Monday, March 11, 2013

Queensryche - The Warning (1984)

This is Queensryche's very first full length album, following on from their "Queen of the Reich" EP. It in inspired by world events of the time and also by the George Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

On a random aside - Geoff Tate was fired from Queensryche in 2012 - but due to legal issues both the line-up he left behind, now with the ex-vocalist  of Crimson Glory, and he with a "new" line-up including another ex-member, are both legally allowed to use the name "Queensryche". If both manage to get an album out in that time, it could make for an interesting aural battle.

But, in 1984 the wide world of progressive rock stood before Queensryche  - this album achieved modest success but never charted in the US of A, although "Take hold of the flame" became popular in Japan. The Japanese are known for having excellent taste in melodic metal (although I have only one Japanese metal band's album in my collection).

The cover is simple but makes a statement. It depicts a card - like a tarot card, inscribed with the words "The Warning" held in a gloved, and frankly rather unhealthy looking, hand, whilst green lasers shoot from the card like eyes or headlights, behind it is Earth. The message is clear - things are going wrong with our planet.

Here in his younger days (he's 24/25), Geoff Tate has a high and clear voice that rings out strong and clear with an almost bell-like clarity. The album opens with "The Warning", a song of simple structure with rhythmic guitar and drums. It is Tate's voice that gives it the power and emotional impact it implores - powerful, with a hint of desperation. He sure can hold his notes well!
"En Force" gets into a somewhat more dramatic start with tolling bells (their voices relatively high and drum-like) and surging into the vocals. Again, Tate's voice is a fine force and it is easy to see why his is considered one of the best in the genre. The higher notes are sweet and pure, but with the occasional harsher, raw edge. There is an innocence in it as well. The lyrics have a definite dystopia/sci fi edge:
"Light tracers follow me farther into the depths of unknown. The blackness surrounding the borders of hope. We're alone"
  The ghostly drumming and spectral and ethereal vocals give the final verse an eerie and unnerving edge. It feels lost, and haunted.

Before we soar into "Deliverance" a rather faster paced and energetic piece, similar to what we consider the classic Queensryche sound.

Ghostly and slow, feeling distant and haunted, "No Sanctuary" follows. This is not precisely a ballad, but definitely a slower, and softer song - again with an edge of desperation.

Following on from this is another dystopia-inspired song, "NM 156", this one possibly more inspired by the book. The vocals start with computer voices, then Tate's desperate high notes soar over them.
"Microchip logic, have we no more thought?
"Is this wrong" I enter, answers sought"
 The future is  before us, and it is not a pleasant place. Decent and somewhat complex guitar solo, soaring vocals compete with faster, harder, rawer and desperate. Tate can certainly wail.

Now, I believe it is time for a Power Ballad. And "Take Hold of the Flame" certainly fits the bill. The vocals are as bright and clear as the fire themselves, flickering into a gloriously high howl. The chorus is delightfully anthemic:
"So take hold of the flame. Don't you see life's a game?"
 I can almost see those lighters held high! (Of course, nowadays everyone uses cellphones instead - far less likely to cause accidents or fire alarms anyway).

The somewhat heavier "Before the Storm" follows this up with its echoed chorus and more involved guitar structures, the whirling guitar solo imitating a grey sky broiling with clouds.

"Child of Fire" is another song of loss and desolation, heavy with desperation as Tate wails:
"Look around. Is this the end you've foreseen?
The pain? The misery in us all?
What was it that you knew?
Will we someday learn it too?"
 Finally we conclude with "Road to Madness" in which Tate drops half an octave, or maybe a wee bit more and forlorn strings echo his words. His words are tinged with hints of loss and desolation. Like the soundtrack to a lost man, walking forlorn along an endless highway. It turns faster and more urgent as it marches towards its conclusion.

A very fine debut album, with hints at what Queensryche will become. The songs are nicely variable, contrasting with one another to take on personalities of their own. Haunting and memorable but possibly a bit dark and serious to earn it much acclaim at the time of its release - a time when Iron Maiden ("Powerslave") and Judas Priest ("Defenders of the Faith") were having their day and glam metal had laid its roots.  It had a lot of steep competition.

I'm going to give it 7.5/10.

(Note: Yes I posted R and Q around the wrong way, I DO know which way the alphabet works, that was just the way I happened to listen to them, okay?)

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