Dear Queensrÿche: Please stop

Growing up a fan of metal and thrash in the ’80s was a good time. However, watching some of the bands from that era age has not been so much fun.

There’s a new Anthrax record due soon with Joey Belladonna back in the fold, but they’ve done so much damage to their aura, I don’t know that this will help them recover. I’ll listen to it, because it’ll be cool hearing Belladonna fronting the band again, but from the one song I’ve heard (live versions of “Fight ’Em Til You Can’t”) doesn’t have me feeling much hope. Metallica’s downturn has been well documented, and they’re ruined for life, basically. I don’t know how many times I’ve said to my wife, “No, really, they used to awesome.” Their latest “Death Magnetic” initially didn’t seem like such a bad record considering the decade of output that preceded it, but really, it’s nowhere near their classic material. It’s patting them on the back for not totally failing outright. Megadeth have healed a little bit, as their last couple record tried to reclaim their earlier nasty bite. They’re far better records than what Metallica have regurgitated, but I don’t listen to them at all, really. I haven’t had time to listen to the new Morbid Angel yet, which should tell you how skeptical I am about the thing.

Some bands have done OK. After a long layoff, Death Angel have re-emerged and put out some pretty decent material, especially 2008’s excellent “Killing Season,” though I’m a little bit nervous about them moving forward because they’ve significantly altered their lineup recently. But still, they sound pretty good and have done their legacy well. Testament never really went away, but their mostly original lineup got back together (most notably, guitar wizard Alex Skolnick came back to the fold), and they put out a really good record in 2008’s “Formation of Damnation.” They’re said to be working on a new album, and I’m pretty hopeful that it’ll be god. Exodus are on their 50th singer, but they’re still putting out decent stuff; Iron Maiden changed their formula and went super epic, but they remain a must-see live band and still make decent records; and Slayer had their bumps in the road but remain  steady.

But perhaps the band that has aged the worst is Queensrÿche. Their output the last decade and a half has been just awful. Really, really bad stuff. They used to be one of the most exciting, forward-thinking bands metal had, but the last 15 years they sound lost and uninspired. They always prided themselves in being ahead of the curve, and when you hear them interviewed, they sound so obsessed with staying that way that I think it undoes their efforts creatively. I don’t think they even know where the curve is. Also, if they tried to do a classic, back-to-basics record, I don’t think they could do it.

A major part of the band’s undoing has been the massive deterioration of Geoff Tate’s voice. He once had one of those sirens that stunned you as much with its power as with the words it was unleashing, and he once arguably was as vital as Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson and Judas Priest’s Rob Halford. But then something happened. Somewhere around 1994’s “Promised Land,” Tate’s voice starting losing its power. By 1997’s horribly titled “Hear in the Now Frontier,” it was like a balloon that had the air sucked from it. That siren was just an average, sometimes grating voice that needed either a rest or retirement. But neither of those happened. They continued to release bad album after bad album, perhaps peaking with “Operation: Mindcrime II,” which was such a poor idea. It was a sequel to 1988’s “Operation: Mindcrime,” in my mind one of the greatest metal albums of all time and perhaps the finest concept piece ever. Listen to it today, and the lyrics and thematic points still ring true. It’s frightening. It’s another reason we didn’t need “Mindcrime II,” because the original was still vital and speaking to us more than two decades later. A money grab is a money grab, I guess.

The band is ready to put out its new record “Dedicated to Chaos” on Roadrunner’s imprint Loud and Proud. No comment on that last part of the sentence. It’s due June 28, and you can hear samples of the new tracks right now at Amazon (link below). I did take time to go and listen to these samples, and keep in mind, I’m basing this just on song snippets, but this sounds monumentally disappointing. Tate’s voice is a liability, and the material is so bland sounding, I wonder if the man who once was their greatest strength is now what keeps this band from being remotely vital. On the clips where Tate tries to soar, he sounds devoid of emotion and oomph. It’s sad to hear, because I grew up in an era where he was like a demigod. Again, I know I’m judging clips here, but I base my opinion on the albums they’ve put out the last 15 years, and these segments sound no better at all. A few songs – “I Take You,” “At the Edge,” awkwardly spelled “Big Noize” – sound like they have OK musical ideas, but Tate’s flatlined moan kills any interest I had in hearing them in full. Some songs sound like ill-conceived experiments, such as the dance poppy “Wot We Do,” another stupidly spelled name that someone must have thought would make them seem cooler than cool. Just kind of makes them appear out of touch. Even worse, you can buy a deluxe edition with four bonus cuts. FOUR! Too much. If the 12 song samples don’t sound good, can you imagine hearing the four that didn’t make the cut?

It gives me no pleasure to say this about Queensrÿche. I long loved this band, and their initial 1983 EP and first four records, yes even “Empire,” should be put into a metal time capsule somewhere for future generations to hear. Chances are, in 10 years, the original “Mindcrime” still will be chilling. I’ve even been trying to get my hands on a Queensrÿche shirt with some classic-era art, and I’d still wear it proudly.  Also, I’ve had a chance to interview Tate before, and he’s a thoughtful, challenging guy who pays attention to his surroundings, speaks on them with great care, and is legitimately concerned about the future. I think I enjoyed talking politics with him more than I did music, and he’s a genuinely nice human being. So it makes me sorrowful to see great former idols completely stripped of their power. I beg you, Queensrÿche, please stop making records. You’ve made some of the most innovative power metal albums ever, and it’s sad your creative window was so small. If you must tour, play the hits. Let people remember the good days. I know you want to remain productive in the studio, but at what cost? No one can take away your past glory, but every bad album that follows it makes it seem further and further in the past.

To hear samples of the new Queensrÿche album, go here: http://www.amazon.com/Dedicated-Chaos-Queensryche/dp/B004YKB5FQ/ref=sr_1_4?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1305600248&sr=1-4

For more on the band, go here: http://www.queensryche.com/