Twenty years ago, Empire and its best known hit song, “Silent Lucidity” was my introduction to Bellevue, Washington’s heavy metal/prog metal band Queensryche. Yes, there were four relatively more raw and less epic albums before it, but this one still soars above the rest for me.
Besides being highly praised by critics at the time, it featured videos constantly in rotation on MTV, including ones for “Jet City Woman” and of course, the gorgeous, grand lullaby that is “Silent Lucidity,” which, with its heart-warming strings (courtesy of Michael Kamen) is still the band’s signature tune.
In 2003, several Queensryche albums were remastered/reissued, with Empire being among them. It included three bonus tracks: the okay midtempo hard rocker “Last Time in Paris,” an excellently produced Simon and Garfunkel cover of “Scarborough Fair” that doesn’t quite fit in here, and the fairly decent and sleazy “Dirty Lil Secret.”
EMI re-released this triple-platinum (fifth) album yet again this month, but it has been expanded with a live show on a second disc, and also comes with five postcards, a fold-out poster, and rare band photos, all in a cool-looking and sturdy lift-top box.
It’s a big upgrade to my cassette tape (which is now in the trash bin), and the album as a whole still retains that humongous sound, even if some aspects of it, like the synths on “The Thin Line” sound dated nowadays.
I was never a fan of the vocal harmonies of “Della Brown,” but “Silent Lucidity,” “Best I Can,” “Another Rainy Night (Without You)” and the blissful, Pink Floyd-ish “Anybody Listening?” still showcase the band’s unreal depth of songwriting talent. Guitarist Chris DeGarmo wastes no notes on his carefully constructed leads, particularly on the latter track, and Geoff Tate’s high-pitched vocals throughout Empire are as confident and powerful as any metal singer in his genre.
The most important addition to the 2010 edition of this mini-concept album is the second disc, a 10-song live set recorded November 15, 1990, in London, England.
Queensryche brought the album to life at this show, and also threw in a few oldies, including two from 1984 debut album The Warning (the excellent, heavy metal show closer “Take Hold of the Flame” and the prog metal of “Roads To Madness”) and “Walk In The Shadows” from 1986′s Rage for Order.
The band played a tight, one-hour set, with guitars that had a distorted tone somewhat similar to that of Faith No More. And Tate’s demanding vocals soared above his band just fine—he can be forgiven if he sounded a bit flat at times, like on “Hand On Heart.” And cuts like “Silent Lucidity” got extra color, with a chorus effect having been added to the acoustic guitar parts, as just one example.
Overall, I highly recommend the 20th anniversary edition of Empire to those Queensryche fans who have the original CD or tape but who missed out on the 2003 remastered edition, as those who do already have it don’t need to buy the $20 2010 edition again just for the 10 live tracks, artwork and other aforementioned goodies in this expanded edition.
But to those hard rock and metal fans who never bought this classic album in the first place, first of all, you missed out big time. Now’s your chance to get caught up with this, the most attractive and ultimate package of Empire you’re likely to ever come across.