'Thinking Man's Metal Band' -- Queensryche Is Carrying On Despite Settling Down
by Patrick MacDonald
Hear In The Now Frontier

The Nirvana revolution left a lot of rusted metal in its wake.

After Kurt Cobain showed how rock could be powerful and aggressive without macho posing and sexist lyrics, a whole genre of heavy metal shrunk away. Bands like Motley Crue, Poison, Ratt, Skid Row - which were selling millions of records and dominating the charts in the late 1980s - suddenly were outed as weak poseurs, as Nirvana and other grunge bands showed them what real rock is all about.

Most of those bands have tried comebacks without success. But one metal band that laid low during the grunge/alternative revolution, which was centered in their own back yard, learned from it and has come roaring back with a hit album.

Of course, some would argue Queensryche never was in the same bag as those swaggering, spandex-clad metal bands. The thoughtful Bellevue quintet always had lofty ideals and artistic aspirations, earning it the sobriquet, "The thinking man's metal band." But it felt the Nirvana revolution, too. Best evidence: Its 1990 "Empire" LP sold 3 million; the 1994 follow-up, "Promised Land," only 1 million.

"Did we ever think of quitting?" Chris DeGarmo repeated the question, incredulously, during an interview before the release of the band's latest album, "Hear in the Now Frontier," in March. "Uh, no, never. We're in it for the music. We've been doing this for over 15 years now and we're gonna keep doing it as long as we can."

Queensryche wasn't so much hurt by the Nirvana revolution as challenged by it. "I thought it was great," he said. "We were like fans, excited by all this great music coming out of Seattle."

He said the new album was partially inspired by that music, especially the return to songs as opposed to epics. It came together quickly, DeGarmo said, "because we had some things to say and we wanted to capture the moment and the feelings."

Now the band is on tour performing songs from it, as well as Queensryche's "greatest hits," as chosen by a survey of its fan club members.

"We have quite a strong fan club," singer Geoff Tate acknowledged by phone yesterday, the day after the tour's opening date in Rapid City, S.D.

"We were all nervous at first but it turned out to be a flawless show," he said.

"It's less theatrically involved," he said of the production. "It's kind of a stripped-down show, as I suppose our new album is."

It incorporates new visuals and a couple of inflatables, but concentrates on music, including "Sign of the Times," currently the second most-played song on rock radio, and "You," the latest single.

Prior to the tour's opening date, the band played a promotional gig for 500 selected fans, broadcast live on 200 radio stations nationwide. It was held at the Very Large Array, or VLA, a government facility of 28 sonar dishes in the New Mexico desert that scan the heavens for signs of extraterrestrial life.

But the main thing on Tate's mind these days is right here on Earth. His fourth daughter, Emily, was born May 12. "That's the toughest part of touring," he said. "Being away from my family. My poor wife has got to deal with all the kids herself." Tate, DeGarmo and the others in the band - Michael Wilton, Scott Rockenfield and Eddie Jackson - were teenagers when they started the band in 1981. Now all but Jackson are married with children.

"The five of us are still together, we really get along well, we've got a good chemistry going and we have fun doing what we do," Tate said. "Every morning when I wake up I am so thankful to be doing what I love and make a living at it. It's an amazing thing."

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