When you're working over the same ground again and again with heavy equipment, it's tough not to get caught in a rut. But Queensrÿche, a thinking man's metal band from Seattle, dares to be different. They've come up with a strikingly heterogeneous album.
Unlike its popular predecessor Operation: Mindcrime, Empire is not thematically tied. Among the songs are an angry environmental screed, a paean to sadomasochistic passion and the sagas of a determined man confined to a wheelchair by a childhood accident and of a bag lady.
The music ranges around more than the lyrics. The rather gentle "Silent Lucidity." a teenager's lullaby, even gets full orchestration with violins and French horns. The stentorian "Best I Can" sounds like Rush with considerably more guitar heft, courtesy of Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton. "Jet City Woman" rumbles along with a Zeppelinesque slide-guitar slouch.
Admittedly the quintet's ambition vaults them at times into some insufferably stuffy territory, notably "Hand on Heart." But even so, the scope of this record is laudable.
The title track probably comes closest to a sustained head-banging mood. More typical is "The Thin Line," in which an ominous theme gives way to a tender variation, both of which get obliterated in the power dust-off of the chorus. It's those unexpected metal spikes that make Empire so potent. You know the hammer is going to come down, you just don't know when. Brace yourself. (EMI)