Review Summary: A debut that will genuinely impress those who listen to it.
Metal had become a powerful genre in the 1980’s, and at the time Seattle’s Queensryche would seem like just another part of an ever-growing movement towards heavy, chugging songs with electric guitars. To that end, Geoff Tate’s rockin’ Seattle band’s debut album was hailed for something entirely different – a then new genre given the title of progressive metal. It is a genre that contains the same ridiculous sense of hard rock and excitement that explodes out of the songs, but it contained more progressive rock elements such as the technicality and difficulty of the songs, additional musicians and instruments, generally longer song times, and other elements that most had commonly placed next to bands such as Rush, King Crimson, and any other of the widely popular prog rock bands at the time. A clear bookending – a new genre had immediately been invented, and Queensryche stood amongst bands such as Dream Theater and Fates Warning to actively continue this genre.
Queensryche’s best manipulation of the genre would come in Operation: Mindcrime, but for now we have the album in front of us. It is, plainly, brilliant fun, and it’s certainly an intriguing experience just to listen to the thing, but one can make anything sound simple if enough words are used. The fact of the matter is, it is a debut that has no reputation good or ill outside of metal buffs – Queensryche really wouldn’t hit their mark until arguably Operation: Mindcrime, and even so their second album was more popular than this. It is an album of pure riffage that does not fuse genres in any groundbreaking or innovative way, despite possessing a decent amount of great songs.
The album is certainly consistent – inspired by George Orwell’s disturbing 1984, it is obvious Tate and his cohorts arranged the tracks in a certain way, and the transition from track to track is very streamlined. The opening track “Warning” anchor the album’s bid for straightforward metal, and it is good – a marching track that is nonetheless brought up by Tate’s dynamic vocal performance. If there is a solitary figure who does a solid job throughout the album, it’s Tate – he has an extensive use of vocal techniques and ranges, and he sounds great throughout, such as on the anguished “NM 156” or his husky performance on “Before the Storm” that blends really well with the tense, motion-packed guitar riffs.
That’s not to say the other members in the band aren’t good. Chris Degarmo and Michael Wilton are the kind of guitarists 80’s metal needed more of (a great decade for heavy metal) – despite the obvious Iron Maiden influence, they mix aggression and heaviness with subtle, clean guitar tunes that sometimes outshine Tate himself. When one listens really closely, bassist Eddie Jackson compliments the melodies with a thumping bassline, and Scott Rockenfield does a great job here on the album, having a show-off technique in spades here, which makes a delicate yet heavy performance.
Still, there are problems and faults with the album – the band does not get repetitive but there are weaker tracks as usual. The power-chord packed “Deliverance” is a mostly filler track that doesn’t bring anything new to the table, especially coming right after the twin guitar piece “En Force”. The same thing presents itself in “Child of Fire”, full of probable flaws and is overall a mostly boring track that doesn’t do much of anything for five minutes. A lot of these issues are minor, especially for a debut, but the problem is despite obviously being a new genre, it isn’t terribly distinct – The Warning lures your attention but doesn’t quite grab it, and sometimes it feels as if it is trying to be more dynamic than it actually is, such as on the nine-minute closer Roads to Madness, which, despite being a very precise and roaring track, is far too long for its own good.
Is it a strong debut? Certainly, and the Warning brings a lot to the table – Queensryche certainly has a sound, one that they would go on to perfect; that perfection of a self-made genre is in spades here, but that’s normally typical of a debut, and The Warning is entirely deserving of its place in history, even if it is an obscure one, because it triumphantly accomplishes what it is trying to do.