To this day, a staggering number of people insist that to entertain is to sell out and surrender growth and innovation. Granted, the frequncy of the stars aligning just right is about as often as a snowball forming in that dark place down below, but it HAS happened, it STILL happens, but never more noticably than in the all-around musical masterpiece “Empire,” from the “progressive” “metal” band, Queensryche.Those quotations are there because Queensryche deserves more than routine catagorization. Their music is at times heavy, and often intelligent, and that’s about all the description you should need. If you realize that the past 10 years of mainstream music has been a case of record companies shooting themselves in the foot, this review shall serve to educate you that this album was one of the last appearances of greatness to strike mainstream popularity – it’s a good thing Queensryche got this album in before it all went down hill!The album; dashes of Pink Floyd/Rush/Bon Jovi/Def Leppard/Wagner!One of my favorite songs ever is the closing track “Anybody Listening?” Epic emotion, powerful vocals, sustained guitar landscapes `a la David Gilmour, operatic theatrics `a la Les Miserables. The song is an adventure, a journey, with changing keys, moods and sections. Everything that a best-song-ever should be is in this unique composition.Then there’s the song that “broke them”, despite a very successful prior album (“Operation: MindCrime”). If you only know Queensryche for one song, it’s “Silent Lucidity.” Granted, it’s a bit simpler than much of their work, but just as with “Anybody Listening?”, it is a wonderful journey of the mind, “trying to explain to someone the unexplainable,” in the words of vocalist Geoff Tate. It is a highly emotional ballad that fits in just fine with the rest of the band’s repertoire.Most of the album is very strong with no filler, but the other big highlights are the songs “Empire,” and “Another Rainy Night.” These songs deserve some of the highest praise ever, because they adhere to this intelligent-meets-popularity formula better than almost any other song. They deserve even MORE praise, because they are not ballads. They are hard rocking songs, and the former (the title track) was actually quite the popular ‘hit.’ Can you believe, thinking of a ‘hit’ as actual good music? It IS possible. These songs are in the normal verse-chorus format, with amazing solos and guitar harmonies, intelligent lyrics, creative chords, and pure heart and soul. They rock like nobody’s business, but also allow many people to relate to the music, who normally would be satisfied with bands that only make 10% the amount of effort. It just doesn’t get much better than this.The hardcore fans want their “…MindCrime”, but I am going to cave in here – “Empire” is my [just barely]favorite Queensryche album, and the fact that it was very popular doesn’t change the fact that it deserved what it got and more. MindCrime is also great – but for once in music history, selling less records doesn’t mean it must be better music! “Empire” is the epitome of “exception to the rule.” Commercial music hasn’t allowed for this much creativity since.