I think it's pretty safe to assume that the Queensryche guys were digging some Priest and Maiden around the time they wrote and recorded this one. The self-titled debut EP starts off as strong as possible with "Queen of the Reich" and it's massive riffage and Geoff Tate's brilliant range. The next two songs are duds, with "Nightrider" sounding like a weak Priest rip-off and "Blinded" just being totally forgettable. "The Lady Wore Black" brings the energy back, even though it's a ballad, bookending an incredibly strong debut release and hinting at what this band was capable of. All in all, the Queensryche EP contains two classic tracks and two that should have been left on the cutting room floor, but the two standouts absolutely make this record a must-own for any fan of heavy metal. It's pretty much the most straightforward metal record that Queensryche ever recorded.
Some consider the 'Ryche's first full-length album to be their strongest release, but I tend to think the guys had a bit of a sophomore slump. This is the album where they started to move away from NWOBHM and started to develop their own progressive sound, but most of the tracks don't really stand out to me. I like the vague 1984 theme and the trademark sci-fi sound that's going on in The Warning and there are a ton of memorable riffs early on in the record, but the last three tracks are way too forgettable for me. To me, it feels like Queensryche was under pressure to get a full-length out ASAP in order to capitalize on the strong debut EP and they just didn't have time to make the record that they envisioned. Don't get me wrong, I like The Warning. It's a classic 80's metal album, but it just pales in comparison with what would follow.
Now we're talking. I think this is where everything finally fell into place for Queensryche. The obvious NWOBHM influences are gone and Rage for Order just sounds like a Queensryche record. There isn't a theme or concept that ties the album together, but the songs stand on their own merit. "Walk in the Shadows" and "I Dream in Infrared" make up one of the strongest 1-2 punches in my record collection, but the album never really peaks; it just stays at a high level. Other than the completely unlistenable cover of Dalbello's "Gonna Get Close to You", there's not a weak track on this album. The guitars are blazing, the bass is masterful, the songs are the perfect level of progressive and Geoff Tate is in top form. If it weren't for the subsequent release of one of the best metal albums of all time, Rage for Order would stand as Queensryche's masterpiece. Which leads us to...
Absolutely stunning. Yes, it's a concept album and yes, it's pretentious, but that doesn't bother me. I will go to my Viking funeral insisting that this is one of the top 3 metal albums of all time. Everything falls into place here, from the still-relevant story line to the mix of heavy and slow songs to the now-classic Queensryche tone. Up-tempo thrashers like "The Needle Lies" mingle perfectly with the masterfully executed rock opera "Suite Sister Mary", and "Eyes of a Stranger" might be the best album closer on record. Overall, this is Queensryche's heaviest album, both musically and lyrically. The guitars and bass are incredible and the production is outstanding. Geoff Tate nails the vocal performance, playing several roles throughout the album. If you can resist listening to Operation: Mindcrime several times in a row, then there's something wrong with you. Progressive metal at its absolute apex.
This was actually my introduction to Queensryche and it's also the point where the guys started to lose their collective fastball. I think they were trying to capitalize on the success of Mindcrime and tried to write a bunch of hits instead of a great album. They succeeded with the increasingly tired "Silent Lucidity", but I think that exposure led a lot of MTV-generation folks to believe that Queensryche was just another hair band with a shitty ballad. The title track is a solid song, though I prefer lyrics to be a little less straightforward. "Jet City Woman" and "Another Rainy Night" are catchy and somewhat metal, but I never understood "Della Brown", and "Hand on Heart" might be the worst song ever recorded. "Anybody Listening" is the only worthwhile track on the second half of the album. This is as far as I ever got in the Queensryche catalog because it's a little too much FM rock for my tastes. Empire remains a personal favorite in my collection, but I assume it only went downhill after that.