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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Album Review: Queensryche - Dedicated to Chaos

Queensryche - Dedicated to Chaos
2011 Roadrunner Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

In the past few years, Roadrunner Records has become a safe haven and career rebooter for legacy bands (or in current hipster marketing lingo, "heritage bands"). Dream Theater, Megadeth and Ratt have all enjoyed elevated success from their Roadrunner affiliation. Ratt might be considered the happiest recipient considering sales of their latest album Infestation vaulted well past their last couple.

While Rob Zombie is going to sell albums whether he's with Sony or Roadrunner, there's no doubt the label has become an attractive compound for long-established pros who have the chance to rub elbows with today's elite like Slipknot, Machine Head and Stone Sour. Indeed a court of kings.

Queensryche is the latest "heritage band" to join forces with Roadrunner and it might be said the move is something this group needed now hitting their 30th anniversary. Since the runaway success of Queensryche's sanctified trifecta Rage for Order, Operation Mindcrime and Empire, the prog metal unit has long been seeking its voice again--and as of 1997's Hear in the Now Frontier, the same broad audience that began drifting away. Some argue they left right after Queensryche's maudlin spit upon their own success, Promised Land.

It's no secret Queensryche has been left in a quagmire since the explosive popularity of Empire. "Silent Lucidity" and "Jet City Woman" are a mere few years away from infiltrating classic rock radio, while fans who continue to follow the band are still debating whether 2006's Operation Mindcrime II was a stoic sequel or pure folly.

The fact of the matter is, Mindcrime II may not stand up to the original, yet it was precisely what Queensryche needed to get their creative motors revved up. While it may not have generated the mass appeal Queensryche might've expected, their last album American Soldier from 2009 was given a general stamp of approval from those who caught it. In particular, the United States military have expressed their love of American Soldier. Salute.

Which leads us to Queensryche's Roadrunner debut, Dedicated to Chaos.

There's been a pattern to this band's post-Empire catalog, first noticeable on Promised Land and Q2K and it bleeds true yet again this time around. Like those albums and other more recent efforts, Queensryche starts their 11th album Dedicated to Chaos with a pair of gunslingers, "Get Started" and "Hot Spot Junkie."

The whetstone is primed. The ignition is cranked. The feet are tapping. The temptation to throw a fist along is nearly irresistible. Dedicated to Chaos, like its predecessors, is anticipatory and hinting at the edgy "thinking man's metal" tag which was pinned upon them in 1988. "Get Started" even sounds like a major radio hit, as if Queensryche decided in tandem it needed a commercially-pliable rock jam. In actuality, that's exactly what they need. You feel good for the band because "Get Started" is a smart choice and "Hot Spot Junkie" keeps Dedicated to Chaos on full throttle.

Then the next four songs arrive. If there's any blaring criticism of Queensryche since Hear in the Now Frontier, it's filling out the center sections of their albums with appropriate momentum carriers. Far too often Queensryche takes the opportunity to dabble and tinker with slow to mid-tempo compositions that don't so much loft as they perplex at times. Tribe was an album that capitalized on its shuffling ambiguity, yet on Dedicated to Chaos, the almost-silly "Got it Bad" and the definitely silly "Wot We Do" dangerously comes close to derailing the entire album. "Got it Bad" may be funky, but it begins a sequence of out-there experiments that lack the proper juice to give them full attention. It's not to be unexpected the average listener will be thumbing along until track seven, "Drive."

"Drive," "At the Edge" and "I Take You" might've served this album's purposes better by arriving on the tail end of "Get Started" and "Hot Spot Junkie" since these three best represent where Queensryche left off with Empire. "At the Edge" might be the Ryche's inherent nod to Yes' Closer to the Edge (repeated later in quick tribute by a very detailed breakdown on "The Lie") and even to Daft Punk and Paul Oakenfold with hello-there techno plants. The sneaky saxophones on "At the Edge" are a fresh addition and they leave a pleasing impact coming into the heavy and drudging "I Take You."

