|Seattle's Queensryche Prove That There's Still Room For Intelligence In Metal.
by Paul Elliott
SAUCER EYES, gaudy rock duds, yowling rococo metal classicism. In 1983, Queensryche spearheaded a strange and isolated metal sub-cult in Seattle, peopled by headbanging oddballs like Metal Church and Q5. The 'Queen Of The Reich' EP, the quintet's first release, was the clear and powerful, if pompous, vision of a new age Judas Priest.
By 1984 and their first full LP, 'The Warning', Queensryche's studied, two-guitar crunch-rock had developed a sophistication reminiscent of Priest's 'Unleashed In The East' era, but was still roped in by a flat earth mentality. It was only with 1986's 'Rage For Order' that Queensryche burst the banks of tradition and let loose their imaginations. 'Rage For Order' is a dazzling trickbox. Its songs are at once wild and pin-sharp, harmonic and unorthodox, powerful and intricate, and laced with sample FX by producer Neil Kernon. 'Rage For Order' was Queensryche's first great album and they followed it with a better one.
'OPERATION:MINDCRIME' (1988) was a paradox. It was a brilliant concept album: slick, hard, disturbing and uncompromising, complex but with a streetwise bite. 'Mindcrime' is a classic heavy metal LP that has been steadily lifting Queensryche from semi-obscurity. In the UK, their popularity is evidenced by a sell-out London date at the end of next week - only a couple of months after their last. In America, Queensryche's arena support tours, first with Def Leppard and then with Metallica, have helped sell half a million little 'Mindcrime's.
But as guitarist Chris DeGarmo and vocalist Geoff Tate explain, throwing that heavy conceptual shit at somebody else's Bud-dribbling crowd every night can be a dirty and depressing job. Chris: "Some people like to intimidate a band through a fabulous display of boredom." Have you ever found yourself trying to punish a crowd? "Yeah," shrugs Geoff. "But you gotta pull back from that. It's good to have that energy and intensity, but you shouldn't take it out on people just cos they don't know you."
QUEENSRYCHE ARE at odds with the vogues prevalent in late '80s metal. They're no Metallica, and they're not Guns N Roses either. "When we recorded 'Revolution Calling' (from 'Mindcrime'), we tried to get the idea of the swing of the song across to our producer Peter Collins," recalls Geoff. "We've always been known as a squeaky-tight band, so we told him we were after a cross between Queensryche and the Stones. The Stones aren't so squeaky..."
Does the 'intellectual metal' tag stick in their throats? "The press," says Chris, "has had to put us into a category and, because of the intense delivery of the material, they've had to put us into the metal category, But, when we come to write material, we really don't consider any of the cliches of what a metal band is supposed to be. We just want the music to paint a picture of what the lyrics are talking about, regardless of the text, whether it's political story or a love song. There's no master gameplan. The themes just develop. 'Mindcrime' was a sponge to late '80s media combined with our imagination."
"What cracks me up," deadpans Geoff, "is the people who just look at the sleeve and only half-listen to the album and say, Oh, it's based on George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. That kinda pisses me off. I haven't even read Nineteen Eighty-Four! There was a title that used to accompany Blue Oyster Cult for some years - The Thinking Man's Heavy Metal Band. It was said that that is what killed Blue Oyster Cult, because not many people are interested in thinking when listening to metal!"
Which, of course, is bullshit, as sales of 'Operation: Mindcrime' prove. it's not the first popular myth that Queensryche have exploded. After all, weren't concept albums pronounced dead and buried a couple of years back?