By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
QUEENSRYCHE – THE WARNING (1984)
I’ve written about three Queensryche albums for The Cassette Chronicles in the past. The self-titled EP that kickstarted the band’s career, Rage For Order and my all-time favorite album Operation:mindcrime.
So I figured maybe now would be the right time to sit down and take a listen to the band’s first full-length album The Warning. As with all of the band’s releases prior to Operation:mindcrime, I came to The Warning late. I didn’t “discover” the band for real until Operation:mindcrime, but once I did that, going back to check out the rest of their music was a great musical journey for me.
While the albums that came out after The Warning showcase the band’s growing creativity, the songs on The Warning are in the vein of a more straight up traditional heavy metal sound. I know that may sound like a backhanded compliment but I assure you it isn’t. In fact, I enjoy the music on this album just as much as any of the band’s other early work.
(Side note: When I decided to sit down and write about the album, I realized that I had gotten dressed that morning in a Queensryche T-shirt so I guess the writing day had an unintentional theme to it for me.)
The album opens with the title track. Well, technically they drop “The” from the song title. So it is just “Warning”. That nitpick aside, I love how you are sitting there waiting for the cassette (which is still the original copy I bought back in the day) to start and then all of a sudden singer Geoff Tate’s voice bursts forth from your speakers with the word “Warning”. The song immediately goes into full throttle mode after that. The guitar playing from Michael Wilton and Chris DeGarmo is pretty heavy and the drums from Scott Rockenfield really give an extra heavy vibe to the music. When I was first taking notes for this article, I had written down that Tate’s vocals would alternate between a soaring tone and then I said “and a yelp”. But that makes it sound like it was somehow sloppy or just not good. However, that is far from what I was thinking. In the main lyrical passages, when Tate is singing, the way he clips the delivery at the end of each line makes it sound different to me. But I like the way it comes out and it helps make the song sound just that much cooler to me.
For the song “En Force”, the intro kind of gives the song an ominous tone to it. But the intro is only the first part of the musical soundtrack for the track. When you get to the main portion of the song, the music morphs into a far more fast paced straight ahead rocker that feels like the band is going right for the throat. Oddly enough, as the song begins it’s fade out that same ominous tone to the music returns to bookend the song before you get a softer delivery that is similar to the drums you hear in a military marching parade…though far more understated.
And if the pacing of those first two songs somehow don’t get you fired up, I think it is a good bet that the way Queensryche wastes not even a second before hitting you with an explosive sonic wave in the song “Deliverance” will surely get your head banging. The band as a whole is on fire, but what really made this track stand out for me in particular was the way Geoff Tate is in full attack mode with his vocal performance here.
Doing a complete 180, the song “No Sanctuary” is far more deliberate in tone and delivery. At least until the song hits the chorus. Slow moving (though not plodding), the song’s chorus sees the music step up the tempo a lot more. And the more intense playing holds court during the latter part of the song.
The closing song on Side One of The Warning is “NM 156”. And no kidding here, it is one of my all-time favorite songs from Queensryche. There’s a definite science fiction aspect to the song lyrics (in fact, they kind of remind me of an episode from the original Star Trek TV series). While they do a great job telling this particular tale in about 4 1/2 minutes, the song hits hard enough for me that they could’ve made this song into a concept album all on its own had they wanted to. Everything about this song is just flat out amazing!
Now on Side Two, I had to really focus for this one. Because the second side opens and closes with two songs that are tentpole type tracks for Queensryche. And because they are so noteworthy, I think the other two tracks “Before The Storm” and “Child Of Fire” kind of get lost in the shuffle and perhaps get shorted when people think of this album. So, I decided to really give a good listen to those songs for when I wrote about them in this piece.
And the thing is, I’m pretty guilty of not giving the songs their proper due too. So as I listened to both tracks now, I find that they are both straight forward rockers, fast paced with loud guitars and strong rhythmic foundations. Definitely good tracks. But they are definitely going to always be overshadowed by “Take Hold Of The Flame” and “Roads To Madness”. It may not be fair because the songs are damn good but they just have the unfortunate luck to be on this side of the album.
Of course, we do need to talk about those two classic tracks before the article ends, and when the second side opens with a song like “Take Hold Of The Flame”, how can it not become one of the band’s calling card numbers? I’m not sure I’ve ever read the story behind the song’s creation but whatever it was, I’m certain that it wasn’t supposed to be co-opted by the fan base as Queensryche’s clarion call anthem. You know, the song where the band uses the chorus to get the audience fists pumping in the air as they scream out “Take…Hold”. But that’s exactly what has happened. I’ve seen Queensryche a number of times in concert and when they play this song, the audience really gets going.
As for the closing song “Roads To Madness”, it is the band’s big epic track. Nearly 10 minutes long, Queensryche creates one hell of a track here. The funny thing is, this song inadvertantly served as a way to identify true fans of the band and those who somehow found their way to a concert because of the “Silent Lucidity” track on the Empire album. I saw the tour for Empire twice and when you start seeing 70-year-old gray haired couples walking into the show, you know they came because of the ballad track that gave Queensryche their biggest hit single. But as I said to the friends I went to the show with, “there’s no way they are going to stay for the show once they realize that Queensryche is a heavy metal band.” Sure enough, when they started playing “Roads To Madness” at the concert, those same couples were last seen heading out the door never to return. As for the song itself, well what can I say that wasn’t already implied by me saying it is one of the band’s tentpole songs? You can almost get lost in the song as you listen to it. There’s lots of musical passages that you can wrap yourself up in, and they go hand in hand with the vocal portions of the song. The song is nearly forty years old and yet it still retains the same kind of power that it had the first time you heard it.
Listening to The Warning with the aim of writing about the album gave me a chance to re-evaluate just what I thought of the release, particularly those songs that aren’t quite as well known. But even with that re-evaluation, the opinion doesn’t change for me. It showcases the band just before they really started breaking out. But instead of being found just a little lacking, The Warning is a pretty powerful statement for the band at the time and place it came out.
NOTES OF INTEREST: During the tour for The Warning album, Queensryche would open for both Kiss and Iron Maiden in the US. In Europe, they opened for Dio and Accept.
According to a quote from Geoff Tate that is included on the Wikipedia page for the album, the band hates the mix of the album. Also, the running order of the tracks were changed from how the band originally wanted them to appear. All the songs on The Warning were written, in varying combinations by Geoff Tate and guitarists Michael Wilton and Chris DeGarmo.
When The Warning was reissued in 2003, there were three bonus tracks added to the CD. This included two live tracks and the song “Prophecy”. Over time, the album has achieved Gold certification status.