Hands up everyone who has more or less given up the idea of getting a solid, classic prog-metal album from former Queensrÿche singer Geoff Tate. Mine is raised. Since getting the boot from Queensrÿche, Tate have been showering us with half-hearted and even really bad albums, his own Queensrÿche album Frequency Unknown (2013) being the lowest point. But the truth is, even Queensrÿche were an underwhelming band during the last 10+ years Tate was with them – and what’s worse, I noticed a clear reducing of his voice as far back as Sweden Rock 2003. But I must state that it could might as well been a bad day on the job. When he got the boot from Queensrÿche and a court decision made the other guys the owners of the name, Tate changed his band’s name to Operation: Mindcrime and released three albums with them with up and down qualities. I have always been a fan of Tate’s voice and I think it’s really a shame that he hasn’t made a killer record on his own. Yet.
About Tate’s reduced vocal abilities, I must say that that talk is highly exaggerated. The times I have seen him with Avantasia, he has been superb so I have no problem believing him doing justice to old Queensrÿche songs live, if they would ever reunite. Which leads us to this record. Sweet Oblivion is a project put together by Italian guitarist Simone Mularoni – who also handles bass duties – from Italian prog-metal band DGM with a singer like Geoff Tate in mind, backed up by Emanuele Casali on keyboards and Paolo Caridi on drums. The idea behind this project was to create a soundscape for Geoff Tate reminiscent of the great days of Queensrÿche’s 80’s – a time both Mularoni and loads and loads of Queensrÿche fans have been missing and longing for for over a decade now. This is, of course, great news but it also comes with almost unhealthy expectations. On the other hand, just a touch of Queensrÿche’s 80’s will be enough for some fans.
The album’s leading single “True Colors” open the album and it sure is a piece of progressive yet melodic Metal we are being served here. It’s upbeat, quite heavy and riff-happy with instrumental bits borrowed from Dream Theater’s “Take The Time”, but not enough to cry theft. When Tate starts singing I sure got old Queensrÿche in my mind and not only because of his voice. It’s a stomper with memorable melodies all over plus a highly catchy refrain – catchy the way QR used to be ergo not radio-flirting. This is brilliant! The title-track follows with a progressive Hard Rock groove and strong melodies that at times makes me think of QR’s “I Don’t Believe In Love”. But fear not, this is not a clone by any means. Still, the guitar melodies screams old QR and fans of Operation: Mindcrime (1988) and Empire (1990) will go bananas over this tune. I damn well did. Awesome!
With a pop-like chorus, a big Hard Rock groove in uptempo, the stompy rocker “Behind Your Eyes” brings the vibes of Empire, QR’s most “commercial” album, to mind. It’s really an arena-rocker with slight proggy twists and it might be too Pop for some fans but fact is, Tate’s voice is perfect for a song like this and I really dig it. Slower in pace, the heavy and dark “Hide Away” takes a slight gothic turn but the progressive touches and Tate’s voice brings this striking rocker home. The magnificent refrain is not overly QR influenced and showcases what could be the Sweet Oblivion sound more. “My Last Story” continues the slower pace and also brings up some gloominess in the already dark verses. It’s punchy and tough and when the chorus comes, the tune speeds up some – catchy but not even slightly radio-friendly. The guitar solo is total late 80’s QR. A very good tune.
“A Recess From My Fate” goes in an uptempo pace, it’s in-your-face, gritty and kicking where Hard Rock meets Metal. It holds slightly galloping rhythms combined with chugging guitars and melodies that goes straight for the throat. It’s quite catchy and a pretty good track but it doesn’t floor me. The mid-paced “Transition” holds a heavy groove, it’s dark and rhythmic in a mid 90’s QR way where Operation: Mindcrime meets Promised Land (1994). It’s punchy and strikes hard with lots of hooks all over the place. A real killer. Next up is “Disconnect” and speaking of Promised Land, wasn’t there a song called “Disconnected” on that album? Sure it was. This one is a slow, heavy and dark ballad that holds a huge soundscape, punchy and striking with a great main-melody and a refrain that hits the right spots right away, proggy yet melodic as hell.
“The Deceiver” takes a faster, heavier and more aggressive route, rowdy and robust but never without making sure the melodies are all there. This is a pure Metal track with clear Judas Priest influences, riff-happy and headbang-friendly and it sure kicks up some dust. Quality-wise, it’s a good track but not as strong as the others. Closing track, “Seek The Light” comes in a mid-pace, lightly gothic, atmospheric and slightly symphonic, big on keyboard strings. It’s a grand tune with a quite meaty groove and a ballsy outlook but with a very QR like vocal melody and a refrain that’s even haunting. A great way to close an album like this.
Ok, first: This is without a doubt the best Queensrÿche album featuring Geoff Tate since the underrated Hear In The Now Frontier (1997) that they never made. It’s an album that shows where Tate should be, how he should sound and which music he should try to write himself in the future. It’s also shows that Tate still is a great singer and I would love to see Sweet Oblivion turn into a real band, something that probably will never happen if the aftermath talk of these recording are true. According to Mularoni, Tate almost ruined this album by changing the vocal arrangements into something closer to hip-hop than Metal, changed song structures and erasing the guitar-solos, something that almost made a feud between the two from go before Tate changed his mind. Maybe Tate really don’t like this album at all himself. On the downside, the whole QR flirtation feels a bit too calculated and even forced even though it’s not a QR clone by any means. Be that as it may, I dig the hell out of this album and will keep my fingers crossed that Sweet Oblivion will go on with Tate more involved in the song-writing. Because I do believe that he do have another prog-metal masterpiece hidden there somewhere inside of him.
1. True Colors
2. Sweet Oblivion
3. Behind Your Eyes
4. Hide Away
5. My Last Story
6. A Recess From My Fate
9. The Deceiver
10. Seek The Light