Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Commentary: One Rÿche to Rule Them All!

“No more suffocation, my true vindication, ascending from all the remains...”

So it's been a while since I made a blog entry, and you probably knew it was coming. My readers know me too well.

At long last, the two-year-long ongoing soap opera of “All my Queensrÿches” has finally come to an end. It's been a long road for everyone: the band, the fans, and former vocalist Geoff Tate. After several court date changes, everyone agreed on a settlement which, according to this article from the Seattle Times states the following conditions:
  • The band lineup of Michael Wilton, Scott Rockenfield, Eddie Jackson, Todd LaTorre, and Parker Lundgren “will now be the sole band recording and touring as Queensrÿche”. (Which means that THIS is the “One and Only” version; there will be no more “Todd LaTorre version” or “Geoff Tate version” from here on out. When you hear the name “Queensrÿche”, it will be in reference to this lineup and no one else!)
  • Geoff Tate must now perform his solo projects under his own name or another band name if he so chooses; however, he has retained the rights to the Operation: Mindcrime saga and has the right to perform either or both albums in their entirety. (Which means that while Queensrÿche can play these songs too, they will not be allowed to perform the albums in consecutive order as they have done in the past.)

There is more in the article about the near-future plans of each entity and their statements about all of this being over, which you can read by clicking the link I provided above.

Some other facts and figures, according to the band's recent press statement:

  • Geoff Tate will no longer be allowed to make use of the tri-ryche logo or related images in any of his future projects (outside of anything having to do with Operation: Mindcrime).
  • Geoff Tate will also be allowed to refer to himself as “the original voice of Queensrÿche”, or “the former vocalist of Queensrÿche” for the next 2 years. Whenever he promotes himself, aforementioned text must be at least 50% smaller than his own name in these advertisements.
  • After the two years have expired, Geoff Tate must refer to himself by his own name, with no mention of Queensrÿche whatsoever.
  • Geoff Tate will be allowed to finish out his contractually obligated shows under the Queensrÿche name up until August 31st. As of September 1st, the Queensrÿche name will belong solely to Michael Wilton, Eddie Jackson, Scott Rockenfield, Todd LaTorre, and Parker Lundgren.

One of the many questions I have heard among fans since this has gone down: what about the original Facebook page that was hijacked by the Tates? Does the band get that back, will it be deleted, will it be merged with the band's current page, or will Tate get to keep that? So far, the only answer to this has been on the band's Facebook page, explaining that more will be revealed after the final turnover of the name occurs in September.

Then there are a particular set of questions that fans have also constantly asked throughout this entire ordeal: what about Chris DeGarmo? Does this now open up the possibility of his making a return to Queensrÿche? What is his opinion on the matter, whose side has he been on and does he support the decision? Considering that he has made his living as a pilot for the near-20 years since his departure from the band, it would probably be a safe bet to say no in regards to a reunion with Queensrÿche. But he has been known to do the occasional musical guest spot here and there over the years, so it's anyone's guess as to what may happen. As far as to what he thinks about all of this or where his loyalties lie: only DeGarmo himself could answer that, and it doesn't look like he's talking anytime soon.

Another interesting question that has also come up: what happens to Frequency Unknown, the album that Geoff Tate released under the Queensrÿche name during the time when both parties had equal use of the name? Tate may have exclusive rights to Mindcrime, but because the other bandmembers now have the name, does that mean the Frequency Unknown album has become part of their back catalog? Would they have the right to perform songs from that album if they wanted to? Will future pressings of the album be changed to read “Geoff Tate” instead of “Queensrÿche” (thus turning the original pressing of the album into a sort of collector's item)? Of course most would be inclined to wonder why the band would want anything to do with this album at all; but from a technical standpoint, this is an interesting angle to consider. Again, this is another question that may be answered once the name is officially handed over to the band, but for now, there is no mention of what will become of Frequency Unknown, if anything. (God willing, it will be rendered as part of the settlement that all copies will spontaneously combust as of September 1st!)

Now that we've gotten all the legal bullshit out of the way, let's get to what I do best, which is being opinionated!

I have never made it a secret as to which “side” I took in this entire debacle, so I'm sure I don't need to tell anyone reading this that I'm glad things worked out in the band's favor. Without going into personal detail about certain events that took place as far back as 1999, I will say simply that I saw that the Tates (namely Mrs. Tate) were leading the band down shit creek even then; and while I am no psychic, I cannot say the ultimate turn of events surprised me other than that I expected such an ending a whole lot sooner!

