Frequency Unknown is a missed opportunity.
It’s a missed opportunity because despite all the controversy over joining and departing band members, shoddy mixes, official contests to post the most extreme hate video and of course that provocative album cover, there a few songs on here that are so good that they transcend all that stuff, if you let them do so, and they would have been utterly killer if performed by the Queensryche line-up that existed a year and a half ago. These songs – Life Without You, In The Hands Of God and to a slightly lesser degree Cold – show Geoff Tate making the most of his talents (which include dramatic vocal delivery and a confessional lyrical style) while staying relatively faithful to the established Queensryche style, at least as it existed on later recordings. (It’s interesting to note that Cold and In The Hands Of God were co-written with Lukas Rossi from Rockstar: Supernova).
The rest of the album doesn’t quite get there, with much of it coming off as a muddled mix of half-finished ideas and mechanical production. There are plenty of great guest musicians, including K.K. Downing (ex-Judas Priest), Brad Gillis, Forbidden’s Craig Locicero and former Slayer/Testament drummer Paul Bostaph, Ty Tabor (King’s X), Dave Meniketti (Y&T) and Chris Poland (ex-Megadeth), along with Tateryche band members Kelly Gray, Robert Sarzo, Rudy Sarzo, Simon Wright and Randy Gane. Locicero provides the rhythm guitars throughout, and he infuses the material with a sophisticated, nuanced attack. This is definitely one of the heaviest Queensryche albums, and certainly the heaviest of the post-DeGarmo era.
But Geoff Tate has done himself a disservice here by rushing the material and not letting his version of Queensryche develop a core band sound. For instance, Wright only appears on tracks 1 and 5, with Bostaph on tracks 6 to 9 and Evan Bautista on 2, 3, 4 and 10. As for bass, Rudy Sarzo only plays on three songs, Gane plays on one and producer Jason Slater handles the rest. It’s a talented mix of players, sure, but it also means there’s no real instrumental consistency from track to track aside from Locicero. Hell, even Kelly Gray, who was a member of Queensryche for the Q2K album and worked on and off with them since, only contributes a single guitar solo, not playing rhythm guitar here at all. If Tate wants to reinforce his assertion that he essentially is the band, then I get it. But Queensryche was always about more than Tate. The rhythmic interplay of Eddie Jackson and Scott Rockenfield, the twin-guitar attack of Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton, and perhaps most importantly, the songwriting of DeGarmo.
With Frequency Unknown, Geoff Tate has succeeded in making another latter-day, post-DeGarmo Queensryche album, but we’re also about to hear the new album by the other Queensryche, featuring Wilton, Rockenfield and Jackson as well as Todd La Torre and Parker Lundgren – a stable line-up that frankly includes, pound-for-pound, more key elements of the Queensryche-as-a-band sound than Tate can hope to deliver with his assembly of session musicians.
No, I’m not forgetting the bonus tracks, re-records of I Don’t Believe In Love, Empire, Jet City Woman and Silent Lucidity. But they simply don’t cut it, either against the originals or against the rest of Frequency Unknown, and they represent another missed opportunity to at least get the live line-up onto the album.
KEY TRACKS: Cold, In The Hands Of God, Life Without You
SKIP: Dare, Slave
LISTEN IF YOU LIKE: Queensryche – American Soldier.
By the way, because this is I Heart Guitar, here’s your friendly guide to who plays what solo:
1. Cold – Kelly Gray
2. Dare – (No guitar solo)
3. Give It To You – Robert Sarzo
4. Slave – Chris Cannella
5. In The Hands Of God – Ty Tabor
6. Running Backwards – K.K. Downing
7. Life Without You – Brad Gillis
8. Everything – Ty Tabor
9. Fallen – Dave Meniketti
10. The Weight Of The World – Chris Poland