There are few things that unite the Metal community so much as a healthy hatred for a shitty album. Metalheads are still blasting CELTIC FROST’s “Cold Lake” over beers a quarter-century following its release, as similarly has been the case for METALLICA’s “St. Anger”. More recently- and especially since social media took off- these love-to-hate-‘em records seem to become social events; there were jokes and memes aplenty about the infamous “Ilud Divinum Insanus” by MORBID ANGEL, or “Lulu” by (again) METALLICA. Although there’s no doubt that these black-marked records indeed deserve the flak and lambast they’ve received, I’ve gotten the impression that such overwhelming and ubiquitous vitriol for an album can lead to a herd effect, where listeners will despise a record before it’s even released. I’ve seen “Frequency Unknown” called everything from ‘Pop Rock trash’ to ‘the worst album ever made’, and though this Geoff Tate-dominated offshoot of the original QUEENSRYCHE is little-deserving of praise, the album is not nearly as atrocious as some of the more adamant naysayers might have us believe. Unless you’re dead set on comparing “Frequency Unknown” to the work of the band’s heyday, there’s little of an overtly offensive nature to be heard here. It’s sterile, shallow and completely harmless, and in a way, that’s a fate far worse than the atrocity fans prematurely made it out to be; at least then, I may have felt something from this.
QUEENSRYCHE- or, as I will refer to this project henceforth in the review, TATERYCHE- has been the subject of some controversy in the recent months. The stories of threats at knifepoint, business squabbles and total artistic meltdown could easily be adapted as a film or critically-acclaimed television series. I could write paragraphs on the drama alone, but the important thing is that two QUEENSRYCHEs have emerged from the ashes, one being the ‘real’ QUEENSRYCHE, the other being longtime vocalist Geoff Tate and a revolving door of musicians to play under him. In this sense, it’s sort of like what happened with the two RHAPSODY OF FIREs, although they never let the drama get overtop of the music. Although it’s yet to be seen what the real QUEENSRYCHE will do under these new terms, TATERYCHE has embraced this drama and anger to the point where it has become the music. The album’s initials (“F.U.”) are as subtle as bolded caps-lock, and the lyrics make no effort to veil Tate’s bitterness. The album’s six-week production cycle seems rushed only to have an album out before the opposition. Ultimately, it’s impossible to regard the album without its dubious context, and though it pains me to say as a lifelong QUEENSRYCHE fan, there would be no reason to check out this album were it not for the circumstances around it.
There is little surprise in “Frequency Unknown”s musical direction. 2011’s “Dedicated to Chaos” was a pretty awful result of Tate’s desire to take the band down a more commercially viable and Rock-oriented direction. Although it may sound hopeful to call “Frequency Unknown” a step up from that dismal low, there’s not a great deal separating this from radio rock detritus. Modern Rock radio is indeed a good place to reference when thinking of QUEENSRYCHE in this latest incarnation. Concise riffs, generic guitar solos and an autistic focus on choruses define the approach to songwriting here. The only thing that really distinguishes this from a hit single is the fact that the songs here are nowhere near memorable or catchy enough to be worth the airwaves. Though there are a couple of fortunately notable exceptions to the rule, “Frequency Unknown” sits in that ugly place where the mainstream goes wrong. It’s not even catchy in a bad way like REBECCA BLACK’s “Friday” (remember that one?) or “Gangnam Style”. It’s simply by-the-numbers rock. Although the backing musicians (particularly bassist Rudy Sarzo) are talented, there’s either the sense that they were given no artistic license to express themselves, or no time to express themselves effectively. The guitar solos- while functional- sound sloppy, as if they were the first or second cut of an improvised noodling.
Thankfully, a few songs stand out. Although “Cold” is as conventional and by-the-numbers as it gets, it’s an enjoyable tune that oddly reminds me somehow of KAMELOT, sans their symphonic element. “The Weight of the World” ends the album on a surprisingly progressive element, slowing down the pace and letting a drama and atmosphere, however bland, to build up as the album ends. Without a doubt however, the album’s highlight and one truly enjoyable offering is “In the Hands of God”, an eerie and exotic track that recalls their underrated album “Promised Land”. If you’ve had the magnanimous fortune to come across a ‘special edition’ copy of the album, Geoff Tate includes a few re-recorded versions of QUEENSRYCHE classics. It’s really here where you get the impression how objectively inferior TATERYCHE is, especially when compared to the 1980s golden days. Tate himself has stated that these covers were only recorded for the healthy cash bonus included, and they sound just as impassionate as you would suspect. On these covers and the album as a whole, Tate’s voice remains distinctive, but it’s clear he retains a fraction of the range he once did. “I Don’t Believe In Love” is particularly criminal; he can’t hit notes and makes no effort to adapt the arrangement accordingly. Covers- even under the bleak auspices of TATERYCHE- could have conceivably worked, but only if they had done something fresh with them. Had I been there, I could have made the suggestion to do some down-to-earth unplugged covers. Unfortunately, the re-recorded versions are all the more explicit a reminder that this is no longer QUEENSRYCHE we’re dealing with.
If QUEENSRYCHE was Lego, then this (whatever this is) is Mega Bloks. As much as it might try to persuade us otherwise, it’s an inferior version of a better-known, better-loved thing. “Frequency Unknown” does get some things right, but there are too many weaknesses for it to be enjoyable. A rough, unfinished production mix (that has since been moderately improved), unimaginative musicianship and painfully conventional songwriting keep TATERYCHE from rising above the silly drama and context. Bitterness can sometimes translate into great art, but at this point, it seems bitterness is the only thing Tate has left. “Frequency Unknown” is not the end-all disasterpiece that some people may have hoped it would be, but there isn’t much of a redeeming value here. I do retain a shred of hope that TATERYCHE might be able to come unto its own and do something interesting, but after seeing how low the QUEENSRYCHE name has been dragged over the past decade, I wouldn’t be surprised future work is stained with equal disappointment and apathy. What I’m most excited for is to see what the other ‘ryche will do now. If they manage to come out with anything resembling a solid record, then this schism will have been for the best. As far as Mr. Tate is concerned however, it may be best to focus on memories of better days gone past.
(Online May 27, 2013)