Queensryche – Queensryche EP
1983, 206 Records Inc
Lets talk about this record. My friend (O.W.K) recently called it the ‘big bang’ of power metal, and I think he’s right. It’s difficult for me to imagine this EP in the context of the time it was released, because in 1983, I wasn’t even a gleam in my daddy’s eye. I try to visualise that era by thinking of the other releases of the year – Michael Jackson – Thriller, Men at Work and the infectious single from their Business as Usual album, and, representing the heavy metal scene – Quiet Riot’s Metal Health actually topping the Billboard chart; this EP seems completely incongruous with its contemporaries – ahead of its time in the complexity of music, and yet somehow primitive, with its raw energy.
There are some key events in life that you never forget, and aged thirteen, I bought a cassette-tape that changed my life. It was a compilation, and sadly, I can no longer trace its location. I bought it because it had a lot of stuff I was already into – Uriah Heep – Easy Livin’, Hawkwind – Motorhead, Scorpions – Blackout. Side B featured a few bands that I’d never heard of, and one of them was Queensryche. The song: Queen of the Reich.
I listened to that song until I was literally sick of hearing it. Over and over again, singing into the shower-head, air-guitaring those harmonies like a badass. And then, just like that, it was over. Side B had showed me a whole new world – Mercyful Fate, Judas Priest and Motorhead. Queen of the Reich was absorbed into the great musical sponge that was my mind, and forgotten entirely. Every now and then I’d go to a party and someone would play the video (Jesus Christ, that video!) and I’d sing along with great gusto – and that was it.
Years later, I was browsing through CDs (oh yes, it took me that long – don’t judge), and I came across Queensryche: Operation Mindcrime. I sat there, gob wide open as I listen to it once, twice, three times, and vowed to myself that I needed to own everything this band had ever made. So I worked my way back, until I eventually hit the EP: this black record, with its simple purple and gold border, the retro logo, with the two diacritical dots over the ‘y’ almost like horns – how had I not listened to this?
Queen of the Reich remains one of the best heavy metal songs ever written. The deceptively simple sounding intro (being in a band that has covered this song, let me tell you – it’s bloody difficult to play!), leading into an absolute belter of a riff, the lilt and undulation of Tate’s voice, and the twin guitar magic, make for a classic. But the others are hardly filler fluff. Each song undeniably radiates a NWOBHM vibe, but Tate’s dramatic vocals really make this record tangibly different. I mean – he managed to make whistling sound awesome!
I think about how this EP has aged for me – and I can hand on heart say – it just hasn’t. I still get the same thrill when I spin this one. The melancholy chords on The Lady Wore Black, with the ambient low howl of wind can still make my hair stand on end. And every time I listen to it, I see a little hint of the greatness of things to come – the ingredients to a formula which (in my humble opinion) eventually would churn out what I really think is a perfect album: Rage for Order.
Somehow without even realising it, I had already made my first USPM friend. For that, this EP will always remain special to me. But I think it takes a rightful place in the heavy metal pantheon, as one of the most influential EPs ever released.