Quite a bit has changed in the Queensryche camp since 2019’s The Verdict album; drummer Casey Grillo is now a full time member of the band, and guitarist Mike Stone has since returned after a decade-plus absence. Still intact though is that signature sound the group created well over four decades ago.
Here the guys unleash yet another round of thought-provoking progressive metal true to form. Opener “In Extremis” gives listeners an immediate look at what’s to come from the twelve track album. “Chapters,” Nocturnal Light,” and “Out of the Black” are by far some of the stronger tracks found here, with the single “Behind the Walls” standing out as an instant classic. There’s also a seven minute masterpiece in the form of “Tormentum” that’s undeniably perfect.
“Hold On” is likely to become a staple in the band’s live sets, but is weak in comparison to the previously mentioned other numbers, though does contain a music video that makes interesting social commentary on the digital age (hence the album title). Surprisingly, the band end things with a cover of Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell,” a curious yet admirable choice to close things out with.
If you’ve already been bit by the Queensryche bug, this shouldn’t be hard for you to get into; even purists who still can’t get past the fact that Geoff Tate is no longer fronting the band might be able to find something worthwhile that’s assembled here.
Italian-based metal project Sweet Oblivion are back with their second full-length effort to feature original Queensryche vocalist Geoff Tate at the forefront, which proves to once again be a winning combonation.
My appreciation for Tate’s work in his former band has only grown over the years, and each track here sounds as though they could’ve come straight from a classic Queesryche record. I knew the second I heard the first single from Relentless, “Another Change,” that this would be a promising album.
“Once Again One Sin” is a fitting opening song, and is quickly followed by the strongest track on the album by far, “Strong Pressure.” Other highlights among the ten tracks here include “Wake up Call,” “Aria” (impressively sung by Tate completely in Italian), and the ballad “I’ll Be the One.”
It’s strange how new, unheard music can seem so familiar upon first listen, but that’s exactly the case here with Relentless; some of the lyrics manage to hit so close to home that they feel like they’ve actually been there with us all along. That is what makes for a good listening experience, which is precisely what Sweet Oblivion have provided listeners with here.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Queensryche played an integral part in my own personal life; long before we were married (and formed Rewind It Magazine), Queensryche were the first concert my future wife and I ever officially worked together as a writer/photographer team back in 2013 (and we have since covered an additional one of their shows for Rewind It as well in 2019). But even after watching the band’s current lineup – which is more than competent in it’s own right with current frontman Todd La Torre – it still felt as though something was missing each time we saw them live. That something was of course original vocalist Geoff Tate, who I was more than honored to get the chance to speak to last week via phone.
At the time of our conversation, Tate was in the middle of traveling on the road to his next destination. Tate has indeed kept on the busy side in his post-Queensryche days, writing, recording, and touring either as a solo artist, with Operation: Mindcrime (who he is in the midst of performing the classic Queensryche releases Rage For Order and Empire on the road in their entireties), and most recently, with Sweet Oblivion, who are about to drop their second album featuring Tate at the forefront, Relentless.
One of the first things I wanted to ask Tate was just how he first became involved with the latter Italian metal act. He informed me; “After spending thirty years working with the same people when I was in Queensryche, I was ready for something new. I was talking to Mario at Frontiers (Records) about maybe branching out and doing something different, and collaborate with some new people. A couple of years later he introduced this idea, which was exactly what I wanted really, and introduced me to Simone Mularoni, who we did that first album with. This second record here is lead by Aldo Lonobile, and then we actually have a third one that’s going to be happening too, but I don’t know who’s going to be involved with that yet, so that’s going to be a nice surprise for me.”
I also wanted to know if the first single from Relentless, “Another Change” – which struck me as an extremely personal song – had any specific meaning behind it. He told me; “Well, I don’t really like to explain my music too much, because everyone hears and interprets music differently, typically based on their own experiences. So I like to leave it up to the listener. I have to say though, the album came together nicely. It was a great session despite the fact that we recorded it in different parts of the world.”
Another thing interesting about Relentless is the track “Aria,” which Tate sang completely in Italian. I asked how much of a challenge that was for him to do, and he explained; “Well, I’m really good at ordering off the wine list in a restaurant (laughs), but not so much at conversational Italian. But with the song, I was able to get used to it for awhile first and perfect it, which I think makes the album much more interesting.”
With live concerts slowly beginning to become the norm again, Tate has upcoming tour dates scheduled, including several tour dates in the U.S. beginning in the fall. I inquired what it was like playing live gigs post-Covid, and he explained; “Well, different places have been opening up again at different times with various precautions, and we’re finally picking back up where we unfortunately left off last March, when we were playing the Rage For Order and Empire albums for their respective anniversaries. But I did a show in Florida last December, and I believe that was actually the first live show we had done since last March. Then I did one up in New Hampshire, which was a matinee show. I haven’t done one of those since I think Japan in the early ’80s (where it’s customary to do them), so that was pretty challenging to do at my age (laughs). And then most recently, we did a show in Seattle back in February. But we’ve got U.K. dates starting in June and July, and then we’ll be back in the States again in September. Which I’m not complaining about – I’d much rather stay busy than just sit around!”
