Review By Paul Quinton, photos by Mark Lloyd
It’s not been easy being a fan of Queensryche over the last few years. A succession of albums that, to be frank, were often disappointing, and apparently trying to move the band away from the literate Progressive metal that had made their name, which clashed with an apparent uncertainty on how to deal with the legacy of the landmark ‘Operation Mindcrime’ album. Eventually the last couple of years became an ugly soap opera, as relations between lead singer Geoff Tate and the rest of the band deteriorated catastrophically, with footage of unpleasant on stage incidents appearing on Youtube, stories leaking of weapons assisted fights backstage, and eventually Tate being fired, then touring his own version of the band. The whole sorry mess remains unresolved, although a court ruling allows the remaining members, who after the split originally called their line-up Rising West, to work under the Queensryche name with former Crimson Glory singer Todd La Torre. They’ve since released a solid ‘comeback’ album and have made it clear that their intention is, to quote founder member and guitarist Michael Wilton, to ‘rebuild the brand’.
It’s obvious that this saga played at least a part in there being a disappointing crowd in the Wulfrun for the second night of the new line-up’s debut European tour, although it was noticeable that neither this, nor a subsequent gig in Glasgow, appeared in the advance publicity for the tour, and people were still entering the hall when local metal band Proteus opened the show. They played half an hour of prog metal that was interesting for a lot of the time, but left you with the feeling that there could be a lot more to them. There were hints of bands like Meshuggah and Tool, and when they used clean vocals, as opposed to grunts, there were even tinges of Queensryche themselves about them. Musically the band were never boring, but, while you can never tell how space support bands have to work in, visually there wasn’t a lot happening. Nonetheless, Proteus look to have some genuine potential.
When they first emerged , there was a lot to like about Awake By Design. Real promise musically and there were few bands at their level who worked harder to promote themselves and land good support slots. They seem to have been off the scene for a while, writing and recording their second album, but somewhere in between, something seems to have gone a little awry, because this set never really got off the ground. Certainly they had a clique of fans at the front, chanting their name and cheering their every move, but, regarding it objectively, a lot of the set seemed very one-paced and repetitive. Most of the songs, new or old, sounded very similar, with the only variation coming when the occasional song had a more up-tempo introduction or the keyboards were allowed to add some colour and variety, but almost inevitably, each song seemed to revert back to the same mid-paced tempo. Singer Adrian Powell was his usual energetic self, appearing to cover every square inch of the stage, but in the end, the whole thing was a bit of a disappointment.
For someone who still has his original vinyl copy of the ‘Queen Of The Reich’ EP, and will inevitably include ‘Operation Mindcrime’ near the top of any list of Best or Favourite albums of all time, there was some apprehension when the lights went down for the headliners. The promise that the band wanted to revisit their early years gave you some hope that they could do justice to their legacy, but there were always the memories of some indifferent performances over the last few years, but when Michael Wilton advanced to the front of the stage and ripped into ‘Queen Of The Reich’ itself, Todd La Torre came on and sounded if he’s been singing in Queensryche his whole career, and all the doubts about the viability of this line-up were simply blown away.
After that the band gave us a set that was drawn from both the new album and the first few years of the band’s history, and not only included some of the more well known songs, like ‘Warning’, ‘En Force’ and ‘Roads To Madness’, but also some songs that not even the most fervent ‘Ryche fan could have dreamed they’d play. If hearing ‘Child Of Fire’ from the band’s debut album was a surprise, then to hear ‘The Whisper’ from ‘Rage For Order’ was absolutely astounding. In amongst the old songs were only two from the new record, ‘Where Dreams Go To Die’, which fitted in well with the older material, and ‘Fallout’ which didn’t quite seem to work in this context.
Interestingly and possibly for the first time since the album was released, the band’s choices from ‘Mindcrime’ weren’t played in a block, or ‘suite’ as the ‘Live Evolution’ album styled it, but came at intervals during the show. ‘Speak’ came immediately after the opener, there was a cracking ‘The Needle Lies’ midway through, and best of all, a magnificent segue of ‘My Empty Room’ and ‘Eyes of a Stranger’ that was as powerful as it was brilliant. I’d been bothered that for most of the set there’d been nothing played from the wonderful ‘Empire’ album, but closing the main set with the epic and brooding title track more than made up for that, and adding ‘Jet City Woman’ as the first song of the encore was icing on the cake. After that there was only the small matter of ending the show with ‘Take Hold Of The Flame’ and we were done.
This wasn’t the longest set I’ve ever seen, the band were only on stage for around 80 minutes overall, but it was 80 minutes of some of the very best of the band, who appear to be newly energised and with a new singer who seems right at home. It will be a hard road back for the band, but for this long-time fan at least, it was thrilling to see them back in this kind of form.
See more of Mark’s photos here: