When I was a teenager, I filled notebooks with annotations for the lyrics to Operation: Mindcrime, the third album by Queensrÿche. I lined up four hours before doors opened (and three hours before anyone else showed up) to see them play at a theatre in Kentucky. I even listened to my CD copies of Hear in the Now Frontier and Q2k—that is, the bad Queensrÿche albums—on a regular basis. I was obsessed.
Queensrÿche represented everything I wanted from a band. They displayed the same grace and power as Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, but they carried the instrumental sophistication of my prog-rock obsessions, Rush and Genesis, too. And they were political. While Operation: Mindcrime doesn't seem so progressive today, its anarchist message seemed profound and daring at the time, especially considering that it fought Mötley Cre and Guns N' Roses for MTV play. I was used to hearing Ronnie James Dio sing about dragons and rainbows. Metal that seemed concerned with real social issues? Please.
But I don't spend much time with the Queensrÿche discography these days, and it's not that their classic albums have aged poorly. The Warning, Rage for Order and Mindcrime remain irrefutable classics of early American progressive metal; Empire is better than most any other album by '80s metal royalty chasing '90s airplay. It's that, in 2014, Queensrÿche has become profoundly and institutionally pathetic.
On Aug. 13, Geoff Tate's Queensrÿche or Queensrÿche Starring Geoff Tate The Original Voice visits the Lincoln Theatre. What's with the clumsy aliases, you ask? For the last two years, while Tate and his former bandmates fought over naming rights in court, two versions of Queensrÿche have toured under opposing aliases. The proceedings were ugly, rife with accusations of nepotism and recollections of backstage fistfights. The parties have recently reached a settlement: At the conclusion of Tate's current tour, he will no longer be able to use the Queensrÿche name. He'll be the only person allowed to perform Mindcrime in full. Even compared against the high bars set for heavy metal sadness by The Osbournes and Anvil! The Story of Anvil, Queensrÿche has become a next-level joke.
The music has been dire, too. Both versions of Queensrÿche released new LPs in 2013, neither of which I've been able to make it through completely. The Tate version pursues the more hard-rock-edged adult contemporary of late '90s Queensrÿche, while the other formation, featuring former Crimson Glory scab Todd La Torre, resembles an '80s Rÿche tribute band finally writing original material.
I don't usually outgrow bands, so it's awkward to feel this way about Queensrÿche. I don't want to seem like someone saying you shouldn't see them only because they're washed up, either. That's true, but there's something sadder here. At their peak, Queensrÿche were a cult metal band. Empire earned them a few years of mainstream attention, but that faded after the uneven Promised Land LP. A Google search for Queensrÿche now turns up as many results about their acrimonious split as it does links to hear their music. They could have been Metal Church or Grim Reaper, content to work the nostalgia circuit with a revolving door of non-original members, playing great old songs for people (like me) who still want to hear them. Instead, they tried to spin their own turmoil into press release gold, like Some Kind of Monster done by a band that could never have been as big as Metallica.
The plan has backfired spectacularly. Two Queensrÿches have weaseled their way into some limelight and withered beneath its glare. The last time I skipped a La Torre Queensrÿche show, it was at a motocross practice track in rural Indiana. The last time I skipped a Tate show, it was at a casino. These smudged facsimiles of Queensrÿche have only their own hubris to blame. I want to believe that someday there will be a version of this band I want to see. But now, even with two touring options, I can't imagine that scenario.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Time crimes."