Queensrÿche – Frequency Unknown
Reviewed by Sebastian Kluth
It’s quite hard to not talk about all the drama that happened inside and all around Queensrÿche last year, because it all led to the existence of two different bands with the same name in concurrence with each other. On one side there are several Queensrÿche musicians who hired the young and dynamic Todd La Torre of Crimson Glory fame, and then there is the band led by Queensrÿche singer Geoff Tate, who has gathered a total of nineteen (!) musicians and singers around him to put out this new record called Frequency Unknown. Let’s not forget that a total of twelve (!) other staff members such as cover artists and producers have been involved in this project as well! It’s quite clear that the album was recorded and released in a hurry to put out a new release before the other Queensrÿche formation could do so, and it’s also quite obvious that there is still quite a lot of hate inside Geoff Tate towards his old band members and friends. The abbreviation of the record (“F.U.”) can be seen on the front cover alongside a fist and the original Queensrÿche logo. Geoff Tate even went so far as to add four cover tracks of vintage Queensrÿche songs to this new release to prove to the world that his new project is the one and only true incarnation of that band. Let’s add to all this that many lyrics on this release can easily be related to the conflict between the two bands as well. Just take a look on the song titles and you might understand what I mean. These details are definitely no coincidences, and Geoff Tate tries to take advantage of the media attention brought to this somewhat childish conflict. I’m intrigued to see if the plan works out, and if this record sells more copies than the lukewarm previous outputs.
Despite this context, I would like to judge this record without comparing it to the other Queensrÿche outfit, and also without comparing this release to the band’s classic outputs as well (apart from the four cover songs). Many fans say that the true Queensrÿche died almost twenty years ago after the Promised Land release, and they didn’t accept the new style of the band. That’s a quite popular, but also closed-minded attitude. Despite some line up changes and internal affairs, Queensrÿche has always remained the same band, even though they have wandered away from heavy and progressive metal to a more hard rock and alternative metal sound. Dear old school metal maniacs: let’s face the fact that we are living in 2013 and that the years 1982 to 1988 are beautiful memories of the past that won’t come back, even if one of the two bands tried as hard as they could. Welcome to the new millennium, and please adopt a more tolerant view on things instead of becoming bitter “true metal” grandfathers that don’t quit talking about the glorious eighties. Today, metal music has become more diversified and original than ever and there are loads of things to find for every taste.
Let’s now talk about the only thing that really counts: the music on this release. When I listened to the album opener “Cold”, three things came to my mind that resume the record very well. First of all, Geoff Tate tries to sound harder and more metal than on the last two Queensrÿche records (likely in an attempt to please all the old fans he has lost). He tries to dig into the past, and that’s already a bad approach because you can’t bring back those days. The second thing that struck me were the weak vocals by this once outstanding singer. His vocal lines don’t fit at all into the verses of the opener. They sound thin and struggle with tone. It’s strange to say, but the weakest point of that song is the main attraction and mastermind behind this release himself. The third thing that I realized when I listened to the chorus was that this record is, despite all the efforts to go back to the roots, a rather modern-sounding release that follows the path taken with the previous records American Soldier and Dedicated To Chaos. The songs are compact and short, have a modern but somewhat lifeless production job, and feature dominant choruses that are sometimes repeated to death.
On the upside here is the instrumental work. Despite all the different musicians and producers involved in this release, there are a few well-elaborated song ideas, gripping melodies, and atmospheric tracks to be had. The record is nevertheless missing a measure of coherence, but it’s less weird than the previous effort that was perfectly entitled Dedicated To Chaos. From that point of view, almost each song on here has something interesting to offer. We can listen to modern radio rock sounds as seen on “Cold”, more experimental and modern tunes in “Everything” (that could almost have come from Linkin Park), or atmospheric, eerie, and even slightly progressive tracks like “The Weight Of The World” that are not a far call from traditional Queensrÿche. The diversity is definitely there, and old and new fans alike could at least find something interesting here.
On the other hand, the vocals here go from bad to worse. A truly outstanding album highlight is missing, and the record remains rather mediocre and unimpressive on the whole. The worst things here though, are the four cover songs. They just can’t keep up with the original version. You can clearly hear how badly Geoff Tate sings here in comparison to the original. The best example, and at the same time most horrible, is probably the new version of “I Don’t Believe In Love”. Any Queensrÿche cover band would have created a better rendition of this classic, and I think that almost any singer would have brought in a more passionate performance of it. It makes me sad to listen to this version.
What we have here is an average record with many great instrumental song ideas which shows a surprising amount of diversity. This part could have been even better if the record weren’t recorded in a hurry and by so many different people. Many cooks spoil the broth, they say, but for what it is, I was rather positively surprised by the the musical quality of this album. What really harms Frequency Unknown is the mediocre to poor vocal performance on many tracks. Sometimes, Geoff Tate puts forth a solid effort and one can recognize the excellent talent of his past, but most of this release lacks conviction, emotion, and even technique. The biggest failure comes in the form of the four horrible cover tracks. If I didn’t know that they were cover songs, I would class them as the worst songs on this record anyways, and probably take them for some unbalanced b-sides. Hence, there are more negative than positive things to say about this release on the whole. Frequency Unknown is not the horror that some magazines would like to suggest, but it’s not a far cry from it either. This release is only for collectors and fans of the last few Queensrÿche releases.
2.25 // 5