Kings & Thievesposted on 11/2012 By:
In the past six months or so, Queensryche has made more headlines than in the previous fifteen years combined. Their anything-but-amicable split with thirty-year vocalist Geoff Tate resulted in a seemingly endless litany of “he said, we said” press releases and countering lawsuits, but amidst all the dedicated chaos, one fundamental truth remained: That band hasn’t released a good album since Promised Land in 1994, at the absolute latest. (There are plenty who discarded the band even earlier, with their 1990 commercial breakthrough, Empire, but this reviewer holds that album in higher esteem than many.) Though their 80s output is almost impeccable, Queensryche post-Empire meandered, lost focus, lost sight of the prog-meets-classic-metal brilliance that characterized their early sound in favor of middling modern rock.
There are those fans who blame the downward deviation upon the absence of longtime guitarist and songwriter Chris DeGarmo, and that’s somewhat true, though his presence didn’t salvage the mostly lackluster Hear In The Now Frontier, and his too-brief return didn’t bolster Tribe some six years later. And there are those who blame Geoff Tate – including the four members of the band who unceremoniously and publicly booted him earlier this year.
And Kings & Thieves might actually solve that argument. At the very least, it largely validates the claims of Mssrs. Wilton, Rockenfield, and Jackson that Tate’s creative direction was responsible for the last fifteen years’ worth of dreck.
Before we go any further, lest I be accused of any untoward bias, let me state this unequivocally: I love classic Queensryche. Operation: Mindcrime is a top-ten-of-all-time album for me, a desert island disc, with The Warning and the oft-disparaged Empire not far behind. Sequestered in my room in high school, listening to Mindcrime on endless repeat, I wanted to be Geoff Tate – his smooth, soaring voice is easily among the best in metal, ever, period, without a doubt. The man can sing. No one can ever deny that.
But by the time of 2011’s Dedicated To Chaos, the ‘Ryche had become such a shadow of itself that longtime fans (like this reviewer) had almost no interest in any new material. Yet, "almost no" isn’t quite "none," and against all odds, I clung to hope that the ‘Ryche would right the wrong, and so I kept trying, but everything just got lamer and lamer. (Seriously, Dedicated To Chaos was so boring that I refused to even review it, and out of approximately 4000 albums, there are few worse records in my collection than their covers disc.)
Kings & Theives is Tate’s second solo effort, and it was not recorded with his all-star nouveau Queensryche (which includes former / current members of Quiet Riot and Ratt). Still, the result is what you’d think: Kings sounds like those last few ‘Ryche releases, which is to say that it’s entirely mediocre melodic rock with Tate’s distinctive vocals (though here as there of late, he avoids his higher register entirely). The man can still sing – but these tunes are, at best, lame, and at worst, awful. For examples of the former, witness the vast majority of the album, and then for the latter, I offer up the rap-boasting, utterly lame lyrics of “The Way I Roll,” which is just flat-out dreadful and includes declarations that Geoff is “rocking the mic” and he’s “the real deal, baby; [he] don’t fake that shit.” Still, a few complete-disaster mis-steps aside, most of Kings & Thieves’ failures fall in the mid-ground. Neither good nor bad, this just slides by in another fifty-plus minutes of Tate-fronted bland-rock boredom, same as Q2K (either version) or American Soldier or Chaos. There’s no riff, no melody, no anything that stands out positively – only a few bits that are just utterly ridiculous amongst the general background of uninteresting radio-rock.
I will forever hold Geoff Tate in high regard for his performances on albums now decades old – there is nothing that he or what’s left of the rest of the ‘Ryche could do that will taint Operation: Mindcrime for me. I know that grand statement is true because both parties have taken every opportunity they could to destroy their own legacy, including revisiting that landmark record in horrific fashion, and yet, even now, I still get goosebumps whenever I hear this: “I remember now... I remember how it started...”
But I also remember how it ended, and for Queensryche in either incarnation, it ended years ago. There are so many nails in this coffin that it’s highly likely no one could ever pry it open again, though, in the same spirit of last-ditch fandom that prompted me to pick up this disc, I will at least give a fair shake to the Todd LaTorre-fronted Queensryche and hope for the best.
But, at this point, really, is there anybody listening...?