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Queensr˙che - The Warning CD (album) cover




Progressive Metal

3.70 | 254 ratings

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2 stars It's 1984, and the NWOBHM is in it's dying gasps as thrash metal spreads its tentacles around the globe - in the world of metal, at least. Marillion have re-invented Prog Rock, and a flock of worthy followers - including many of the old school - fly the prog flag, albeit underground.

It's into this arena that Queensryche present "The Warning" - an album that completely passed me by as being of no consequence - interesting, but that was about it, compared to the competition.

Now, more than 20 years later, I discover the entire Queensryche back catalogue in the bargain bin in my local vinyl shop, and decide to re-discover them. First impressions were very good, I must say - but then I realised it was almost entirely veneer, and I was led to spin my old NWOBHM albums to satisfy my curiosity - where did those riffs and sounds come from?

It's a bit unfair to label this album as "only heavy metal", because the whole ideology of the NWOBHM was originally based around a mixture of headbanging rockers, anthemic stadium chants, diamond hard ballads and a raft of ideas in between with every chance given to each musician to show off his musical prowess in a kind of "mine's bigger than yours" testosterone-fuelled axe-splintering, skin-pounding and tonsil-twanging competition that has little to do with Prog Rock, but was healthy encouragement to self-improvement and music progression.

"The Warning" fulfils most of the NWOBHM ideals, but overall sacrifices "balls" to a more "intellectual" form of member comparison - the challenge here seems to be in the precision and the added pretentiousness - there is a complete lack of self send-up and experimentation in direction that the NWOBHM bands were so fond of: The direction is set - almost cast in stone before it's begun, and never deviates from the path of straight rock song structures with a baffling array of fills and chops. Hey - if you can't dazzle 'em with brilliance...

The opening "Warning" vocal harmonies lead straight into music that could have come from any one of a large number of NWOBHM bands, with strong Judas Priest and Iron Maiden influences from the chugging riffs to the vocals, which come in somewhere between Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson. For more invention in metal from around this time (almost 4 years earlier, in fact) check out Def Leppard's "Overture" on the album "On Through The Night".

There is a marked difference here, with attention to detail worthy of Diamond Head - although without the sheer originality. The riff changes are pleasing in the extended bridge, but the solo is without direction, boring and noodly. In its defence, it is razor-sharp and perfectly within the harmonic base.

En force has the addition of a tubular bell, re-inforcing the Diamond Head link - and to some extent, Iron Maiden. The riff that follows is almost pure Maiden... and so it goes on.

Deliverance shows some glimmerings of originality, if you can get over the uncanny 1976 Judas Priest soundalike riffs and vocals; The bass and drum section are nice and tight, and occasionally do their own thing, and there are some interesting vocal effects and use of riff fragments in a leitmotif manner - but sadly these details tend to be lost in the overall NWOBHM feel.

Let us not forget that NWOBHM as a genre was progressive by nature, early pieces dominated by "showoffmanship" in terms of borrowing from "Classical" music and grandiose lyrical themes combined with the desire to prove that the music was not just about headbanging. Whether this was successful or not is neither here nor there...

"No Sanctuary", then is not such a departure, with its softer, more progressive feel - perhaps due to the somewhat Marillion meets (Dio) Black Sabbath feel that the band seem to be trying to aim at. The Kamen orchestration is sparse, light in nature and somewhat cheesey, and while it certainly lends a more unusual edge, it does not compete with the huge, otherwordly symphonic sound obtained by Diamond Head on tracks like "To The Devil His Due".

"NM156" appears to start with Hawkwind style spacey noises, and Tate adopts a different voice strategy that provides the first real touch of uniqueness for Queensryche as a band. Is the "Punch, punch, punch" an oblique credit to Marillion?

Whatever, the song progresses back in the Judas Priest vein, with razor sharp precision in the twin lead guitar attack, made slightly cloying by the refusal to attempt anything complex in terms of harmony - and sounding a lot like some of the moments in Metallica's "Creeping Death", of the same year, or, perhaps, Iron Maiden's "Running Free".

"Take Hold of the Flame" sounds like a long-forgotten Def Leppard out take, "Before the Storm" shows a more concerted effort to produce off-kilter riffs and rhythmic diversions in what is quite clearly an extension of the Maiden/Priest ethic - with a very interesting chord change towards the end that segues into "Child of Fire", which shows far more Diamond Head style progressiveness before the Maiden riffs kick in.

So "Roads to Madness" - more of the same, or a long-lost 9 and a half minute epic?

There's no doubt that the arrangement details are original - but this is all gravy. The "meat" is another borrowed riff, this time it's Diamond Head's capacious coffers that are plundered. The extensiveness of the details, however, make this a piece of metal that stands out from the crowd - at last, something that feels truly progressive; Progressive enough to make you realise that there's almost nothing new being done in 21st century metal outside soloing speed, thrash techniques and sharp production - in case you hadn't already cottoned on.

If it wasn't for the fact that Priest, Leppard, Maiden, Diamond Head (not to mention Marillion) et all had already blazed the trail, I would be very tempted to say that here is where Prog metal begins. It isn't - but it's the most significant step towards Progressive Metal since the early pioneers - outside of what Metallica were doing.

Progressive with a small "p", and mainly for fans of NWOBHM, but significant in that it clearly carries some of the seeds of Prog Metal. An enjoyable album, but one that wears thin quite quickly because of all the recycled ideas and lack of real melodic invention or anything really memorable.

Certif1ed | 2/5 |


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