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The Tale of Two Queensryches
On the Roads To Madness...
Over the course of their thirty-plus year recording and touring career, Queensryche came to define the term "progressive" metal. Anchored by the trademark twin-guitar heroics of Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton and the jaw dropping vocal acrobatics of Geoff Tate, Queensryche earned massive critical praise throughout the 1980s and were known as "the thinking man's metal band" thanks to such heady opuses at 1984's The Warning, 1986's Rage For Order, and 1988's epic concept album Operation: Mindcrime. 1990's Empire proved to be Queensryche's mainstream high point, scoring triple platinum sales and a Grammy nominated single with the Pink Floyd-ian "Silent Lucidity."
Many fans consider 1994's Promised Land to be the band's last truly essential work. Since then, the band has fought an uphill battle to remain relevant. Guitarist Chris DeGarmo - one of the band's major songwriters - left the group after 1997's under-performing Hear In The Now Frontier disc and soon Queensryche found themselves releasing album after underwhelming album (Q2K, anyone? Tribe? American Soldier? Nah, I didn't think so) with a rotating cast of replacement guitarists, to middling reviews and dwindling record sales.
Trouble in Paradise?
By the mid-2000s, Queensryche's album sales had declined to comatose levels, but they remained a powerful draw on the concert circuit. At this point it had become semi-common knowledge amongst fans that Queensryche weren't so much a "band" as a vehicle for vocalist Geoff Tate to indulge in his artier musical interests...which were far removed from the classic heavy metal sound that the band was initially known for. Tate had been vocal in interviews over the years about his distaste for metal in general, saying that he'd never considered QR to be a "metal" band. To his credit, Tate did try to throw old fans a bone with 2006's Operation: Mindcrime II album, which featured a vocal cameo by the late, legendary Ronnie James Dio as the evil "Dr. X" -- which may have scored them some "metal" scene points, but the album as a whole felt like a calculated effort to reignite flagging fan interest by riding on past glories.
By this point, Queensryche was Tate's family business as well as his band. His wife Susan had been the band's manager for a number of years and his daughter Miranda (who was married to QR guitarist Parker Lundgren) was in charge of their merchandising and other business affairs. The rest of the band members, while seemingly OK with these arrangements on the outside, had apparently begun harboring resentments which inevitably came to a head. The final straw may have been the ill-fated "Queensryche Cabaret" tour of 2009-10, billed as "The World's First Adults-Only Rock Show" in which the band performed in a circus-like atmosphere with acrobats, strippers, fire breathers and drag queens on stage with them. Reviews of the "Cabaret" tour were savage and the absolutely dismal performance of 2011's Dedicated To Chaos album - the lowest selling of their career - likely didn't help much.
Geoff Tate's "You guys suck!" rant at Rocklahoma 2012
Things get ugly...
Unlike many of their '80s rock brethren. Queensryche was never a band that chased headlines or courted controversy. Perhaps this is why it was such a surprise when reports of strife in their camp suddenly began hitting the rock press on a regular basis in mid-2012. An April report claimed that Tate pulled a knife on his band mates (!) backstage immediately prior to a concert in Brazil, as they'd apparently chosen that time to inform him that his wife and daughter had just been fired from their management duties. Queensryche went on with the show regardless, but Tate took his rage out on drummer Scott Rockenfield by spitting on him repeatedly throughout the concert. Two American gigs in May 2012 - at the "M3" and "Rocklahoma" retro-rock festivals - were marked by lifeless performances and finally, a bizarre onstage rant by Tate at Rocklahoma, where he berated the audience and told them, "You guys suck!" This concert was carried live on HDnet television, and clips of Tate's rant quickly made their way to YouTube and became a viral video sensation. The question "What the hell is up with Queensryche?" soon became a hot topic on metal Internet forums. Fans didn't know it yet, but Rocklahoma 2012 would be the last time Geoff Tate would take the stage as a member of Queensryche.
"Rising West" performs "Queen of the Reich"
As if things weren't weird enough already by this point, the remaining members of Queensryche booked two shows in early June 2012 at the Seattle Hard Rock Cafe under the name "Rising West" - a supposed "side project" fronted by Todd LaTorre, a powerhouse vocalist and lifelong Ryche fan best known as a member of veteran progressive metal act Crimson Glory. Rising West performed a set of classic songs from Queensryche's first five albums (i.e. the material that long time fans really want to hear live!) and by all accounts, they went down a storm. Tate, meanwhile, used musicians from his solo project to fill some outstanding concert dates opening for the Scorpions, claiming that the rest of the band couldn't make the dates "due to personal reasons." Yeah, suuuuure.
