Review Summary: A dark, complex and progressive masterpiece, "Promised Land" is somewhat overlooked in Queensryche's catalogue but is very rewarding if one takes the time to really listen.
With the release of "Operation Mindcrime" in 1988 and "Empire" two years later, Queensryche were on the forefront of the progressive metal genre. Although some die-hard fans were disappointed with the somewhat more "pop" sound that "Empire" had offered, the album nevertheless had it's share of progressive elements, making Queensryche a nice bridge between good 'ol fashioned metal like Iron Maiden and the more artful progressive vein of rock of such bands like Pink Floyd or Rush.
Come 1994 however and the world of rock music had greatly changed. Classic metal bands of various streams (e.g. Megadeth, Iron Maiden, Slayer) thought invincible only a few years earlier (though all of the above have experienced somewhat of a rennaissance of late) seemed to pass out of the limelight. Queensryche too seemed affected with rumours of inner tentions and a several year gap with only one track for the "Last Action Hero" soundtrack being released. Queensryche however did return and in spite of the explosion of grunge and alternative rock, "Promised Land" went on to sell very well and provide Queensryche with another platinum seller. But enough history.
"Promised Land" is not the Queensryche album that the fans could have come to expect. The title of course is laced with irony. The promised land that fame and success should have lead to was not the paradise one would have believed and, as the band members themselves admitted, Queensryche learned this the hard way. Consequently the album largely reflects this feeling of disillusionment and disappointment both lyrically and musically.
It is in this album that Queensryche most closely resembles Pink Floyd ca. "Animals" or "The Wall". Many of the tracks are very quiet and atmospheric creating a sombre and dark mood with instrumentation ranging from largely acoustic guitars ("Bridge" or "Out of mind") to almost entirely piano driven ("Lady Jane" and "Someone Else?"). These latter two bearing a distinct Pink Floyd touch with "Someone Else?"'s piano lines an homage to "Nobody Home" off "The Wall" and "Lady Jane" sporting Roger Waters-esque vocals from Tate and "Echoes" style vocal harmonisation.
Despite this resemblence Queensryche make these songs all of their own particularly through their fantastic harmonised guitar leads and overall heavier, guitar-driven sound. And simply because there are more quiet tracks does not mean that the boys have forgotten how to rock out. "Damaged" moves along with a thumping bass and a grinding riff courtesy of DeGarmo and Wilton. Some headbanging material to be found there. "My Global Mind" also moves along with a quieter verse but with a driving riff for the chorus.
However the most fascinating tracks here are probably "Dis Con Nec Ted" and the title track. The former can almost be classified as a dark funk with some nice bass licks and cleverly used saxophone fills (yes, they actually work!). The latter on the other hand is the darkest piece on here and broods along with an equal share of keyboard and sonic atmospherics as well as rocking solos and riffs.
The crowning achievement of this album however is its ability to create atmosphere. As stated, it is a dark and reflective record and for this reason it might not suit everyone or be suitable for every occasion or mood. Yet despite this prevelant atmosphere, the tracks here are all quite varied and each yield a slightly different feel unto themselves.
The production as well as musicianship on this album is top-notch with Tate providing an excellent vocial performance. However, fans of his more stratospheric delivery, as witnessed in earlier albums, might be disappointed as Tate stays mainly in a lower register with a much mellower tone to his voice. That being said though, Tate delivers the power when necessary and this is used to great effect. Check out "Someone Else?" for a fantastic performance.
Without a doubt this is Queensryche's most progressive and least accessable record. However, as can often be the case, a great work can take time to fully appreciate and those perhaps not initially inclined towards the sound this album has to offer should give it a chance or two more. Good things lay within. Sadly this would be the last (in my opinion) strong album from Queensryche for several years. The rut has only recently been escaped (to an extent that is) with Operation Mindcrime 2, which while pale in comparison to the original, is a solid rock offering.
For those seeking a somewhat more complex and thought-provoking record with some solid metal thrown in this is right up your alley. Everyone else should at least have a listen. Highly recommended
Please also feel free to comment, This is only my second review and I'm still trying to find my feet.