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May 24, 2019

Sweet Oblivion's Debut a Treat for Fans of Classic Queensryche

By Brian Heaton

They say you can’t go home again. While the adage is apt for many situations, it’s not at all accurate when it comes to former Queensryche vocalist Geoff Tate, and the musical style of his latest project, Sweet Oblivion.  

The group’s self-titled debut album doesn’t hide what it is—an homage to Queensryche’s late-1980s/early-1990s heyday. Set for release by Frontiers Records on June 21, the record masterfully channels the songwriting essence of the Chris DeGarmo/Michael Wilton guitar tandem, providing a familiar musical landscape for fans who have been chasing the ghosts of Queensryche’s original lineup for more than two decades.  

The 10 songs that comprise Sweet Oblivion alternate between aggressive and epic, providing a nice ebb and flow over the album’s nearly 47-minute running time. Several tunes, such as the first two singles, “True Colors,” and the title track, harken back to guitar hallmarks Queensryche was known for, with guitarist Simone Mularoni and keyboardist Emanuele Casali using trade-off and harmonized solos to heighten the emotion. Other stylistic callbacks include the use of panning, and Tate’s penchant for background whispers and commentary.  

Speaking of Tate, let’s be frank—during the end of his run with Queensryche, and for a couple of years afterward, he was heavily criticized (including by this writer) for substandard vocals, both on record and on stage. In the last several years, however, Tate has had a revival, with some impressive performances with Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia, a metal opera project. That improvement is on full display with Sweet Oblivion, as Tate delivers an effort worthy of his reputation as a world-class vocalist.  

Tate doesn’t go for ridiculously high notes in the stratosphere (think more like how he sounded on Queensryche’s 1999 effort, Q2k), but his voice sounds rich, smooth, and eminently powerful throughout the album. Even when the pace picks up with songs such as “A Recess From My Fate,” Tate stays within himself, singing slightly higher, but level, making smart use of layering. It’s reminiscent of the way Fates Warning singer Ray Alder has adjusted his style over the years to get away from the higher notes and focus on being more emotive and melodic. The approach works well for Tate here.  

It’s unknown who wrote the lyrics and vocal melodies on Sweet Oblivion. Those details weren’t included in the promotional release. The words focus primarily on relationships, which is something Tate has concentrated on the last 20 years. But whether it was Tate himself, Mularoni, or a combination of the two, everything flows smoothly and natural, which is a nice return to form for Tate.  

While Sweet Oblivion is certainly a love fest to Queensryche’s prime, it isn’t strictly a carbon copy. Sure, the title track’s rhythm section sounds uncomfortably close to “Breaking the Silence” from Operation: Mindcrime. But Mularoni (who also handles bass on the record), Casali, and drummer Paolo Caridi insert their own style throughout the album, giving it a fresh sound. Having a keyboard instead of a second guitar is an obvious difference between Sweet Oblivion and Queensryche, even if Casali plays with a guitar tone. But It is Caridi’s drumming and the fills he uses, particularly in the record’s later tracks, such as “Transition,” and the closer, “Seek the Light,” (which has some beautiful orchestration) that gives the album its own personality.  

Time will tell if the reaction to, and sales of Sweet Oblivion leads to a support tour, or at the very least, Frontiers Records green-lighting a follow-up album. But in the meantime, if you’re craving new music in the style of classic Queensryche, Sweet Oblivion is the ear candy you’ve been looking for.

Notable Tracks: "A Recess From My Fate," "True Colors," "Seek the Light," "Disconnect."

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