Queensryche’s fourth studio release is essentially their equivalent of the Black Album in their discography. It achieved a great deal of commercial success thanks to a combination of strong hit singles and an even more accessible sound. But whether you see Empire as the last good Queensryche album or the beginning of the end, it’s definitely not the sellout that some have made it out to be.
Aside from the obvious lack of story elements, Empire only differ from Operation: Mindcrime in that its production job is more polished and the speed metal influence is completely absent. Fortunately, nothing sounds dumbed down as the band’s kept their tricky rhythms and sophisticated air. If anything, the album has a lot more in common with the stuff that Rush was putting out in the early 80s than anything that was going in 1990.
The polished production job also has the added benefit of accentuating what just might be the band’s tightest and most balanced performance to date. Like Mindcrime before it, every member stands out as the bass frequently drives songs like “Jet City Woman” and “Della Brown” while the vocals opt for a lower range on “The Thin Line” and “Hand On Heart.” In addition, the guitars have a nice shine to them, the drums have a few nifty patterns, and a few dated keyboard effects shake things up on the super motivational “Best I Can.”
And despite that lack of a grand concept, the lyrics are still pretty well written. Most of the songs on here are about relationships but rise above your typical butt rock fare thanks to their focus on a mix of passion, longing, and nostalgia. A few political remnants pop up on the title track and “Resistance” while “Della Brown” predicts the next album with its discussion on fleeting stardom and “Silent Lucidity” matches “Comfortably Numb” worship with the topic of lucid dreaming.
Like Moving Pictures before it, Queensryche’s fourth studio album opts for a more accessible sound while still keeping a good head on their shoulders. The singles may not hit as hard as some of the Mindcrime staples but they carry themselves well and much smarter than their Lowest Common Denominator recognition would have you believe. I’d still recommend one of their older albums to a seasoned prog or metal fan, but I think your mom will love it.
“Best I Can”
“Jet City Woman”
“Another Rainy Night (Without You)”