The Tale of Two Queensrÿches
Over the course of their thirty-plus year recording and touring career, Queensrÿche came to define the term "progressive" metal. Anchored by the trademark twin-guitar heroics of Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton and the jaw-dropping vocal acrobatics of Geoff Tate, Queensrÿche earned massive critical praise throughout the 1980s and were known as "the thinking man's metal band" thanks to such heady opuses at 1984's The Warning, 1986's Rage For Order, and 1988's epic concept album Operation: Mindcrime. 1990's Empire proved to be the band's mainstream high point, scoring triple platinum sales and a Grammy-nominated single with the Pink Floyd-ian "Silent Lucidity."
Many fans consider 1994's Promised Land to be the Ryche's last truly essential work. Since then, the band has fought an uphill battle to remain relevant. Guitarist Chris DeGarmo—one of the band's major songwriters—left the group after 1997's under-performing Hear In The Now Frontier disc and soon Queensrÿche found themselves releasing album after underwhelming album (Q2K, anyone? Tribe? American Soldier? Nah, I didn't think so) with a rotating cast of replacement guitarists, to middling reviews and dwindling record sales.
Trouble in Paradise? Queensrÿche in the Mid-2000s.
Their album sales may have declined in the early 2000s, but Queensrÿche remained a powerful draw on the concert circuit. At this point it had become semi-common knowledge amongst fans that Queensrÿche was Tate's family business as well as his band. His wife Susan had been the band's manager for a number of years and his daughter Miranda (who was married to QR guitarist Parker Lundgren at the time) was in charge of their merchandising and other business affairs. The rest of the band members, while seemingly OK with these arrangements on the outside, had apparently begun harboring resentments which inevitably came to a head. The final straw may have been the ill-fated "Queensrÿche Cabaret" tour of 2009-10, billed as "The World's First Adults-Only Rock Show" in which the band performed in a circus-like atmosphere with acrobats, strippers, fire breathers and drag queens on stage with them. Reviews of the "Cabaret" tour were savage and the absolutely dismal performance of 2011's Dedicated To Chaos album - the lowest selling of their career - likely didn't help much.
Geoff Tate's "You guys suck!" rant at Rocklahoma 2012
Things get ugly...
Unlike many of their '80s rock brethren. Queensrÿche was never a band that chased headlines or courted controversy. Perhaps this is why it was such a surprise when reports of strife in their camp suddenly began hitting the rock press on a regular basis in mid-2012. An April report claimed that Tate pulled a knife on his band mates (!) backstage immediately prior to a concert in Brazil, as they'd apparently chosen that time to inform him that his wife and daughter had just been fired from their management duties. Queensrÿche went on with the show regardless, but Tate took his rage out on drummer Scott Rockenfield by spitting on him repeatedly throughout the concert. Two American gigs in May 2012 - at the "M3" and "Rocklahoma" retro-rock festivals - were marked by lifeless performances and finally, a bizarre onstage rant by Tate at Rocklahoma, where he berated the audience and told them, "You guys suck!" This concert was carried live on HDnet television, and clips of Tate's rant quickly made their way to YouTube and became a viral video sensation. The question "What the hell is up with the Ryche?" soon became a hot topic on metal Internet forums. Fans didn't know it yet, but Rocklahoma 2012 would be the last time Geoff Tate took the stage as a member of Queensrÿche.
"Rising West" performs "Queen of the Reich"
Enter... Rising West: Queensrÿche in 2012.
As if things weren't weird enough already by this point, the remaining members of Queensrÿche booked two shows in early June 2012 at the Seattle Hard Rock Cafe under the name "Rising West" - a supposed "side project" fronted by Todd LaTorre, a powerhouse vocalist and lifelong Ryche fan best known as a member of veteran progressive metal act Crimson Glory. Rising West performed a set of classic songs from the band's first five albums (i.e. the material that long time fans really want to hear live!) and by all accounts, they went down a storm. Tate, meanwhile, used musicians from his solo project to fill some outstanding concert dates opening for the Scorpions, claiming that the rest of the band couldn't make the dates "due to personal reasons." Yeah, suuuuure.
Goodbye Geoff, Hello Todd
In late June 2012, it was official: Geoff Tate had been fired and Todd LaTorre was the band's new vocalist. This was not really a surprise to anyone who'd been following the saga thus far. It had been quite obvious from the beginning that the "Rising West" gigs were not intended to launch a side project, they were a tryout to see if LaTorre could handle fronting the group. Tate immediately filed suit in court hoping to halt the band's use of the "Queensrÿche" name. Several volleys of back-and-forth legal paperwork followed -- Tate claimed that he'd been unjustly fired from his position, while Queensrÿche charged that Tate had made working conditions within the band unbearable. Despite all the drama, the "new" band continued to move forward. Queensrÿche's first official show with LaTorre took place in July 2012 at Minnesota's "Halfway Jam" festival, where they garnered rave reviews from audience members and fellow performers alike. Michael Sweet of Stryper, whose band also appeared at the Halfway Jam, witnessed the set and later remarked on Stryper's Facebook page that Todd LaTorre had "breathed new life into the band."
