Never being ones to play it safe, Queensryche spent the ’90s courting commercial rock, with varying degrees of success. Empire was a platinum masterpiece, and Promised Land was a worthy dark follow-up. After Hear in the Now Frontier‘s release, band co-founder and chief songwriter Chris DeGarmo left the band and the four remaining members were left to pick up the pieces. Q2K was their first post-DeGarmo release and it was ignored commercially and critically despite being, honestly, not that bad. But the time was clearly ripe for changes (any QR fans catch that reference?), and the band decided to veer closer to the hard rock and metal of their formative years with their effective and moderately successful 2003 release, Tribe. DeGarmo even returned to help pen a few of the tracks.
From the first few seconds of “Open,” it’s clear the band’s back to basics. Though slower than their Iron Maiden-inspired early ’80s releases, it’s got a similar uncompromising certainty. This is confident metal played with an intellectual bent. Geoff Tate, lead singer, is an operatic powerhouse that, in his heyday, made even Bruce Dickinson look like he was holding back. Nowadays, his range is somewhat more limited, but the man can still carry a tune with stunning clarity. As good as the guitars of Michael Wilton and newcomer Mike Stone are, it’s Tate’s dynamic vocals and emotional delivery that really make the songs fire on all cylinders. Oddly enough, the chorus of “Open” is a bit of a letdown after the fist pumping bravado of the verse’s riff.
“Losing Myself” and “Desert Dance” are both decent rock tracks, but they don’t live up to the potential of that main riff in “Open” either. Even so, they’re still worthwhile tunes, influenced heavily by world music and, with the energy of drummer Scott Rockenfield, they still shine. “Falling Behind” is the first attempt at a meaningful ballad, but it ends up being the least interesting song on the disc thanks to, of all things, uninspired lyrics. This is an unusual shortcoming for a Queensryche song, but it’s true.
Thenext six songs make up for this faltering step. “The Great Divide” is a great rock song with swelling guitars and a hard bass line leading the charge. Lyrically, it’s the strongest song of the record, with Tate reminiscing about how we, as Americans, must re-evaluate our lives, our goals, and our relationship with the country in which we live post-9/11. It’s a pretty hefty topic for a simple rock song, but Queensryche were not branded “The Thinking Man’s Metal Band” for nothing.
“Rhythm of Hope” continues the lyrical theme of “The Great Divide” and provides an equally entertaining ballad with some really soulful singing from Tate. The title track is next, and it features a skull pounding riff and some rare spoken word vocals. “Blood” is a nicely disturbing little ditty that’s not exactly a rocker, but neither is it a ballad. Tate’s vocals are understated here, but some nice harmonizing over the chorus make it great for a headphone listen.
The greatest song on this disc, and probably the least likely to ever be included in a Greatest Hits compilation, is “The Art of Life.” Featuring the twin guitar attack QR perfected in the ’80s, this track carries a seriously tense air, with Tate once again using a spoken word style to ponder life’s philosophy. The vibe here is tremendous, and although the rest of the disc is strong, it’s here that the viewer really remembers that they are listening to a Queensryche album. This is truly a metal masterpiece and gets a couple spins from my CD player every week.
Tribe closes with “Doin’ Fine,” an uplifting pop rock ballad that doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the disc. A special note is warranted here: Queensryche have developed a sort of reputation regarding the final song on each of their discs. The Warning had “Road to Madness”; Rage For Order had “I Will Remember”; Operation: Mindcrime had “Eyes of a Stranger”; Empire had “Anybody Listening?”; Promised Land had “Someone Else?”; Hear in the Now Frontier had “spOOL.” Even Q2K had “The Right Side of My Mind.” So it’s odd that “Doin’ Fine” is the final track on Tribe. It’s simple, it’s catchy, it’s thoughtful, but the depth of the previous releases just isn’t here.
That being said, Tribe was a much needed return to form after a string of releases that just didn’t live up to fan expectations. With a few years’ time to look back upon, Tribe earns itself a well deserved spot in the upper deck of Queensryche’s releases.