There’s only one Pearl Jam, one Soundgarden and one Alice in Chains. But not so for another huge Seattle band: there are two Queensrÿches. For the time being.
The Grammy-nominated, progressive heavy-metal quartet — which has sold more than 30 million albums worldwide since the early 1980s — has fractured into two separate, contentious groups, each using the name. At least until a lawsuit is settled on or before Nov. 18, and a decision is made about rights to the Queensrÿche brand.
Known for such soaring rockers as “I Don’t Believe in Love,” “Silent Lucidity” and “Eyes of a Stranger,” the original members of Queensrÿche are in a battle for control of their musical empire.
Both bands have new lineups and new albums, as well as separate Facebook pages and websites, and will perform here in the coming week, inviting comparisons among fans who grew up with the original group’s stellar musicianship and stratospheric vocals.
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“In Queensrÿche, we created something very special and unique,” singer Geoff Tate says of the band he joined in the early ’80s. “And that time has gone by and it’s time to move on to a difference phase in life … and not look back. I’ve ripped the rearview mirror off.”
“It’s kind of like a divorce,” drummer Scott Rockenfield says. “We’re going through a long relationship, and now it’s gotten to the point where the divorce needs to happen.”
Indeed, it’s a tumultuous time for a band founded in Bellevue in 1982 by teenage friends who grew up together and recruited Tate as lead singer.
Matt Vaughan, owner of Easy Street Records in West Seattle, recalls meeting the band when he was a teenager. His mom and stepdad, record store owners Diana and Kim Harris, helped the group get its first recording contract with EMI Music in 1983.
“I just remember them being the best of friends,” Vaughan said of the young band. “Their parents would have weekend socials and ran the fan club. They were 17, 18 when they got signed. They hadn’t even done a public show yet … They just happened to be very, very talented at a young age.”
Queensrÿche’s acrimonious split last year followed a backstage altercation at a show in April 2012 in São Paulo, Brazil, that erupted after weeks, even years, of tension among band members Tate, Rockenfield, guitarist Michael Wilton and bassist Eddie Jackson.
Tate confronted his bandmates after learning they had fired his wife, Queensrÿche manager Susan Tate, and his stepdaughter Miranda (who ran the band’s fan club), because of disagreements about how the band and its financial and creative assets were being handled and other long-simmering issues, from creative differences to declining record sales. They threatened to fire Tate as well.
Tate allegedly overturned Rockenfield’s drum kit, spat at him and tried to throw a punch. Though band members dispute what actually happened, it was clearly an ugly scene that required security personnel to keep Tate and his bandmates separated.
“You get pushed to the point that words just don’t make the point,” Tate said of the dust-up. “And unfortunately in this situation, it had come to that, to where the betrayal felt was so monumental and complete that I didn’t have any other way of expressing it.”
Other incidents followed at subsequent shows. Concluding they could no longer work with the singer, Wilton, Jackson and Rockenfield tried to negotiate a buyout of Tate’s share of the band in June 2012, but Tate apparently withdrew from the discussion.
The other band members decided to fire Tate and forge ahead with a new singer. Later that month, Tate and his wife filed a lawsuit in King County Superior Court against the others, claiming they had terminated him illegally, and petitioned the court to prevent them from using the Queensrÿche brand.
But in July the court denied the motion, as well as another motion for summary judgment filed by defendants Wilton, Jackson and Rockenfield, ruling that both parties could use the Queensrÿche name and distinctive “Try-Rÿche” logo.
Judge Carol A. Schapira said at the time that “the market can get these things sorted out,” setting the players up for a battle for the ’Rÿche in the court of public opinion.
At its commercial peak between 1988 and 1990, just before grunge shifted the focus of the rock world away from hair metal, Queensrÿche released “Operation: Mindcrime,” a concept album about a brainwashed junkie who becomes an assassin for an underground movement, and “Empire,” its best-selling album. The latter featured the power ballad “Silent Lucidity.”