The good news for Dedicated to Chaos is Queensryche remembers to throw another catchy number out there. "Retail Therapy," like "Get Started," is a straight-up punch out with a terrific, singable chorus and an undeniable groove. While Geoff Tate is hitting a career point where his operatics can betray him depending on the mood of the song, "Retail Therapy" is like stepping back to Empire and you applaud him and the band's undeniable energy here.

While "Big Noize" is a big antithesis due to its reserved, slow shimmy (it's probably a good track to slow grind your honey to, assuming you're listening to Queensryche and not the Foo Fighters during sex), it's not the big boom finale Queensryche really should've ended on. There was a time when Queensryche were master closers: "Eyes of a Stranger," "Is There Anybody Listening?" and "Right Side of My Mind." All dramatic album finishers. Like some of their recent albums, they crawl out instead of stamp out. "Big Noize" had the opportunity to close shop on Dedicated to Chaos with a titular boom. Not so much, alas.

The thing with Dedicated to Chaos is one can hear Queensryche wrestling through self-suffocation modes with the red-hot notion that Roadrunner may the answer. "Retail Therapy," "Get Started" and "Hot Spot Junkie" on the one hand presents Queensryche as ready to rock. Like Megadeth's brilliant Endgame, Dream Theater's well-exciting Black Clouds & Silver Linings and Ratt's thump 'n pump rock party Infestation, Queensryche came to play for their new benefactors.

While the latter bands sustained their albums largely from start-to-finish on adrenaline and the proper respect for their fan bases, Dedicated to Chaos offers the same out the gate and in random doses. You appreciate Queensyrche's progressive lines on "The Lie" and you partially excuse the drag of "Higher" because of its syncopation and haunting string section. On the other hand, the fact Queensryche bothered to make some damned snappy cuts on Dedicated to Chaos and then skidded this album's hopeful verve to remind everybody they're artisans and not just some rock band...well, people want them to be the rock band, sorry to say.

Rating: ***


Anonymous said...

I guess my current favorite right now is "Luvnu". Yeah strange enough as it is. I found myself liking maybe half the album and then hating the other half. And then liking the songs I hated and then hating the songs I liked. Still only 1 out of 16 songs isn't a very good ratio.

Another thing I'd like to point out is the number of overindulgent songs on here. On Hear In the Now Frontier, there was a single overindulgent track written by former guitarist Chris DeGarmo called "All I Want", it was sung entirely by him and dedicated to his still married wife. On this album, there about 5-6 "All I Want"-type songs that lead singer Geoff Tate wrote about his wife and indulged to his own whims while making the band as a whole worse off musically. "Hard Times", "Higher", "LuvNu" (even though I like it), "Drive", "Broken", "Got It Bad" and "Wot We Do." Interestingly enough 3 of these songs are "bonus" tracks and probably be deleted from the regular pressing of the album once it goes out of print in the future.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Thanks for that insight, Anon. I don't have the special edition since mine came to me with the regular pressing, but I'm hearing rumblings around the scene similar to yours. I do believe the hardcore Ryche fans are getting the ass at this point.

Believe me, it pains me greatly to slag them in any way since it took me years in their beginning to accept them and when I did, I was just apeshit over Queensryche. Meeting Tate and interviewing him twice, then interviewing Rockenfield are happier parts of my journalism career. So it stings when I have to call it straight because both of those guys were super kind and real pros to talk with. The first one with Geoff was in his hotel bar and for a personal project, so I tout the man's praises whenever I can because he was just so good to me in that session. Each album they do I come in excited and look to give them high marks. I hope by their next album with RR they tune in to their core strength and let it fly instead of dabble about. I know DeGarmo was a major writing force for them, and listeing to Empire and OM yesterday, I was like, wow, this sound is a ghost for them, but it's the right sound and wholly exquisite.