Although they were initially grouped in with the legions of pop/metal bands that dominated the American heavy metal scene of the '80s, Queensr˜che was one of the most distinctive bands of the era. Where their contemporaries built on the legacy of Van Halen, Aerosmith, and Kiss, Queensr˜che 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." Queensr˜che never sustained that widespread popularity -- like most late-'80s metal bands, their audience disappeared after the emergence of grunge. Nevetheless, they retained a large cult following well into the '90s.
Guitarists Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton formed Queensr˜che in 1981 in the Seattle, WA, 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 their 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 Queensr˜che. Wih the help of the Harrises, the tape circulated throughout the Northwest. In May of 1983, Queensr˜che 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, the band signed to EMI, which released an expanded version of the EP as the Queensr˜che LP later in the year; the record peaked at number 81.
At this stage, Queensr˜che sounded closer to the British heavy metal bands like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Over the next few years, the group continued to refine their sound, as they opened 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 -- each 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 which would reach its fruition with 1988's Operation: Mindcrime. Boasting orchestral arrangements from Michael Kamen, the album was Queensr˜che'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.
Queensr˜che returned in the fall of 1990 with the equally ambitious Empire. The album proved to be their commercial high watermark, 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 -- Queensr˜che released the live Operation: Livecrime in the fall of 1991. Recorded on the Operation: Mindcrime tour, the album replicated the group's live performance of the rock opera that comprised 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. Queensr˜che finally delivered their sixth studio album, Promised Land, in 1994. Though the heavy metal audience had changed drastically since Empire, with many fairweather 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."
With 1997's Hear in the New Frontier, Queensr˜che stripped back their sound to the bare bones, leaving behind the prog rock influences that made them distinctive. Although the album debuted at 19, it received mixed reviews and quickly fell down the charts, leading shortly thereafter to founding guitarist Chris DeGarmo's exit from the band. (DeGarmo would soon resurface as part of former Alice in Chains' guitarist Jerry Cantrell's touring band.) Q2K followed in 1999, as new guitarist Kelly Gray took DeGarmo's place. 2000 saw the release of Queensr˜che's first best-of set, Greatest Hits, which the band supported with an opening slot on one of the year's hottest metal concert tickets -- Iron Maiden's Brave New World reunion tour, which also included former Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford (upon the tour's completion, Tate, Halford, and Maiden's Bruce Dickinson formed a metal supergroup, dubbed Trinity). In 2001, the band issued the double CD and DVD Evolution Live. Former member DeGarmo is also gearing up to form a new band, said to include former Alice in Chains' drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Inez. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine & Greg Prato, All Music Guide