Wait, You’ve Never Heard: Queensrÿche – Empire

About two months ago, I overheard a friend complaining that too many people think of Queensrÿche as simply “that band with that single”, referring to the radio saturation of an infamous track known as “Silent Lucidity”.

I hate that song, I hate its overplayed status, and I was in utter agreement, but before I could interject, I was suddenly hit with the realization that this wretched single’s origins were unfamiliar to me–I had never heard Empire from start to finish. I cringed at my lack of insight, and when this article was assigned to me, I took it as a challenge, a chance at redemption for both me and this band I may have assumed too much about.

Queensrÿche is probably greatly responsible for influencing some of my favorite prog metal outfits, most noticeably Dream Theater and Altered State. The overall mood of Empire can be best described as a series of  songs Queensrÿche fans probably shook their head at, the vibe of overtly ’80s hair bands and balladry seeped from “Best I Can”, “The Thin Line”, and the other highly-popular power rock single on Empire, “Jet City Woman”. Throughout the course of what is considered a conceptual trilogy of songs on Empire, the biggest impact nowadays borders sternly nostalgic, while upon initial release it was probably considered much stronger than it appears, probably due to the union of stellar production and pop sensibility. “Della Brown” comes across like Living Colour in parts, very ’90s cusp in a sort of way that makes you go, “How interesting.”

Empire feels, through its duration, a little less like a stand-alone great, and more like a safe zone stepping stone away from the direction of Mindcrime, or the bands it gave musings to. I am content to believe that without Queensrÿche, so much good music would not exist as a whole, so I cannot sidestep it any longer. The title track here is dark and disturbing, while on the flip side, “Hand On Heart” and the majority of the latter half is pretty hit or miss. “Silent Lucidity” is a genuine radio-friendly diatribe like “Faithfully” with an edgier overtone, and the entirety of the record, though bearing decent portions, targets a mark far from the band’s true potential.

Queensrÿche, in my humble opinion, is a different breed of ballads and balls altogether. Queensrÿche is for those who consider Alan Parsons or ELO a bit too far out for their radio stations–they are a safe choice to name-drop in a hipster round table on the evolution of modern song structure, or how Tool lost its animal instinct (did anyone else think 10,000 Days was a Lateralus clone?). I am totally down with Operation: Mindcrime as a legitimate concept album–the story arc was captivating, and truthfully, if I were not fearful of some studio exec neutering the production, I’d love to see a film adaptation made. Unfortunately, Empire seems a bit too much like the same old same in its given time period, and that really defies whatever Queensrÿche might’ve been (don’t even get me started on American Soldier…ugh). additional creativity and vigor is replaced with something akin to a less female-oriented Journey.

Empire was a redeemable one-up recording, but it pales in comparison to previous efforts, and its dated atmosphere leaves much to be desired nowadays.


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