Album Review: Queensrÿche - Frequency Unknown
It would have been hard to imagine, not too long ago, that Queensrÿche would once again be one of the biggest stories in the world of metal. Their glory days were well behind them, and they settled comfortably into their place as a band that made new records to satisfy their creative itch, while spending most of their time on the road as a greatest hits package. It's a fate that befalls almost all bands who survive long enough, and even the forward thinking, progressive mindset the band possessed couldn't stop the audience from no longer wanting to hear new music.
Just when it seemed the story had been written, Queensrÿche went and turned the page, unleashing a soap opera filled with enough bad blood to supply a horror movie. Geoff Tate and his family got fired, the remaining members of the band replaced him with a professional replacement singer, and lawyers determined that both parties should be able to make Queensrÿche records this year, because that's the way lawyers are.
This version of the band is built around Geoff Tate, the man who is ostensibly synonymous with Queensrÿche. Joined by myriad band members, session players, and guests, “Frequency Unknown” will be forever ridiculed for not being the result of a 'band', but those people miss the point. It doesn't matter who writes the songs, or who plays them. People who get caught up in those kinds of details are sad fans, the kind who believe artists owe them, not the other way around.
First single “Cold” leads off the record in impressive fashion, as good a slice of melodic hard rock as I've heard in a long time. Co-written with former “Rockstar: Supernova” winner Lukas Rossi, the song's heavy riff, deft touch of piano, and slick melodic chorus are everything you could ask for from a song, and is one of the best Queensrÿche songs in over a decade.
Queensrÿche had been dabbling with modern hard rock, searching for the right way to approach a musical landscape that had long since evolved past “Empire”. They never managed to strike the right balance, but “Frequency Unknown” is the endgame. The songs are a deft blend of downtuned modern metal, pop-influenced catchy rock, and more detailed introspective songs. They don't always sound like they belong together, but that's what makes it work. An entire album of any of these approaches would be too much, but giving them each an equal share ensures that the record balances out.
“Slave” and “Dare” are super modern, heavy because we want to be heavy, all-out rockers. They are also the least interesting songs on the record, but they serve a purpose. Both establish Queensrÿche is still capable of being the band people assumed they used to be, even if the band themselves rejected the label. More in line with their legacy are tracks like “In The Hands Of God” and “The Weight Of The World”, with weaving guitar parts that play off Tate's vocals, and a dramatic approach that downplays every commercial aspect of music in favor of what's right for the song.
But the best material on “Frequency Unknown” are the ones that bridge Queensrÿche's legacy with the modern melodic sensibilities Tate has seemingly been pushing for without fully committing to. Tracks like the aforementioned “Cold”, “Running Backwards”, and the glorious piece of pop metal “Everything”, are more interesting than anything Queensrÿche had been doing in recent memory.
I went into “Frequency Unknown” fully expecting to hate the record. I have never been a Queensrÿche fan of any degree, and with much of the fan base firmly entrenched against this record and this version of the band, I assumed I already knew what I would end up thinking about the album. But somewhere along the way, I found myself fighting against the tide. Though I had never liked Queensrÿche before, there was plenty about “Frequency Unknown” that captured my attention. Whether the pop gems, or the way Tate's voice strains as he reaches back for a note in “Running Backwards”, or the sly melodies running through “Give It To You”, every song had something about it that grabbed me, which I don't say all that often.
I won't try to assess where “Frequency Unknown” belongs in the Queensrÿche legacy, but regardless of the circumstances of its creation, I will consider it a true Queensrÿche album. Maybe it says something about me, but “Frequency Unknown” is the first Queensrÿche album I've enjoyed this much. The drama surrounding its release assures that “Frequency Unknown” will forever have a reputation of being embarrassing and/or fake, but sometimes a band's core fans are the last people who should be listened to. In this situation, that's precisely the case. Most Queensrÿche fans will hate “Frequency Unknown”, but they're also never going to give it a chance. That's too bad, because it's actually a pretty darn good album.
[There has been much criticism directed at the the production of the album. The original mix was indeed sub-par, cloudy to the point of making sections difficult to hear. The re-mixed version of the album is a drastic improvement, and sounds fantastic, considering the initial versions.]