I am also not going to deny that after Chris DeGarmo's departure in late '97/early '98, my interest in the band's music waned considerably with each passing album. I tried to give them a fair shake, but it was clear something was missing. Considering that a majority of the band's earlier work (and most successful songs) were written or co-written by him, I chalked this up to being that he was one of the main songwriters who had a hand in crafting the band's signature sound; therefore without him, the band would suffer a lack of musical direction and it was to be expected. The fact that Tate's lyrical content drifted farther and farther away from the “thinking man's metal” that we knew and loved on albums like Operation: Mindcrime and more towards appealing to the lowest common denominator, it felt as though that the band I once loved was no longer there. 

Basically, I likened them to someone on life support: the body is there and the vital signs check out, but the soul was gone and it was clinically brain-dead. With every new album that passed, I hated to admit to myself that I wished someone would pull the figurative plug because their chance to die with dignity was passing them by. I mourned the loss of one of my favorite bands and moved on to other things. It was easier for me to pretend that Queensrÿche stopped making music after DeGarmo left so that I could continue to love those older albums from 1983 to 1997 without the newer stuff getting in the way of that.

However, as the band muddled through the 2000s, it was impossible as a fan not to wonder how they had gotten this way. How did a band who, just the decade before, went from winning awards left and right and were the darlings of MTV; go to being virtually forgotten in the metal community? It is safe to say that Queensrÿche were one of the forefathers of what would come to be known as symphonic metal, but were hardly ever noted or credited for this. They were seldom ever named as an influence on the genre (if at all), because by the time bands like Nightwish and Kamelot were coming up in the world, Queensrÿche had become so far removed from the movement they had started that many of the younger bands had little to no idea that they were even walking down a path forged by Queensrÿche long ago. A band who was once deemed as “metal for the intelligentsia” were now relegated to playing biker festivals and were a staple on the hair-metal nostalgia circuit; playing alongside the “cars and babes” bands that they worked so hard to always differentiate themselves from. The band had met a sadder fate than any of their conceptual epics could have predicted.

Even if the band was given their proper due for their contributions to power and progressive metal, oftentimes the bulk of the credit was attributed to vocalist Geoff Tate (which, mind you, was not completely unwarranted). An operatically trained vocalist, he was among the handful of frontmen that laid down the groundwork for what would become “opera metal”; so oftentimes when citing the founders of the genre, it was easy to name him as the main component of Queensrÿche's sonic approach. The fact that Chris DeGarmo—Tate's co-songwriter and one of the co-creators of their unique style—had virtually fallen off the face of the earth since his departure from the band made it even easier to give Tate all the accolades for what earned Queensrÿche their status as trailblazers. The fact that Tate took on the bulk of interviews and press statements throughout most of the band's career (almost sharing them evenly with DeGarmo during his years in the band), this made it seem all the more that Queensrÿche was his sole creation and artistic vision. To anyone observing from the outside who did not know anything about Queensrÿche or their history, it all but looked like the other guys in the band were just there to play their instruments, and never contributed a thing to what made their music so special. This couldn't have been further from the truth.

Just when it seemed the story of Queensrÿche would meet an inevitably tragic end, there was a plot twist that no one ever expected, least of all the band themselves. It was a twist that would allow them a chance to redeem themselves, regain their respect, and reclaim their place in metal history. Proving that some things happen purely by luck or by destiny, the stars were aligned when a singer named Todd LaTorre crossed paths with guitarist Michael Wilton at a NAMM convention. What happened afterwards was nothing short of miraculous. I'm not a religious person so I am reluctant to use such terminology, but the word “resurrection” means to rise from the dead; so if I had considered Queensrÿche as dead, then certainly Todd LaTorre was responsible for bringing them back to life.

This is the part of the story that everyone knows; that everyone has talked about endlessly and led us here. We all know about the ultimate meltdown that prompted Geoff Tate's firing. For those fans who were still sticking it out and still supporting the band, they were rewarded by being insulted onstage by Tate such as this incident at Rocklahoma...

For those of you who didn't watch the video, I'll give you a quick recap: Tate tells the audience that they “suck”.

It's not hard to figure out what the rest of the band must have been thinking by this point. Why put up with a guy who will essentially embarrass the rest of them by insulting their fans, when they can hire someone else who they know can sing the songs just as well, and will not be as much of a problem? After all, Geoff Tate was an iconic vocalist for a reason: he has a unique voice and it would be impossible to replace him (which is most likely the main reason they put up with him for all these years and went along with his musical equivalent of a mid-life crisis). Or at least, that's what most people thought until they heard Todd LaTorre for the first time. 

