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Queensr˙che - The Warning CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

3.69 | 285 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars |B| If you think that there is no progressive composition in this album, please read on.

Reading many of the other reviews about this album on this site set me up with expectations that the content of this work would be no more than straight-up NWBHM music with a couple meager prog-references here and there, as was the case with debuts of other proto-prog metal counterparts. I couldn't have been more wrong; in fact, this album is a pretty fair balance of overtly progressive composition techniques and their heavy metal, particularly NWBHM influences. The thing is, the progressive composition is much more subtly done and easy to miss by the casual listener, which might be the reason for the general view of lacking any at all.

Creativity and musicality hits metal music hard with this album. In general, this is probably the most creative metal album that had come out that decade by 1984, and certainly has more links to progressive rock than any other metal that had been created at the time (that we know about anyway). It was 1984 after all, just a few years after Rush's most progressive albums as well as Iron Maiden's first few releases. Queensryche was already melding NWBHM with progressive techniques and incredible musicality, whether you're talking about asymmetric meter, use of other genre or instruments on in rock music, or creativity with expressing text musically. I have made a thorough analysis of the tracks to prove my point:

The first track is the album title track, starting off with a-Capella harmonized vocals singing a single word: "Warning." Not exactly a conventional start for an eighties metal album, though this is without a doubt the most straightforward track on the album. The main riff comes in and continues the NWBHM style riffing, though I think a higher quality of music composition than with their predecessors. The 7/8 time signature interruption under the solo is unusually appropriate, and the drummer really shows off his creativity and abilities with dynamics and occasionally his more unconventional patterns.

En Force has an incredible intro, with orchestral bells and asymmetric 9/4 time signature. The drummer's snare hits are well-placed and have a great tone. This leads into the verse, very NWBHM, with very effective and well-composed vocal overdubbing for really the whole song. It's very creative, especially for its time. Fantastic riffs, and the overall feel of the song reminds me of Savatage a bit. The intro section is introduced to end the song (on a minor 7th note I might add), transitioning into a hidden track with marching-style, no doubt to express the lyrics about the "enforcers take hold of us all." I really like the synth (or maybe its a quiet guitar) drone.

Deliverance is one of the more straight-forward songs on the album, though the intro is a riff that alternates from asymmetric 9/8 to 4/4 to 9/8 to 4/8 to 7/8 to 2/8 to compound 12/8 (and there are people say that there's no prog composition in this album whatsoever....) leading into the verse. The overalls sound of the song is very characteristic of the bands general output, no other band really sounds just like the distinctiveness this band has. I love the vocal harmonies in the chorus. They do a lot of creative stuff in the second verse, random key hits and stuff, and drummer primarily plays the cymbals this time, sounding more mellow and leaving room for that other creative stuff. This includes the vocal part, breaking off the previous one at "the law" and what not. The lyrics imply a theme of the Last Judgment in Christian theology, ironic considering the lower opinion of religion the lyrics would imply in later work. "Deliver us right from wrong."

No Sanctuary is probably my favorite track on the album. The first few seconds is is a very gradual crescendo into the chorused acoustic guitar theme. The intro, particularly with the reverse fade guitar, is quite reminiscent of classic prog to me. The quite vocal overdub at "around me" is so subtle yet adds so much. Then a section of choir "ah" comes in at first higher at the tonic, and then a voicing is added on the dominant, creating what in classical composition analysis is called a "standing dominant" and is used in the same way as in classical music: to maintain a slight sense of tension leading into the next section. Then we have a transition into the chorus section, which is filled with vocal overdubs on "now you cry" and Jeff Tate himself does such a splendid job expressing the emotion of the text, in the 2nd verse especially. I love the echo of "distance" at the end of both versus, left all by itself, creating an actual sense of open distance as the text describes. Another section is features with choir "oh-ah" which is quite well harmonized. One section of the song is jam-packed with proggy sounding stuff, particular the whistled vocal melody from the chorus, guitar improvisations, and orchestra parts. The chorus is repeated and soloed over for the fade- out of this stunning, beautiful track.

