“How do you like me so far?” asks Geoff Tate three songs into Queensryche’s new Frequency Unknown, available now on Cleopatra / Deadline.
Well, the verdict’s still out—literally. Most ‘Ryche fans are already aware Tate parted company with Michael Wilton, Eddie Jackson, and the rest of the band proper in 2012. While Wilton and Jackson forged on with a new singer, Tate surrounded himself with writers and sessions musicians and began crafting a new album bearing the Queensryche name and iconic prong logo. Frequency Unknown—whose initials comprise a not-so-subtle kiss-off to his ex-colleagues—is Tate’s latest vision, the thirteenth disc bearing the prog-metal band’s moniker and first with Geoff’s new lineup.
An appeals court will determine who owns the Queensryche name and associated images some time in November. Until then, the two factions of the Seattle group are permitted to record and tour at will.
Credit Tate for his enthusiasm to get back in the studio at A&D in Sunnydale, California, and create a follow-up to Dedicated to Chaos (2011) and American Soldier (2009) whose songs bear some semblance to the Queensryche of old. While some have complained that F.U. suffers from a murky mix, the fact of the matter is that Tate’s new songs are pretty good—and will roar to life when Geoff and his new ensemble hit the road for Operation: Mindcrime’s 25th Anniversary Tour this summer. One suspects some listeners—in their eagerness to take Tate to task for his part in the schism—are dismissing the album out of hand, in deference to Wilton and Jackson.
Tate’s touring band at time of this writing is said to include guitarists Robert Sarzo (Hurricane) and Kelly Gray (who played with Tate in Myth decades ago), bassist Rudy Sarzo (Whitesnake, Quiet Riot), drummer Simon Wright (AC/DC, Dio), and keyboardist Randy Gane (another Myth alumnus). Each appears on Frequency, along with guest rhythm section Evan Bautista (drums) and producer Jason Slater (bass), and a cadre of all-star guitarists laying leads over Craig Locicero’s rhythm tracks.
The album commences with “Cold,” a dark ballad whereon Myth men Gane and Gray splash keyboards and guitar over a churning rhythmic bed laid by Messrs. Sarzo, Locicero, and Wright as Tate queries an estranged lover: “Would you stay here if I begged you to? Would you turn away?” The mammoth Stone Temple Pilots-like riff churns forth, with just a dab of electric piano in the background acting as thickener.
Bautista and Slater work the engine on “Dare” and “Give It To You,” a pair of proto-metal power rockers that has Tate interrogating—even challenging—prospective paramours, but it becomes clear that ultimatums like “You couldn’t look me in the eye,” “I don’t give a f&%k about the threats you make” and “Don’t be surprised when lightning strikes you dead” could just as easily be intended for Wilton and Jackson. Both songs steamroll their way into the ear, with Rudy’s brother Robert contributing a crackling solo over Locicero’s acoustic, Western-styled intro and thick middle-eight on the latter.
Bautista’s kick drum flogs “Slave” thick, heavy (probably de-tuned) chord progression into motion. Again, Tate confronts a poseur who’s become blinded by what Canadian rockers Rush referred to as the “glittering prizes and endless compromises” of success.
“You’ve come pretty far,” Tate concedes. “You thought you were a superstar.”
Is he dissing on his old chums again, or perhaps addressing his own character faults? Who knows. It’s enough that the descending verse riffs keeps cycling like some runaway table saw in an auto shop and that Chris Cannella’s guitar screams over Locicero’s palm-muted chords and screeching artificial harmonics.
“In the Hands of God” examines what appears to be the wake of destruction (physical and emotional) left by a murdering madman—although it’s anybody’s guess whether Tate is speaking on behalf of the killer or his victim when he asks, “Will you tell them the truth when they find me?” King’s X six-stringer Ty Tabor checks in with a few creepy slide guitar wails and demented solo. Drummer Paul Bostaph (Slayer, Testament) throttles away on “Life Without You,” “Everything,” and “Fallen,” providing sturdy beats beneath stellar solos by pro pickers Brad Gillis (Night Ranger, Ozzy) and Dave Meniketti (Y&T). Judas Priest gunslinger K.K. Downing contributes mechanical scrapes and searing scales to “Running Backwards,” whose booming Bostaphian tempos shift from a lumbering dirge to a locomotive grind in short order.
Clocking at six and a half minutes, “Weight of the World” is Frequency’s dense coda, a mini-epic that weaves from pretty, haunting acoustic guitar strains into walls of layered—but melodic—distortion. Megadeth’s Chris Poland gets the spotlight here, shredding away as Tate contemplates how he’s “got so much more to say, so much more to do” in the days and years to come.
Geoff even tacks on updated versions of Queensryche’s four biggest radio hits to F.U.’s tail end, bridging his present with the past. Martin Irigoyen (Vernian Process) lays the basic tracks on re-recordings of “I Don’t Believe in Love,” “Jet City Woman,” “Empire,” and “Silent Lucidity” for Tate to grace with his trademark wail—and yes, kids, his pipes are still in full working order. Nina Noir accompanies Geoff on “Jet City Woman,” while daughter Emily and stepdaughter Miranda back dad up on “Silent Lucidity.” Gane adds a new answering machine voice message at the beginning of “Empire” (whose middle-eight still bears the familiar “In the fiscal year 1986-87…” news bulletin) whereon he confesses (at 9:24pm) that “it’s about to hit me like a two-ton heavy thing.”
Few would argue that these retreads were necessary, or that they compare favorably with the originals. Still, others may find them welcome extras on a solid “building period” entry in the ongoing—if irreparably rifted—‘Ryche canon. Frequency Unknown may lack the consistency, theatricality, and thematic unity to rate as another Rage for Order, Mindcrime or Empire—but it’s an enjoyable listen nonetheless, and one that promises more good stuff from Tate and co. in the future. Give it half a chance and a couple spins, and you just might catch yourself humming “Life Without You” or “Dare” later in the day.
That’s the true test of an effective performance, and Frequency boasts several of ‘em—despite the naysayers. Just because this isn’t the same Queensryche you remember doesn’t mean the music must be bad, and whether Tate and his compatriots should be allowed to carry on under that banner isn’t for us to decide (although spirited debate is always stimulating).