Although they were initially grouped with the legions of pop-metal bands that dominated the American heavy metal scene of the '80s, Queensrÿche were one of the most distinctive bands of the era. Where their contemporaries built on the legacy of Van Halen, Aerosmith, and Kiss, Queensrÿche constructed a progressive form of heavy metal that drew equally from the guitar pyrotechnics of post-Van Halen metal and '70s art rock, most notably Pink Floyd and Queen. After releasing a handful of ignored albums, the band began to break into the mainstream with the acclaimed 1988 album Operation: Mindcrime. Its follow-up, Empire, was the group's biggest success, selling over two million copies due to the hit single "Silent Lucidity." Queensrÿche never sustained that widespread popularity — like most late-'80s metal bands, their audience disappeared after the emergence of grunge. Nevertheless, they retained a large cult following well into the ensuing decades.
Guitarists Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton formed Queensrÿche in 1981 in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue. Both guitarists had been playing in heavy metal cover bands and had decided to form a group that would play original material. The duo recruited high school friends Geoff Tate (vocals) and bassist Eddie Jackson (bass), as well as drummer Scott Rockenfield. Instead of hitting the club circuit, the group rehearsed for two years, eventually recording and releasing a four-song demo tape. The cassette came to the attention of local record store owners Kim and Diana Harris, who offered to manage Queensrÿche. With the help of the Harrises, the tape circulated throughout the Northwest. In May 1983, Queensrÿche released the EP Queen of the Reich on their own record label, 206 Records. Queen of the Reich sold 20,000 copies and, in the process, earned the band major-label attention. By the end of the year, they had signed to EMI, which released an expanded version of the EP as the Queensrÿche LP later in the year; the record peaked at number 81.
At this stage, Queensrÿche sounded closer to British metal bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Over the next few years, the group continued to refine their sound, opening for hard rock acts as diverse as Bon Jovi and Metallica. Their next two albums — 1984's The Warning and 1986's Rage for Order — sold respectably, with the latter reaching number 47 on the U.S. charts. Rage for Order also demonstrated a flowering of progressive rock influences, an idea that would reach its fruition with 1988's Operation: Mindcrime. Boasting orchestral arrangements from Michael Kamen, the album was Queensrÿche's most ambitious and focused effort to date, earning both positive reviews and strong sales. Operation: Mindcrime stayed on the American charts for a year, selling over a million copies during its run.
Queensrÿche returned in the fall of 1990 with the equally ambitious Empire. The album proved to be their commercial high-water mark, peaking at number seven on the U.S. charts and going double platinum in America; in the U.K., the album also cracked the Top Ten. Empire's success was instigated by the stately art rock ballad "Silent Lucidity," which received heavy airplay from MTV and album rock radio. All the exposure eventually sent "Silent Lucidity" to number five on the U.S. singles charts. Following the long Empire tour — which included a spot on the 1991 Monsters of Rock tour — Queensrÿche released the live Operation: LIVEcrime in the fall of 1991. Recorded on the Operation: Mindcrime tour, the album replicated their live performance of the rock opera that represented their 1988 artistic breakthrough; the package also included a video and a thick book.
In the three years following the release of Operation: LIVEcrime, the band rested and leisurely worked on the follow-up to Empire. Occasionally, they contributed a song to a soundtrack, such as "Real World" for Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1993 movie Last Action Hero. Queensrÿche finally delivered their sixth studio album, Promised Land, in 1994. Though the heavy metal audience had changed drastically since Empire, with many fair-weather metal fans switching their allegiance to grunge and alternative rock, the group retained a strong following, as evidenced by Promised Land debuting at number three on the U.S. charts. Promised Land would eventually go platinum and spawn two album rock hits, "I Am I" and "Bridge."
During the following two years, Geoff Tate launched a series of one-on-one interviews with various military vets; he then funneled what he'd learned into the band's next project, a concept album about war titled American Soldier. Produced by Jason Slater (who had also helmed Operation: Mindcrime II), the album was released in March 2009. The band then set out on the conceptual Queensrÿche Cabaret tour, merging the band's prog sound with a wild cabaret aesthetic. The band also went overseas to Iraq to play the music of their American Soldier album for the troops for whom it was written. While there, they found themselves victims of a bomb attack but came out of the ordeal unscathed. Later that year, Queensrÿche announced that they were working on new material, and in 2011 released their 11th studio album, Dedicated to Chaos.
In 2014, Queensrÿche announced a PledgeMusic campaign called "Building the Empire." Not only was it designed to fund a new album — with contributors receiving everything from music to gear — it also provided accredited investors with the opportunity to buy into Queensrÿche Holdings, LLC. The band re-entered the studio in December and emerged in February 2015 with a completed album. Three preceding video singles — "Hellfire," "Guardian," and "Arrow of Time" — revealed that the band had returned to a harder, heavier sound. Condition Hüman was released in October of that year, followed in early 2016 by a world tour. In 2017, Rockenfield took paternity leave, with Kamelot drummer Casey Grillo filling in for him at live shows. That year, the band announced they had written enough material for a new album and would be going in to record; however, the album did not appear until 2019. Entitled The Verdict and released on Century Media, it was produced by Zeuss and heralded by the single "Man the Machine." ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Greg Prato