Goodbye Geoff, hello Todd
In late June 2012, Queensryche made it official: Geoff Tate was fired and Todd LaTorre was the band's new vocalist. This was not really a surprise to anyone who'd been following the saga thus far, as it had been quite obvious from the beginning that the "Rising West" gigs were not intended to launch a side project -- they were a tryout to see if LaTorre could handle fronting the group. Tate immediately filed suit in court hoping to halt the band's use of the "Queensryche" name. Several volleys of back-and-forth legal paperwork followed -- Tate claimed that he'd been unjustly fired from his position, while Queensryche charged that Tate had made working conditions within the band unbearable. Despite all the drama, the "new" band continued to move forward. Queensryche's first official show with LaTorre took place in July 2012 at Minnesota's "Halfway Jam" festival, where they garnered rave reviews from audience members and fellow performers alike. Michael Sweet of Stryper, whose band also appeared at the Halfway Jam, witnessed the set and later remarked on Stryper's Facebook page that Todd LaTorre had "breathed new life into the band."
A Tale of Two Ryches
In October of 2012, a Washington State judge declared that until Tate's ongoing lawsuit against his former band mates was settled, there was no legal barrier that prevented him from performing under the "Queensryche" name, saying, "I don't see any reason that Mr. Tate can't have the benefit, if he gets other members...of using the brand." While the judge did warn that such a move might be "inherently confusing" to fans, he felt sure that eventually "the market can get these things sorted out." With that in mind, Tate wasted no time in announcing his own "all-star" version of Queensryche, which was to feature Bobby Blotzer of Ratt on drums, guitarists Glen Drover (ex-Megadeth) and Kelly Gray (a longtime Tate associate and onetime Queensryche member), bassist Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot, Dio, Ozzy Osbourne) and keyboardist Randy Gane. Naturally, the idea of two competing versions of "Queensryche" was met with skepticism by most fans. (As one particularly astute message board poster on Blabbermouth.net put it, "Blotzer can barely play Ratt songs, how's he gonna play Queensryche songs?")
Cast Your Vote!
Which version of "Queensryche" will you support
In January 2013, Geoff's version of Queensryche (or "Tateryche," as many fans had begun calling it) announced that they'd signed a recording deal with the L.A. based indie label Cleopatra Records and had begun work on a new studio album -- despite being plagued by near-constant lineup changes. Guitarist Glen Drover and drummer Bobby Blotzer both exited the Tateryche fold by late 2012 and were replaced by Robert Sarzo (an ex-member of Hurricane and brother of bassist Rudy) and former AC/DC drummer Simon Wright, respectively. Tate also announced that his debut for Cleopatra would feature cameo performances by a number of "celebrity guests" including former Judas Priest guitarist K.K. Downing, former Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland, Ty Tabor of King's X, former Slayer drummer Paul Bostaph, Night Ranger guitarist Brad Gillis and Y&T's Dave Meniketti... all of which begged the question, did anybody in Tate's supposed "band" actually play on the record?
Meanwhile, the "original" Queensryche continued recording their first studio album with Todd LaTorre on vocals, working with producer James "Jimbo" Barton, a veteran of the Operation: Mindcrime, Empire, and Promised Land sessions. Bravewords.com reported that Todd had resigned from Crimson Glory in early February of 2013, making Queensryche his full time gig.
On March 4, 2013, things officially got weird when the "LaTorre version" of Queensryche announced via Billboard.com that they'd signed a new recording contract with Century Media Records. Century Media is one of the leading record labels in the metal and extreme music field and their extensive artist roster includes such bands as Iced Earth, Lacuna Coil, 3 Inches of Blood, and Arch Enemy.
Not to be outdone, mere hours after his former bandmates' news hit the Internet, Geoff Tate announced the title and release date of his "Queensryche's" new album. The "Tateryche" album, titled Frequency Unknown, contained 10 new songs, plus four newly-recorded versions of Queensryche classics as "bonus tracks." Tate's camp also revealed the cover art to the new album... a fist wearing prominent metal rings shaped like an "F" and a "U." Real classy, Geoff.
"COLD" From "Frequency Unknown"
Breaking the Silence...
The release of Frequency Unknown was followed by two bizarre turns of events: first, mere days after F.U. hit store shelves, Cleopatra Records suddenly announced that the album had been newly remixed and that any record buyers who were unsatisfied with the sound quality of their CD would simply have to e-mail a scan of their store receipt showing proof of purchase and the label would mail them the remixed version free of charge. (It must be noted that I sent in my receipt for a "remixed" copy and received a new disc, but honestly, even after playing both CDs back to back I could not detect any sonic differences between the two. Make of that what you will, I guess.)
Second, Geoff Tate challenged those who negatively reviewed the Frequency Unknown CD online to "stop hiding behind their computer keyboards and smart phones" and stand behind their words by posting a "video rant" on YouTube telling Geoff how much they hate the album. Geoff would then choose the winning video and will treat the uploader to an all expenses paid trip to see his version of Queensryche live in Seattle at the end of June 2013. The winner was to receive all access passes to the show, take part in a meet-and-greet session with the band, and receive a "goody bag" of Queensryche merchandise that the winner could "either burn - or wear in style!" I'm not exactly sure how this promotion turned out or what it was supposed to prove, exactly, but I have to admit, it was a unique way to turn things around on the online-hater community.