Here was someone that not only sounded like Geoff Tate, but sounded like the Geoff Tate of the early days. Someone who was bringing old-school Queensrÿche back. Someone who could sing the songs that fans have been wanting to hear for years; the songs that Tate no longer had the vocal chops to pull off (or that Tate claimed were too “immature” for him, as he wrote such compelling pieces with titles like “Wot we Do”). For the latter part of his last decade in the band, Tate seemed more interested in hocking cheap wine than in singing onstage. After years of fans putting up with cheesy cabaret shows, clichéd lyrical content, and hackneyed concept albums, Todd was winning over the disillusioned fans such as myself, and reminding us all of why we loved Queensrÿche in the first place.

Now that they were reclaiming their lost fans, it was time for them to reclaim their rightful place in metaldom. It was time to take back their place among the legends, and show the whipper-snappers out there just how it was done.

However, when you are a band who has existed for over 30 years, you are going to have fans who have been a part of that success for just as long, and we humans are creatures of habit. Much as many fans welcomed the change, there were just as many who were outraged by it. After all, Geoff Tate was not such a legendary vocalist without merit. There's no denying that in the world of metal, at one time he was right up there with the Dickinsons and the Halfords. So when the news broke of the split, fans who felt that Tate's voice was the primary attribute that separated Queensrÿche from all the other metal bands also felt that the band was committing career suicide and that Geoff Tate WAS Queensrÿche.

When the legal battle for the band's name first became public knowledge, many people felt the remaining bandmembers were fighting a losing battle and that it was a no-brainer that not only would Tate get the name, but that he deserved it because it was his voice that made them unique (this opinion was shared across the board by many longtime fans and so-called “rock journalists” alike). Other fans felt that neither party should continue with the name, and just go their separate ways and finally put Queensrÿche to rest, as they should have done long ago. I admit that I was one of these fans at first. The way I saw it, the band was already going around as Rising West and getting good buzz from the fanbase, and Tate was already out there promoting his solo album, Kings & Thieves, under his own name. So this was the perfect opportunity, I thought, for both parties to just let Queensrÿche go and for everybody to move on with a clean slate.

However, as we all came to find out as time went on, the issue about the name became less about practicality and more about principle. Needless to say, the band and Todd LaTorre had the odds stacked against them and had a lot to prove. It was time for them to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

As those first few months with Todd passed and the band began to prove their worth onstage, public opinion started to shift. As certain private details about the band's final days with Tate became public, people began to reconsider their stance on the issue. With every show they played with Todd LaTorre, the remaining members of Queensrÿche were winning over both the fans who thought they'd lost interest long ago, as well as fans who thought they were so certain that they could never accept anything less than Geoff Tate.

On the one hand, the fight for the Queensrÿche name brought both parties public attention again; but on the other, it was for all the wrong reasons. As a result, many reviewers and journalists out there felt inclined to weigh in on the hot topic, but many of them had little to no knowledge of the band, or had not kept up on what the band had been up to since their heyday in the early '90s. So a lot of the information being put out there was not entirely accurate, or coming from a very skewed angle. Boundaries were clearly marked, and soon it became the battle of the “Geoff Tate version” versus the “Todd LaTorre version” of Queensrÿche.

Since this IS an editorial, meaning this is written purely from opinion, let me just state for the record that I *hated* when the original bandmembers were referred to as “the Todd LaTorre version of Queensrÿche”. That reference made it sound as if Todd LaTorre had just formed a band from thin air, decided to call it Queensrÿche, and that no one who was part of the original lineup had any involvement at all. By having such a label slapped on them, the bandmembers' contributions were being downplayed and dismissed once again, and further perpetuated the myth that Geoff Tate was the prime mover in all that made Queensrÿche successful.

On the same token, the brand that was called “the Geoff Tate version” had the opposite effect: hired musicians that had never been part of the Queensrÿche lineup during his years in the band or had never contributed to a note of music the band had written were now referred to as members of Queensrÿche; when in reality, the only member of Tate's band who could legitimately make this claim was Kelly Gray, who replaced Chris DeGarmo from '98 to the early 2000s. This is not to say that Tate's new bandmembers were not talented and did not deserve respect for doing their jobs, but to call them members of Queensrÿche? That may have been a bit of a stretch even for fans who were truly supportive of Tate as an artist (i.e., not just rabid blind followers of whatever he was doing simply because he was Geoff Tate).