And with roughly four decades worth of material to draw from, I was also curious if Tate had any personal favorite tracks in his repertoire to perform live. He replied; “That’s hard to say, I like them all (laughs)! Well, doing the Empire tour that we’re doing now is really pleasurable for me, because this is the first time I’ve gotten to sing and play quite a few of the songs on that record. When the album came out, we only played a certain amount of them live, so now playing the whole album is a real treat, because I’m able to play some of the songs I’ve never played live before.”
As many of you may already know, Tate had a messy split between his most well-known former band in 2012. Before letting him go, I wanted to know if there was at least a chance for him and the other members to ever reconcile on a personal level, if not a professional one. He informed me; “Well, I talked to them a couple years ago. We were both playing the same festival, so I went out early to check them out, because I had not seen them play before. It was kind of a weird scene hearing them play, I felt like I was maybe watching a science experiment or something (laughs). And it was funny too, because I was actually standing backstage talking to someone when I heard Queensryche start to play, and in my subconscious, I thought, ‘Oh, they’re playing one of our songs on the PA or something,’ and then I realized the band was actually playing on the stage (laughs). But when you’ve played with a band for so long, and then see them perform without you, it’s just kind of a strange feeling. But I talked to everyone that was there in the band at that time, and it went well.”
If you’re one of those fans who simply can’t get over the fact that Queensryche – like many bands before them – have moved on without their original singer, you’re truly missing out. This is the band’s third effort already with vocalist Todd La Torre (who also provides the drum parts here), and the band is maturing far more graciously than they ever could had with their former, seemingly unstable lead singer Geoff Tate still fronting it.
The Verdict finds Queensryche truly hitting their stride with La Torre. Highlights include “Man the Machine,” “Light-years,” and “Dark Revere,” all effective live tracks on the band’s current tour. Even if you’re not a huge Queensryche fan, you should be able to find something worth appreciating here. If nothing else, it’s light years (pun intended) ahead of Tate’s recent, not-so-successful effort at keeping his own version of the band going via Operation: Mindcrime.
Unlike other bands from their era simply running off nostalgia (Ratt, Quiet Riot, etc…), bands like Queensryche are still releasing more-than-respectful material, and not relying solely on their past. And while they may still be largely ignored by modern radio these days, bands from said era such as them (along with Iron Maiden and Megadeth, among others), are still just as strong as ever. After catching them live this past weekend for the second time, there’s no denying these bands are still able to pack a house.
Fates Warning have always been somewhat of interest to me, especially since Armored Saint/ex-Anthrax bassist Joey Vera first came aboard. And with a solid lineup that also includes original guitarist Jim Matheos, joined with other longtime members Frank Aresti (guitars) Ray Adler (vocals), and current Sebastian Bach drummer Bobby Jarzombek, I was looking forward to actually seeing what they could do on stage when they opened the first night of this current tour. But for the most part, they focused a tad too heavily on their (not so) new album, 2016’s Theories of Flight, performing “From the Rooftops,” “Seven Stars,” and “The Light and Shade of Things.” The furthest the band even went in their own catalog was “Life in Still Water” from 1991. While it’s understandable they had limited time to work with (only able to squeeze in eight tracks) this is one case where it would have been nice if they dug just a little further back in time (at the very least 1988’s “Silent Cries” should have still found its way in the set list somewhere).
And finally, Queensryche took over. The last time my wife/photographer and I saw them live, they were still touring for their first album with current vocalist Todd La Torre in 2013. Since then, the band has released a couple of more albums, and were not swayed from playing material from any of them (despite knowing many likely still come to hear their Geoff Tate-era hits). One thing’s for sure, their stage/light show has definitely improved over time. However, it was somewhat disappointing to see original drummer Scott Rockenfield was not on board this time around, though Kamelot’s Casey Grillo filled in just fine.
Opening with “Blood of Levant,” the band continued with mostly newer tracks such as “I am I,” “Man the Machine,” and “Condition Human,” but managed to throw one from their debut album, “N M 156” in there before finally breaking out with one of their signature “classics” (“Queen of the Reich”) six tracks in. “Selfish Lives,” “Open Road,” “Light-Years,” and “Eyes of the Stranger” all followed before the band took a quick reprieve.
It didn’t take long for the band to come back with a trio of their most well-known hits for their encore, including their biggest (and in my book, extremely overrated) power ballad “Silent Lucidity,” as well as “Jet City Woman,” and finally “Empire.” I say it all of the time; if ever you doubt the ability of a band that’s been around as long as Queensryche, wait to see them live before judging. These guys have been going strong since 1980, and it’s clear they don’t show any signs of slowing down anytime soon.