Queensryche embarked on “Now Frontier,” their most straightforward rock album in 1997, with relatively concise, consistent songs. “You” ranks as one of the best songs in their entire catalog, and Steely Dan-esque “Hit the Black” (sung by guitarist Chris DeGarmo) is a neat change of pace. This is not a monumental album, but I found it very nice to see Queensryche going back to basics and still sounding good. This is not likely to expand their fan base, and the lack of ambition that was evident on previous albums may alienate longtime fans, but a good effort nonetheless and arguably their most listenable post “Empire” effort.
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Did we really need a remastered version of Hear in the Now Frontier? Were that many fans demanding one?
Hear in the Now Frontier is the first album in Queensryche’s unofficial “trilogy of mediocrity”. As much as I love the band, since Promised Land their albums have been a major disappointment. I know vocalist Geoff Tate has been trying to distance the band from its metal roots, but I think he took them a bit too far. Queensryche has gone from being a progressive metal innovator to just another rock band, and not even a very good one.
With Hear in the Now Frontier, Queensryche’s music becomes schizophrenic and uneven, though it does have a few good moments. Sign of the Times is a great opener, and Hero, You, Miles Away, and Reach are quality songs. Unfortunately the rest of the album just fades into a blur of nondescript alternative rock songs. I understand that the band is progressing and continuing to update their sound, but it just doesn’t sound like Queensryche anymore.
I probably would have skipped this album altogether, but the remastered version adds some nice bonus material, including three acoustic tracks from an MTV Unplugged performance and the song Chasing Blue Sky, which was previously only available on the band’s Greatest Hits album.
It was interesting to hear this album when it first came out still surviving the haze of grunge back in 1997.. I was quite surprised to hear a more stripped down sound, but impressed that the bands lyrical writing and simplicity was a refreshing change of pace. Gone are some of the polished sounds, but still there are great rocking tunes such as ‘You’, ‘Hit The Black’, ‘Sign Of The Times’, ‘Get a Life’, ‘Saved’ and many more. Also the album has great a etheral feel in songs like ‘Some People Fly’ and the acoustic renderings of ‘Hero’ what a great change for the band. I was also pleased to hear a little less lyrics about moaning about ‘missing women’ and that love stinks (Empire album anyone?), which also seemed to continue on the next follow up release Q2K.It was also interesting to pull this album off my shelf after easily a 5+ year absence to see that the songs still hold up great. Its amazing how hearing the songs ‘Sign Of The Times’ and ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’ still stand up to this day.. (Chandra Levy anyone ) While ‘All I Want’ a song vocalised by DeGarmo certainly remains the only ‘what the?’ on the album kind of interupting the creative flow, it’s still a great sound. It’s not their worst, and not their best (Nothing will top Operation Mindcrime), but is just solidly GOOD!
I like everything Queensryche has done consider them to be one of the best bands still around. But, this is a weak album in comparison to what has gone before. Many fans who agree, blame Chris DeGarmo, as he was the primary force behind this album, which might be unfair, or accurate. If another band had released this, it may have been given three, or even four stars, but Queensryche has raised the bar so high on themselves. The weakest of songs, lyrically and musically, are those that are composed by Chris DeGarmo alone (except perhaps, Sign, which was good in both ways, and actually gained them some decent airplay locally), while the strongest songs, lyrically or musically, are those he composed with the other band members. Songs written by DeGarmo with singer Geoff Tate, Get A Life, Some People Fly, Saved, You, and especially the near-classic, nearly-unanimous, fan-favorite, spOOL, are very much up to Queensryche standards, lyrically, or musically, or both. The Tate/Wilton composed, Reach, is a great rocker with some `let off the leash’ guitar playing. It is an honest song about living free and the words weave so well with the music it works. The DeGarmo/ Eddie Jackson song, Hit The Black, rocks just as well as, Reach, and makes one wish there were more songs like this here, and that Jackson and Wilton had more input because clearly they come up with great stuff. The Tate/Jackson/DeGarmo composed, Anytime-Anywhere, is a great song to simply rock to, with lyrics that are essentially a list of obsessions for someone’s (Tate’s?) better-half. Sincere and absurd at the same time, but un-edited honesty comes off that way sometimes in song, and in life.Why didn’t they put Chasing Blue Sky on the album? This sort-of-ballad by Tate and drummer Scott Rockenfield could easily have replaced one of a half dozen songs on here originally, and would have added significantly to the overall feel of the original album. Great to see it on here as a bonus track at least.Now, if you have the original CD release of HITNF is this worth getting? Yes…Despite all the criticism there are some good, and even great songs on here, if you don’t have it. And if you do have the earlier version, this release is 24-bit remastered (including Chasing Blue Sky) and also included, are three tracks Queensryche did for MTV Unplugged: Silent Lucidity, Killing Words, and, I Will Remember. If you’re tired of, Silent Lucidity, due to radio over-play, you owe it to yourself to hear the Unplugged version. Killing, and especially, Remember, are stunningly rendered in acoustic versions.
Queensryche was never a band to sit still– from their early metal roots on their first couple releases, the band began blending elements of progressive rock and other influences into their sound until “Promised Land”. In many ways a pinnacle acheivement in the band’s history, it would have been extremely difficult to equal. The album was well constructed, an acheivement of arranging and sound, and while it was unpopular with a number of the band’s fans (who would have preferred a straight metal sound), it was certainly a unique statement. Many bands would have been tempted to try for a sequel in sound and feel, others would have tried to get even more over the top, still even more would be likely to retreat backwards, to rejoin the metal sounds of their youth. Queensryche did something quite different.
“Hear in the Now Frontier” is a stripped done, bare record. Gone are the swirling arrangements, the extra instruments, keyboards, synths, samples, layered vocal harmonies, etc. Instead, straightforward riffing, blistering leads, and a looseness bleed forth, as though the band had been listening to what the other locals in Seattle were doing. When I first heard the record, I hated it (even as a fan of the grunge movement that in many ways inspired it), but there was enough decent material to keep me coming back to it.
These days I love it. In truth, I think it represents guitarist Chris DeGarmo’s waning interest in metal– he exited the band shortly after and ended up playing guitar with Jerry Cantrell for a while, and his stamp is all over this– 12 of the 13 cuts on the record were written or cowritten by him, and the best material (that which looks back as little as possible) was soley from his voice. From opener “Sign of the Times”, with its sludgy rhythm guitars and wobbly lead, its clear this is something different. The best material on the record tends to be the less heavy work– from the laid back ballad “Some People Fly” to swirling love song “You” to the brilliant and soporific “Hero”. DeGarmo even takes the mic from vocalist Geoff Tate on great love song “All I Want”, and while some of the heavier and more abstract material also works well (“Saved”, the bizarre fan-favorite “sp00L”), its really an album that excels in the midtempo pieces.
The remaster is further augmented with b-side “Chasing Blue Sky” (a relatively uninteresting piece) and three recordings from the MTV unplugged show several years beforehand– “Silent Lucidity” and “I Will Remember” get decent readings, but its really “The Killing Words” that is noteworthy– its a fantastic and delicate performance of a great song.
It doesn’t sound like old Queensryche, but that’s what I love about the band. They’d reach higher heights, but there’s an awful lot of great material on here that deserves listening. Careful and patient listening will yield rewards.