Queensrÿche: Empire (1990)

Here is my dirty little secret regarding Queensrÿche. No, it’s not that I really dig the new incarnation with Todd La Torre – that’s neither dirty nor a secret. No, it’s that nine times out of ten when I’m reaching for a Queensrÿche album I don’t reach for Operation: Mindcrime. In fact, it’s been years since I felt the need to revisit that album, which truth be told to these ears hasn’t aged all that well. Nope, when I want to scratch that progressive hard rock itch, I reach for Empire. That’s right; fight me if you want but despite not having a pseudo-SF storyline and 10+ minute “suites” I think Empire feels darker and deeper as an album, which an overall stronger collection of songs. There…that feels good to get off my chest.

Part of what makes this works for me is the bass: the production from Peter Collins really accentuates the role of the lower frequencies all over the album, something missing from his work on Mindcrime. Opener “Best I Can” has a lot of keyboard flourishes, but it’s that pulsing bass line that thickens the soup of the song, so to speak. Lyrically it may be a bit of a mix, churning together childhood trauma and inspirational choruses, but I love the way the solo falls into a background that simultaneously recalls the past of Rage for Order and the present more mainstream vibe the band was imaging for. It’s even better realized on “The Thin Line” which again heavily relies on Eddie Jackson’s bass playing. Effected though it may be, I love Scott Rockenfield’s drum sound on the record.

Maybe it’s the bass (it’s super prominent on “Jet City Woman” too), but maybe it’s also just the songs. But not having to adhere to a specific story the songs are free to wander a bit more in style, and we get some really nice departures for the band, like the slinky funk depression of “Della Brown” or the heavy progressive attack of the title track. It’s one of my favorite Queensrÿche tracks, period. Everyone is clicking on the album, but despite the killer arrangements and performances, I have to give it to Geoff Tate. I don’t think he ever sounded better than he did on Empire.

Smaller tracks like “Resistance” and “One and Only” reinforce that even when they’re not shooting for the stars the band is completely committed to the song, but we can’t talk about Empire without talking about the elephants in the room. Both “Silent Lucidity” and “Anybody Listening?” really wear the Pink Floyd influence square on the lapel, particularly in the vocal melodies. But they’re also the true epics of the album, progressive in ways Mindcrime wasn’t, and solidify for me what makes this my go-to album.1

1 Sorry this was short and not too cohesive. Didn’t have enough time to really get my thoughts together, but still wanted to get the review up.

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