Because of this, confusion ran rampant on both sides. You'd think that in this day and age of being able to find anything with a quick Google or Wikipedia search, that anyone buying tickets to a Queensrÿche show would be aware of which one they were going to see; but in some cases the internet made things more difficult for the casual fans to figure out what the hell was going on. First, there was the issue of Geoff Tate and his wife stealing the original Queensrÿche Facebook page from the other guys upon his firing; causing them to open up a brand new one of their own. So many people going to the original page looking for the band now featuring Todd LaTorre were promptly banned from the page just for asking innocent questions. Likewise, the Tate fans who could not let things go were known (and are still known) to stalk the band's new page with taunts about how they aren't as good without Tate, and calling them a “cheap cover band” (maybe these fans just aren't familiar with what the term actually means: a cover band is normally defined as a group of musicians playing songs that they did not originally write or perform on...but I digress!).

Even professional websites selling concert tickets seemed to play into the confusion by listing shows for one band and showing a group photo of the other version. The band had to constantly reiterate on their Facebook page that if it wasn't listed there, then it wasn't their show. Yet that still didn't stop many people wishing to hear Todd LaTorre ending up at a Geoff Tate performance instead (or vice-versa). Well-intentioned friends or family members who knew nothing about the band would buy tickets for the Queensrÿche fan in their lives; completely unaware that there were two different versions (or which one their loved one might want to see), unknowingly forcing the recipient of their gift to sit through a show they might not have wanted to see. One could only liken this madness as being similar to what happens when someone steps on an anthill.

Yet through all of this, the band continued to press on; and what might have been impossible hurdles to conquer for most other bands, Queensrÿche plowed them right down with nothing more than the strength of their music...just as they once did back before personal conflicts overshadowed everything. Their self-titled album with Todd LaTorre was a glorious return to form, and the listeners agreed: first-week albums sales scored them a #23 position on the Billboard charts. That might not seem like much, but when is the last time you can remember Queensrÿche on the Billboard charts at all?

However, things did not appear to fare so well for Geoff Tate. His album under the Queensrÿche name, Frequency Unknown, barely cracked the Billboard 100. Not only did one practically have to give copies away, but even the record label tried to turn a negative into a positive by holding a contest based on how much fans hated Frequency Unknown. This was probably the most enthusiasm fans showed for what Geoff Tate was doing; they could hardly wait to upload their videos to YouTube and express to the world what a pile of steaming crap they believed Frequency Unknown to be.

In case you didn't watch this video, this is basically Geoff Tate's reaction to the many videos sent in. It's probably a good time to note that his overall reaction to these videos exemplify the blatant denial and total arrogance that many fans believe has been the downfall of the band over the last decade.

So by the time the issue with the name was finally hashed out, it went without saying that both parties had experienced their highs and lows and were probably all equally anxious to get it over with and move on. In the end, the final decision is win-win for everyone, far as I see it. Tate gets to keep his rights to Operation: Mindcrime, of which the story is his intellectual property. Likewise, the other guys get to keep the name of the band that they formed long before Geoff Tate ever became a part of it (for those of you who don't know your Rÿche history, Geoff Tate was the last member of the band to join). Everyone walks away with something, even if it isn't everything they want.

But, a band breakup is not too unlike a divorce; the fans being the figurative “children” caught in the middle. While the bandmembers have each started the new chapters of their careers, the fans still remain divided and probably always will be. It may take a long time and a lot of water under the bridge before the fans can reconcile their bitter feelings about the breakup (no matter which side they have taken), but that gives both parties a reason to try harder and do better on their next projects.

For all the biased opinion I have shown here, I honestly do wish Geoff Tate well in his future endeavors. Who knows? Maybe one day he will make music that I'll be interested in hearing. I, for one, would love to see him make a return to the thought-provoking lyrics he was once known for. But no matter what he does in the future, hopefully now that he is on his own he will do what makes him happy and that's what is most important; not whether I like it or not.

As for Queensrÿche, I look forward to hearing what they've got in store now that this debacle is behind them and they can carry on towards their future with Todd LaTorre. No doubt many fans have attributed the success of the previous album to the controversy that surrounded them; so it will be great for them to get back to what they were once known for, which is silencing the naysayers by making amazing music on their own terms. I have missed that most of all in the music over the last 15 years, so now that they do not have this hanging over their heads anymore, they are completely free to make music with a clear head and an open heart. While some believe it is strife and tension that makes for the best music, I think the story of Queensrÿche has suffered through enough of that more often than not over the last decade. It's time for them to get back to a good place again; and for the fans who have stuck through the ups and downs with them, it's time for us to enjoy the ride along with them.

Let us all rejoice, for there is only one Queensrÿche!

Video by Rik Johnston; link provided courtesy of Shelly Error-Ribe

*Editor's note: Apologies for the tags below; for some reason Blogger categorizes them in alphabetical order and not the way that I actually placed them, which was by band name first! Sorry for the inconvenience.