Tate, who was included on a recent New York Times list of the 10 best voices in the history of metal, was also at the top of his game as a vocalist.
“I think he brought a lot of drama, a lot of flair, a lot of control and a lot of power to the band,” said rock journalist Jeff Wagner, author of “Mean Deviation: Four Decades of Progressive Heavy Metal.” “He was at the top of that sort of high-pitched vocal vanguard of the ’80s.”
But his presence could be a overbearing, according to Rockenfield.
“We feel we’ve been freed of restraints we’ve had for quite a while,” the drummer pointed out. “The stuff we’re playing in our live show is stuff we wrote back in the ’80s. It’s been a struggle in the past to get those songs on the set list. It just wasn’t allowed.”
The Wilton-Jackson-Rockenfield version of Queensrÿche includes singer Todd La Torre of Florida band Crimson Glory and guitarist Parker Lundgren, who joined Queensrÿche in 2009 before the split.
Wilton, who met La Torre at a music-industry convention last year, said the band has been invigorated by its new singer. Everything clicked at a show last June at Seattle’s Hard Rock Cafe, where the band performed as Rising West.
“There’s a renewed energy,” Wilton said. “In a short period of time with a new vocalist, which is very trying for certain bands, the chemistry just kind of developed and there is a great rapport.”
The band will perform at the release party for its new album, “Queensrÿche” (Century Media Records), Wednesday at the Crocodile Cafe. The show will feature the album’s first single, “Redemption.”
Tate, meanwhile, put together his own band of high-profile musicians — among them bassist Rudy Sarzo (Quiet Riot, Ozzy Osbourne, Whitesnake and Blue Oyster Cult), guitarist Robert Sarzo (Hurricane), drummer Simon Wright (AC/DC and Dio), keyboardist Randy Gane (Myth, one of Tate’s previous bands) and former Queensrÿche member Kelly Gray (who had also been a member of Myth).
Tate came out swinging with his recently released album, “Frequency Unknown” (Deadline Music/Cleopatra Records), featuring 10 new songs, as well as rerecorded versions of Queensrÿche classics “I Don’t Believe in Love,” “Empire,” “Jet City Woman” and “Silent Lucidity.”
The album’s menacing cover depicts a clenched fist with rings that spell “F.U.” Songs range from hard-hitting rockers to power ballads.
Tate is getting mixed reviews. In a comical YouTube video, he encouraged fans to rant about the new album and reacts uncomfortably as one fan describes “Frequency Unknown” as “a travesty of an album.” Tate winces as another says, “Every song sucks.”
Tate’s band will perform Saturday at the Moore Theatre, playing the entire “Operation: Mindcrime” album live on the 25th anniversary of its release.
“It’s a pretty intense record to wrap your head around musically,” Tate pointed out. “This may be the last time people will get to hear it played live.”
Both sides in the dispute are trying to be positive about the future.
“I’ve never been the kind of person who looks back,” Tate said. “I’m always working on something new. It’s just the way I’m wired.”
“Michael, Eddie and I started the band even before Geoff joined,” Rockenfield said. “In our minds, we’ve always been Queensrÿche, at the core.”
Meanwhile, the bands’ respective Facebook pages reflect some of the confusion and turmoil fans are experiencing.
“Why do I feel like this is worse than my parents’ divorce about 100 years ago?” Sharon C. says of the band’s split in a Facebook post. “I feel so helpless and sad watching what is unfolding before my eyes. Like a total collapse of a work of art. Picking sides, not picking sides. Feeling bad for one, then feeling bad for the other … ”
About a year and a half ago, rock journalist Wagner did an oral history for Decibel magazine of Queensrÿche’s “Operation: Mindcrime,” often cited as one of rock’s great concept albums.
He was surprised at the court’s ruling.
“It’s an unusual legal decision,” he said. “It doesn’t help an already terrible situation because now it gives both parties a chance to try to prove how Queensrÿche-y they are.”
Gene Stout: firstname.lastname@example.org