Review Summary: Queensryche at the top of their game. One of the best concept albums ever released.
Let's face it, Queensryche have become a bit of a joke; a sad parody of themselves and a spent force creatively. However, as most metal fans will remember there was once a time when Geoff Tate and the crew were standing tall and proud as one of the masters of their game. On the back of a successful EP, a promising debut in the form of 'Warning' and the superb sophomore album 'Rage For Order' the band had carved out a place as one of the shining lights of the then embryonic prog metal movement.
'Empire' is sometimes regarded as the high point in Queensryche's career but I beg to differ. This is the one. The one when they were at their creative peak. The one where they seemed to be able to effortlessly craft incisive hook-laden songs which had the cutting edge of a scalpel. And the one where the Pink Floyd influences had not yet started to soften their sound too much. The actual concept of the album is well documented but suffice it to say that the words and music tell the tale of a would be revolutionary who reluctantly becomes involved with a political group as an assassin. The story eventually unfolds as a series of episodes and flashbacks relating to the major characters of the piece but our protagonist initially wakes at the start of the story to the sounds of a hospital ward. He utters the words 'I can't remember yesterday, I just remember doing what they told me' and the music takes off with a drum beat of military precision on the short segue piece 'Anarchy-X' before leading in to the classic 'Revolution Calling' with it's angular stabbing riffs, air of controlled chaos and Geoff Tate giving one of his best ever vocal performances.
Concept albums are of course intended to be listened to from start to finish but such is the quality of the individual songs on offer here that the album easily lends itself to a pick and mix exploration. The jabbing ferocity of 'Needle Lies' assaults you like an F-16 on a low strafing run; this is no carpet-bombing attack, it's a precision strike, angling in with cannons blazing, skimming over the treetops at high speed to take you apart. In the mood for a classic melodic metal anthem " Just flip to 'I Don't Believe In Love' and revel in the sense of controlled energy and incisive riffing bottled up inside one of the best power ballads ever penned. Even better is 'Eyes of a Stranger'; after a short introduction lifted from Pink Floyd's 'Empty Spaces' things get underway proper with a seemingly standard verse/chorus structured song that builds and builds to a glorious anthemic solo and then rides on top of an undulating riff to a triumphant finale. Other highlights include 'Spreading the Disease', a tale of Mary the prostitute turned nun ; 'Twenty-five bucks a ***, and Johns a happy man, she wipes the filth away, and it's back on the streets again' barks Tate as the song conjures up images of squalor and debauchery and explores the more cynical aspects of controlling the masses through sex and religion... 'selling skin, selling god, the numbers look the same on their credit cards'. There is such an endless supply of quality craftmanship on here. The epic 'Suite Sister Mary', the pounding riffs of 'Breaking the Silence' and the anthemic title track. Classic track after classic track. There is no filler on here, no waste. The carcass has been expertly filleted with laser precision and only prime cuts are presented here to be devoured.
This is the high point of Queensryche's discography, consistently excellent from start to finish. There is an air of finely controlled anarchy as they peel off memorable hook after memorable hook, firing on all cylinders like a lean, finely tuned V6. This is no blunt instrument, it's a surgical strike. Essential.