While Geoff continued his Operation: Mindcrime anniversary tour, taunted his haters and replaced a few more band members, the Todd LaTorre fronted version of the band unveiled the cover and track listing to their album in late April 2013. Drummer Scott Rockenfield said of the self-titled album, "this gets said often by a lot of bands, but we have recorded some of our finest music in years...the addition of Todd has revitalized this band in ways we never knew."
On May 1st, 2013, the first-week sales for Frequency Unknown were revealed. The album sold approximately 5,500 copies in the U.S. during the first seven days of its release, achieving a rank of #82 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. Frequency Unknown sold slightly less than in its first week than 2011's Dedicated to Chaos (approx. 8,000 copies) and its number is a far cry from the first-week sales of 2009's American Soldier (21,000) and 2006's Operation: Mindrime II (44,000).
The self titled Queensryche album by the LaTorre lineup was released on June 25th and its first-week sales were revealed on July 3rd. The album moved approximately 13,500 copies during its first week in stores, reaching the #23 position on Billboard.
So in other words... that Washington State judge was correct, the market had indeed sorted things out, and the fans were voting for the LaTorre fronted lineup with their wallets.
At Last...There Can Be Only One!!
On April 28, 2014, both sides of the Queensryche battle announced that they'd settled their differences without taking things into court, ending nearly two years of animosity and mud slinging.
According to the Seattle Times, Geoff Tate and his former bandmates reached an agreement that officially makes the LaTorre-fronted band "the sole entity recording and touring as Queensryche." In exchange, Tate has been given the exclusive rights to stage "complete" live concert performances of the Operation Mindcrime I and II rock operas (Queensryche can continue to play individual songs from those albums in their live sets, but cannot perform either album in its entirety). Tate described this as similar to Pink Floyd's situation when Roger Waters was given exclusive performance rights to The Wall when he split from the band. "Mindcrime was my thing and my story, so it's appropriate that I keep that."
Tate embarked on a brief "farewell" concert tour under the Queensryche banner in August 2014 to fulfill concert commitments that he'd already booked prior to the settlement. At the conclusion of that tour, he changed the name of his band to "Operation Mindcrime."
Tate's Operation Mindcrime unleashed The Key - the first in a planned trilogy of concept albums -- via Italy's Frontiers Records on September 18th. The first single, "Re-Inventing the Future," certainly sounded better and more ambitious than anything from Frequency Unknown.
Geoff Tate's Operation Mindcrime: "Re-Inventing The Future"
Queensryche, meanwhile, selected Condition Human as the title for their upcoming new album, which was released via Century Media Records on October 2nd, 2015 The album was produced by Chris "Zeuss" Harris and its first single release was "Arrow of Time."
Operation: Mindcrime released their second album, Resurrection, in September 2016. As of this writing (February 2017), Queensryche are writing new songs for their third album with Todd La Torre, but no release date for their next disc has been announced.
"Arrow of Time" from "Condition Human"
Summing it up
Obviously it's been a fairly bizarre couple of years for all of the musicians involved in this drama, but it looks like both sides have put the past behind them and are now ready to continue forging ahead doing what they do best - create and perform music. We wish them all the best in their future endeavors.
Queensryche Select Discography...
Queensryche (EP) - 206 Records, 1982 (re-issued by EMI in 1983)
The Warning - EMI, 1984
Rage For Order - EMI, 1986
Operation: Mindcrime - EMI, 1988
Empire - EMI, 1990
Operation: LIVEcrime - EMI, 1991
Promised Land - EMI, 1995
Hear In The Now Frontier - EMI, 1997
Q2K - Atlantic, 1999
Live Evolution - Sanctuary, 2001
Tribe - Sanctuary, 2002
The Art Of Live - Sanctuary, 2004
Operation: Mindcrime II - Rhino, 2006
Mindcrime at the Moore - Rhino, 2007
Take Cover - Rhino, 2007
Sign of the Times: The Best of Queensryche - Capitol, 2007
American Soldier - Rhino, 2009
Dedicated To Chaos - Loud & Proud, 2011
Frequency Unknown (Tate lineup) - Cleopatra, 2013
Queensryche (LaTorre lineup) - Century Media, 2013
Condition Human - Century Media, 2015
Geoff Tate Solo Discography:
Geoff Tate - Sanctuary, 2002
Kings and Thieves - InsideOut Music, 2012
Geoff Tate with Operation: Mindcrime:
The Key - Frontiers Music, 2015
Resurrection - Frontiers Music, 2016