their 2003 release Tribe will give us the answer to the mystery. Where Q2k, I’ll quote Geoff Tate himself, “was an album by a band trying to redefine who they were”, Tribe is an album with a band that is done redefining and is ready to play some kickass laidback rock music, with subtle progressive influences. Sure, it is no longer the progmetal that we all heard from these guys in earlier years, but time goes on, and bands renew themselves, which is very good. Bands must always challenge themselves and seek to renew themselves, and yet stay the same. Fans on the other hand, especially metal fans (I speak out of experience here), often have trouble with a band that tries out something different and new.
Now, enough talk about bands renewing themselves... how did it work out for Queensrÿche? What is Tribe? Well, Tribe is a very impressive and relaxing effort. Though I hear people often complaining that this is not metal, there are very relaxing heavy guitar riffs throughout the album. I might say relaxed here, but energy ís flowing throughout various songs in the album. The heavy “Open” for example is a relaxing song, yet it fills you with energy unknown. What I really like about the album is the exotic feel to it. The exotic use of the tom-tom drums in “Losing Myself” and “Tribe” and the eastern feel to “Desert Dance” are so refreshing, they really add things to the album. Furthermore, I’d like to praise “Rhythm of Hope” for being the best ballad on the album.
Does this album have downsides? The way I write it all, it might seem that this album is paradise. Well, there is a reason that I gave this album only 95%, and not the full hundred. The last two songs are not weak, but they tend to be less strong than the others. “The Art of Life” is a mid-tempo rocker with spoken verses, that don’t really get to me, though the chorus is very satisfying. “Doin’ Fine” is a very relaxing album closer, though I can’t really figure out why they choose that song to close the album. It just has a feel to it that doesn’t do it for me. It is perhaps the song that reminds the most of Tribe’s predecessor Q2k. But in the end, the downsides of the album totally disappear compared to the overall Tribe album.
Here’s to naysayers of this album. Accept that Queensrÿche is no longer making the progmetal they made in the eighties. Accept that they try to renew themselves and that they wish to challenge themselves. If you plan to buy Tribe, then plan to “open your mind”, as the title track already suggests. Give this a chance, even though it is not your beloved metal. This album is a jewel, if only you want it to. It will be your new favorite album, if you’d give it a chance to.
To make this long story short, Tribe is amazing. From beginning to end, stunning. From head to toe, complete variation. I give this absolute recommendation if you are prepared to open your mind. This album belongs to my Queensrÿche favorites. And believe me, I set the bar high.
Strongest tracks: Losing Myself, Desert Dance, The Great Divide, Rhythm of Hope, and Tribe.
The first time I breezed through Queensrÿche's discography, this was one of the albums where I skimmed through very quickly and kept none of the tracks (Q2K also met this fate, but a full listen did that one no good). So, when I *ahem* obtained this album once again, I found that I liked it a lot more than I did before. In fact, some of these songs could have been on their 80s albums and no one would notice a difference in quality.
Following the rather-boring Hear in the Now Frontier and the abysmal Q2K, former guitarist Chris DeGarmo decided to temporarily rejoin the ranks, just so he could slap everyone senseless and force them to put out something good again. The difference between Tribe and its 2 predecessors is obvious right from the get-go: energy. Using a tribal-themed musical style (well befitting the album's name), the tracks all have momentum now; it seems as though the group had whatever life sucked out of them restored.
You've got hard poundin' tracks ("Open", "Desert Dance", and "Tribe"), you've got the uplifting ballads ("Losing Myself", "The Great Divide", and "Doin' Fine"), and then you've got your mid-paced power tracks ("Blood" and "The Art of Life"). While only few of the tracks reach the level of This Song's Bitchin' Memorable, I'd have to say none of them are particularly weak, either. More than likely, whichever side of Queensrÿche you like best will reflect which of the songs on this album will speak to you.
Not much to say about the performers themselves. The band plays competently, just as we love to remember them, and Chris DeGarmo's influence is obvious, given the energy level of all the songs (even the slower ones). Unfortunately, Tribe marks the last album in which Geoff Tate's voice retains its 80s brilliance, but all good things come to an end sometime, just as Tribe also marks the last good album in their discography. Such a pity, too. If only Chris DeGarmo made his stay permanent...
Queensryche is, without a shadow of doubt, the most controversial band to walk on the face of progressive music. Some claim they are the fathers of the whole progressive metal genre, others say they were nothing but another heavy metal band with a high-pitched singer. The fact is that Queensryche released metal classics in their early days, and are respected and recognized for that. But ever since "Hear In The Now Frontier", the band has been in a downward spiral that seemed endless. I gladly say, my friends, the abyss is over.
Tribe is not a masterpiece like Operation:Mindcrime or Empire were, but that was not something expected. Chris DeGarmo is back (at least for a little while) and proves once again that his presence is particularly important for the 'ryche guys. His guitar work is good, in spite of the lack virtuose this album has. The songs are more vocal-oriented and radio-friendly, but Wilton and DeGarmo have space to shine every once in a while.
Geoff Tate, oh Geoff Tate, I can't believe this guy smokes!!!! Age and cigarretes couldn't take away his voice, and the proof is here. He doesn't reach the high notes like he did on "Take Hold Of The Flame" or the little piece of perfection "Queen Of The Ryche" but who cares? The man is singing and his voice is still beautiful. The vocal lines are excellent too. For the rhythm section, no extras remarks but also no complaints, Ed Jackson and Scott Rockenfield do their job efficiently.
Tribe marks the beginning of a come-back-to-form era for Queensryche. It's not up to pair with their early classics but showcases a band with energy, writing enjoyable and excellent songs. Definitely a step in the right direction.
Highlights: Open, the amazing title-track, Desert Dance, The Great Divide