A Tale of Two Ryches
In October of 2012, a Washington State judge declared that until Tate's ongoing lawsuit against his former band mates was settled, there was no legal barrier that prevented him from performing under the "Queensrÿche" name, saying, "I don't see any reason that Mr. Tate can't have the benefit, if he gets other members...of using the brand." While the judge did warn that such a move might be "inherently confusing" to fans, he felt sure that eventually "the market can get these things sorted out." With that in mind, Tate wasted no time in announcing his own "all-star" version of Queensrÿche, which was to feature Bobby Blotzer of Ratt on drums, guitarists Glen Drover (ex-Megadeth) and Kelly Gray (a longtime Tate associate and onetime Queensryche member), bassist Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot, Dio, Ozzy Osbourne) and keyboardist Randy Gane. Naturally, the idea of two competing versions of "Queensrÿche" was met with skepticism by most fans. (As one particularly astute message board poster on Blabbermouth.net put it, "Blotzer can barely play Ratt songs, how's he gonna play Queensrÿche songs?")
In January 2013, Geoff's version of Queensrÿche (or "Tate-ryche," as many fans had begun calling it) announced that they'd signed a recording deal with the L.A. based indie label Cleopatra Records and had begun work on a new studio album -- despite being plagued by near-constant lineup changes. Guitarist Glen Drover and drummer Bobby Blotzer both exited the Tate-ryche fold by late 2012 and were replaced by Robert Sarzo (an ex-member of Hurricane and brother of bassist Rudy) and former AC/DC drummer Simon Wright, respectively. Tate also announced that his debut for Cleopatra would feature cameo performances by a number of "celebrity guests" including former Judas Priest guitarist K.K. Downing, former Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland, Ty Tabor of King's X, former Slayer drummer Paul Bostaph, Night Ranger guitarist Brad Gillis and Y&T's Dave Meniketti... all of which begged the question, did anybody in Tate's supposed "band" actually play on the record?
Meanwhile, the "original" Queensrÿche continued recording their first studio album with Todd LaTorre on vocals, working with producer James "Jimbo" Barton, a veteran of the Operation: Mindcrime, Empire, and Promised Land sessions. Bravewords.com reported that Todd had resigned from Crimson Glory in early February of 2013 and made the Ryche his full time gig.
On March 4, 2013, the "LaTorre version" of Queensrÿche announced via Billboard.com that they'd signed a new recording contract with Century Media Records. Century Media is one of the leading record labels in the metal and extreme music field and their extensive artist roster includes such bands as Iced Earth, Lacuna Coil, and Arch Enemy.
Not to be outdone, mere hours after his former bandmates' news hit the Internet, Geoff Tate announced the title and release date of his "Queensrÿche's" new album. The "Tate-ryche" album, titled Frequency Unknown, contained 10 new songs, plus four newly-recorded versions of QR classics as "bonus tracks." Tate's camp also revealed the cover art to the new album... a fist wearing prominent metal rings shaped like an "F" and a "U." Real classy, Geoff.
"COLD" From "Frequency Unknown"
While Geoff continued his Operation: Mindcrime anniversary tour and replaced a few more band members, the Todd LaTorre fronted version of the band unveiled the cover and track listing to their album in late April 2013. Drummer Scott Rockenfield said of the self-titled album, "this gets said often by a lot of bands, but we have recorded some of our finest music in years...the addition of Todd has revitalized this band in ways we never knew."
On May 1st, 2013, the first-week sales for Frequency Unknown were revealed. The album sold approximately 5,500 copies in the U.S. during the first seven days of its release, achieving a rank of #82 on the Billboard Top 200 chart. Frequency Unknown sold slightly less than in its first week than 2011's Dedicated to Chaos (approx. 8,000 copies) and its number is a far cry from the first-week sales of 2009's American Soldier (21,000) and 2006's Operation: Mindcrime II (44,000).
The self titled Queensrÿche album by the LaTorre lineup was released on June 25th and its first-week sales were revealed on July 3rd. The album moved approximately 13,500 copies during its first week in stores, reaching the #23 position on Billboard.
So in other words... that judge was correct -- the market had indeed sorted things out, and the fans were voting for the LaTorre fronted lineup with their wallets.
At Last...There Can Be Only One!!
On April 28, 2014, both sides of the battle announced that they'd settled their differences without taking things into court, ending nearly two years of animosity and mud slinging.
According to the Seattle Times, Geoff Tate and his former bandmates reached an agreement that officially makes the LaTorre-fronted band "the sole entity recording and touring as Queensrÿche." In exchange, Tate has been given the exclusive rights to stage "complete" live concert performances of the Operation Mindcrime I and II rock operas (QR can continue to play individual songs from those albums in their live sets, but cannot perform either album in its entirety). Tate described this as similar to Pink Floyd's situation when Roger Waters was given exclusive performance rights to The Wall when he split from the band. "Mindcrime was my thing and my story, so it's appropriate that I keep that."
Tate embarked on a brief "farewell" concert tour under the Queensrÿche banner in August 2014 to fulfill concert commitments that he'd already booked prior to the settlement. At the conclusion of that tour, he changed the name of his band to "Operation Mindcrime."
Geoff Tate's Operation Mindcrime: "Re-Inventing The Future"
As of this writing (March 2019), Operation: Mindcrime's third album, The New Reality, was released in December of 2017, and Queensryche's third album with Todd La Torre, The Verdict, came out in 2019 through Century Media Records.
Obviously it's been a fairly bizarre couple of years for all of the musicians involved in this drama, but it looks like both sides have put the past behind them and are now ready to continue forging ahead doing what they do best - create and perform music.
"Arrow of Time" from "Condition Human"
© 2012 Keith Abt