N M 165 is another very progressive track, and probably the most innovative of any track released in heavy metal that year (and one of the most in the whole decade). The general theme is that of futuristic technological oppression (robots-take-over-the-world sort of bit). The intro is atonal, keyboard generated atmospheric sounds (not too unlike those at the beginning of Witch Hunt by Rush which was also about oppression) and mechanical sounds of typing and paper printing (I think). The repeated keyboard triplet-sixteenths on a single note starts, with a soft high-hat from the drummer (or it might be another keyboard- generated sound...) to establish that compound meter. This meter is disrupted by the guitar riffs, which actually comes in at a very (difficult to count) asymmetric 10/8. An end-of-Rush's- 2112-sounding voice says, "machines have no conscience." Clearly, keyboard drone, mechanical sounds, and technically hard-to-count guitar riff are all used to convey the theme of the song, and so effectively that it's stunning. There is one measure of 12/8 that marks end of the intro into the verse, which has the vocalist singing jarringly, monotonously, lyrics such as "uniform print-out reads: end of line." His style of singing is, once again, to artistically convey the theme and text of the song. The voice comes back again "social control requires: population termination." The chorus is very heavy metal, with an effective vocal overdub two octaves lower than the main vocalist (talk about unconventional...). They pretty much change up the way the vocals are overdubbed whenever the chorus repeats too. When the vocalist says "punch, punch, punch" he really does punch out the words, with a heavy mechanical sound adding to the harsh feel of the text, so incredibly musical! The high-strings over the low-speaking voice again, everything about this song is so incredible and so creative, so musical. The solo is quite NWBNHM sounding and just great. The vocal over-dubs in the last chorus so very cool. So mechanical, so oppressive, so futuristic, so... brilliant.

Flip over the orginal vinyl, and you have the other more straightforward track start it off, Take Hold of the Flame. A very musical introduction with subtle sounds in the background. This track is pretty Scorpions sounding to me, particularly that guitar work (especially that solo..., very much like those of Mattias Jabs), and some very catchy riffs. I what they do at the words "run!" "reach!" "see!" with the other voices, suddenly breaking from the line and thus very stressed. Not much else to say, other than that the strings at the end are a nice addition.

Before the Storm has a really interesting and awesome intro, in general. This track is also one of the more easily processed ones, though in less conventional compound meter for metal bands at the time I think. The solo section is particularly interesting, with some random effects added in the middle. The chorus is a bit awkward, "before the storm" being very fast and adding a sort of clashing hemeola effect, which is also kind of cool in a way. The track leads directly into...

Child of Fire has a heavier, kind of slower and atmosphere-oriented sound to me. This leads into the more NWBHM sound, with a cool reverse-fade-out technique. The vocal- harmonies are very high and powerful. This metal power gradually decrescendos into a contrasting soft, chorused-guitar section that sounds a bit like Santuary, especially with the vocalists very convincing expression of the lyrics, very emotional and powerful. This leads into a mid-energy guitar solo section, and a great one here, as usual. The snare comes in with some hits to transition back into the NWBHM style, which leads to the ending the song.

Roads to Madness is the closing song of the album, clocking in at almost ten minutes (by metal standards at the time, a near epic, though track isn't presented with a "suite"-like feel as with Fates Warning's Epitaph, released withing a year or two of this album). This song more than any other features the use of the orchestra, which is quite beautiful. The intro is pretty creative, particular the effects on the guitar and the added harmony over the main riff. The verse section has acoustic guitar, with the vocalist singing expressively and very well, as usual. The chorus has choir "ah"s like in Sanctuary, with a really beautiful vocal melody. I love the orchestra in this track, the strings have a part where they screech out, so awesome. The choir ahs and orchestra combine in the repeat of the chorus, which is accompanied by reverse-reverberation vocals underlying the word "madness." The guitar solo happens over the verse chord-progression, with quite a bit of variation from previous verse material in the accompaniment parts. The guitar is very heavily chorused in some parts of this song. The piece has a very prominent triplet feel about two-thirds of the way through the song, and is very majestic and cerebral with the arrangement of all of parts, particularly the orchestra. This leads back into a NWBHM sounding section, very awesome and effective. I like the held out vocal part over the effects and great use of cymbals.

It is clear to me that this debut by Queensryche was quintessential to the evolution and development of prog-metal as we know it today. In this album is demonstrated much knowledge of musical pedagogy and music theory, and clean, developed musicianship by the members themselves. The production is stunning, everything very refined and thought- over very thoroughly. Considering this release was 1984, it pretty much blows the work of any other kind of proto-prog metal (even Fates Warning and Savatage) in the mid-80s completely out of the water. With the heavy use of orchestra, advanced and creative composition techniques creating great contrast in the album and within individual tracks themselves, it is safe to conclude that these musicians were more than serious and good at what they were doing. There is also a general theme that rears its head of imminent doomsday, oppression it might bring, and a transition into what might come after the end of the world, in general all of the tracks, making it almost a concept album in a way, though maybe not enough recurrence of the themes to technically label it as such.

All in all the composition is great, and I really think this an excellent addition to any prog collection, particularly for its historical significance in the development of a style as huge as prog-metal. If you like prog-metal, this is a must-have in your collection.

Isa | 4/5 |


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