Originally Released: August 20, 1990

Guitars & Bass: B+
Percussion: B
Vocals: A-
Lyrics: A
Recording Quality: A
Originality: A+
Overall Rating: A

User Review
0/10 (0 votes)

I’ve always been in search of the “perfect” album. I’m not sure that I’ll ever find that album…heck, who am I fooling…I’m not even sure I can fully define how a “perfect” album would have to play out! However, if I was indeed able to fumble through a definition of heavy metal perfection, I’m quite certain Queensrÿche’s Empire would meet just about all of those requirements.

Especially after 2 other pretty solid efforts in Rage For Order and Operation Mindcrime, by 1990 Queensrÿche had been respectfully called by some “The Pink Floyd of Heavy Metal”. Empire does EVERYTHING to further advance that very notion. Pink Floyd clearly has always been poetic lyrically and has often focused on metaphors to convey their easily identifiable messages. Queensrÿche’s lyrics are refreshingly complex, and although less poetic than Pink Floyd, often have strong messages veiled in slight obscurity that are best decoded only by fully soaking in “the feel” associated with every track. Queensrÿche’s lyrics are far from cosmetic…they make you think and reflect on the driving force behind each song. Empire, though every bit a Heavy Metal album, is the antithesis of say a Van Halen album…instead of the message being centered on summer fun and throwing back a few libations with good friends, the impetus behind each song here deals with human hunger, uncertainty, loneliness, and the search for answers to fill inner emptiness. Musically, like Pink Floyd, Queensrÿche delivers very innovative and original presentations, loosely separated only by the “confines” of their respective musical genres.

Compared to earlier efforts, Queensrÿche successfully nailed a very contemporary sound and production quality with Empire. One of the most impressive accomplishments here is the band’s full range use of all their available instruments. There are no blistering guitar solos or innovative drum patterns found within Empire that jump out to catch your attention…but that’s o.k., because in substitute is simply good playing at every turn, with novel use of the “stereo” concept and available sound effects. With the exception of the snare drum, which could have been more pronounced to attain the same power and presence of all the other instruments, it is a completely welcomed phenomenon to be able to hear the bass guitar and bass drum as clearly as you can discern the conventional guitars and cymbals. Vocally, Geoff Tate’s style is to string out the presentation of the lyrics a bit, but the band was far from amiss when remembering to add extended musical passages to most songs. Tate shows his inspiration and pours his heart into singing each verse, focusing most times on singing within his very capable higher octave range.

In mainstream U.S.A., Empire was a complete commercial success. “The Thin Line”, “Jet City Woman”, “Another Rainy Night (Without You)”, “Silent Lucidity”, “Hand On Heart”, and “Empire” all enjoyed significant airplay at one time or another (uh, that’s a whopping 6 out of 11 tracks – even “The Boss” Bruce Springsteen has only eclipsed this ratio within 1 album on 1 occasion!). Before Empire, the only time you could catch a Queensrÿche song over the airwaves was when MTV would gratuitously slice in a video or 2 on Headbanger’s Ball! Unfortunately, the media didn’t realize prior to Empire that Queensrÿche had been growing as a band and building momentum towards this effort for a number of years, and had already provided the world with some pretty well-thought out and attractive Heavy Metal. I find it ironic that the 1980’s were unequivocally the heyday for Heavy Metal, but Queensrÿche were somewhat ignored during that decade. Enter 1990, and the beginning of Heavy Metal’s slide away from the music industry’s “favorite son” status…and BAM! Queensrÿche is suddenly a musical force to be reckoned with and respected! I suppose better late than never, eh?

Although Empire has very few imperfections, I do wish the band had left their soapboxes at home when they crafted the title track “Empire” and “Resistance”. Don’t get me wrong, “Empire” is a great great song, and deals with the relevant topic of growing up in ghetto-land U.S.A. Queensrÿche clearly states urban dwellers have no choice to create their own wealth other than to resort to methods outside of “the law” if they want to realize the “American Dream”. The spoken narrative in the middle of the song, where they recite federal spending statistics on various programs they evidently find discretionary and less critical to the well being of the U.S.A. citizens than spending allocations towards law enforcement and crime prevention, would have been better recited during a talk show interview rather than within the context of this song. Likewise, “Resistance”, although not a “bad” track, suffers from a classic case of too much protest at the expense of lost focus on nurturing a solid song framework. Unlike the rest of Empire, “Resistance” as a song is an afterthought to its lyrics. When a band starts saying, “Got to keep the company warm as the rain keeps killing the trees,” they quickly lose my interest…and have probably taken their lyrical message as a band a bit too far. You know, I can always listen to U2 if I want to lament the way mankind has abused mother earth, for God sakes!

The other songs on Empire include the opening track “Best I Can”, “Della Brown”, “One And Only”, and “Anybody Listening?” Like all of the other tracks on this album (with the sole exception being “Resistance”), each of these songs offers impeccable musicianship, crisp sound, and well written and presented lyrics. It’s truly impossible to pick a true “favorite” song out of this album…there are just too many solid tunes, each boasting its own strength and unique flavor. My suggestion when listening to Empire is to sit back, assemble a healthy quantity of your favorite beverage, put on the headphones, turn off the lights, turn up the volume, and enjoy a truly high-class, powerful, upper-echelon Heavy Metal masterpiece!


  • Dan Skiba

    Dan is a former partner at Metal Express Radio, and also served as a reviewer, photographer and interviewer on occasions. Based out of Indianapolis, USA he was first turned on to Hard Rock music in the mid-1970s when he purchased Deep Purple's Machine Head as his first album. He was immediately enthralled with the powerful guitar sound and pronounced drumbeat, and had to get more! His collection quickly expanded to include as many of Heavy Rock bands of the time that he could get his hands on, such as Ted Nugent, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath, to name just a few.

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