When long-standing bands change singers, it’s generally never a good thing. That’s usually a symbol of decline, that the meaty years are over, and that desperation has set in. It seems other positions can be switched out, like guitarists, bassists, drummers, and things can go smoothly. For the most part. A singer change almost never ends up as a positive.
That said, why the hell did Queensryche wait so long to part ways with Geoff Tate? He’s been the epitome of badness for more than a decade now, turning in flat, emotionless vocal performances, with nary a hint of the razor-sharp, high-pitched wail he used to possess. At one time, Tate was one of the greatest, most dynamic, most charismatic singers in heavy metal, but some time after their heyday with “Empire,” he unraveled and hasn’t been the same since. It was a shocking decline that happened so fast. The band hasn’t been the same since, and they’ve put out some downright putrid albums. Only 1994’s “Promised Land” possessed anything approaching listenable vocals, though the rest of the material was sub-par, and after that, it was the pits with that band. I take no great pleasure saying this either, as Queensryche made two of my favorite albums ever — “Rage for Order” and life-changing “Operation: Mindcrime” — and were a gateway to heavier music for me. Their fall pains me greatly.
Most of the reason the music sounded so lifeless of late was Tate. He was a shell of his former self. I saw them live in 2000 opening for Iron Maiden and was blown away by how much of the group’s live act depended on pre-recorded high vocals since it was obvious the frontman could not hit those notes anymore. That was an eye-opener. Since then, I’ve taken a chance to listen to at least some of the band’s more recent records, and none have approached passable. “Operation: Mindcrime II” should not exist. Ronnie James Dio’s appearance aside, I do not acknowledge it. “Tribe” is an abomination. Finally, everything came to a head this past year when the band and Tate allegedly had a physical altercation in Brazil.It was said threats were made, perhaps weapons made an appearance, and Tate found himself out of the band. He, of course, protested that decision and decided to carry on with his own version of Queensryche. The other members did the same, replacing Tate with Todd La Torre. It’s all a big fucking mess.
Over the summer, a video that acted as a promotional tool for Tate’s revived solo career popped up online, and it was desperate and pathetic. It screamed mid-life crisis. It practically required promotional shots with Tate dressed in Tap Out gear, it was that silly. It was the Tom Cruise Scientology video of metal. Then came a new tour and a new album “Kings & Thieves,” released on Century Media’s prog-centered Inside Out imprint. My hopes and expectations were as low as you can imagine, and Tate still managed to find a way to disappoint me with his artistic output.
One of the things with which Tate accused his former Queensryche mates was that he was responsible for all the musical material as of late and they brought nothing substantive to the table. They disagreed and said their ideas were voted down for Tate’s much-worse compositions. I wasn’t around to hear these two parties’ ideas pitted against each other, but if I have to judge based on “Kings & Thieves,” my guess is Tate is a liar. This record isn’t just bad. It’s the worst metal album of 2012, bar none. It’s practically impossible to handle the whole way through, but somehow I managed. Barely.
Tate’s voice remains lifeless. He can’t hit the high notes at all, and when he tries, his voice just fades into an uncomfortable, off-key moan. His lyrics are embarrassing, out of touch, misplaced, and very, very creepy. He tries to spark sensuality in a song like “Say U Luv It” — and can we quit with the improperly misspelled song titles, for fuck’s sake? — but he sounds more like a guy who should be on a sexual predator list. He sounds old and borderline criminal, at least based on the lyrics. Tate is 53 and pretty damn smart. He can do better than this, at least lyrically.
“The Way I Roll,” a saying reserved for old folks who think they’re up to speed on the way kids talk but are like a decade behind, is humiliating. It’s Tate trying to convince you he’s an edgy, bad guy, and he loves danger. Sometimes he stays up all the way until 11 p.m.! Stay out of his way! It’s like some guy at the bar talking your ear off about his modern misadventures, and you know none of his stories are true. It makes him sound like a sad old man clinging ever so desperately to his youth. “Evil” is another song where he’s trying to be a bad ass. Plus the song has unnecessary, weird vocal effects. Ballad “Change” just doesn’t work at all.
“Tomorrow” is a breezy mid-tempo cut, but wow does Tate just strangle the song with his vocals. You know how sometimes you’ll hear someone sing karaoke and in your head you’re like, “That guys needs to come down a few registers. He’s killing himself up there.” How did anyone hear these vocals and find them acceptable for release? Terrible song. He struggles like crazy on “Dark Money,” and it’s another example where his voice just won’t let him do what he was capable of doing 20 years ago. It’s tough to hear. The harmony behind “These Glory Days” defines tone deaf. Who OK’d this?
OK, let’s be nice? Car crash opener “She Slipped Away” isn’t pure torture. Tate goes lower and deeper and sounds fine, but there are more stupid effects that just pop in, and it’s not all that memorable. But it didn’t turn my stomach. And that’s it. That’s where any hint of a compliment ends.
It’s not my business to demand Tate retire and stop making a fool of himself. That’s up to him, and he’s earned that right. He doesn’t need a moron like me giving him career advice. That said, it can only get worse from here unless Tate has a miraculous recovery vocally, which just doesn’t happen at his age. This is a sad, misguided tragedy of an album that encapsulates just how far Tate has fallen. Avoid this album at all costs, if you know what’s good for you.
For more on the band, go here: http://geofftate.com/
To buy the album, go here: http://www.insideoutmusic.com/
For more on the label, go here: http://www.insideoutshop.de/Item/Geoff_Tate_-_Kings_-_Thieves_-Ltd-_Edition-/15833