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Chapter VII: Sign of the Times

1996-1997: DeGarmo Chases Blue SkiesQueensryche circa 1997

In 1996, the band reconvened to work on songs for Hear in the Now Frontier. The sessions and subsequent album release and support tour marked the end of many chapters for Queensryche. Just as the band's seventh studio release hit stores on March 25, 1997, EMI Records closed its doors, leaving the band without a record label to do promotion and provide support. In addition, QPrime, the Queensryche’s management team since the late 1980s, also dropped the band.

Queensryche soldiered on, however. Hear and the Now Frontier’s lead singles, "Sign of the Times" and "You," received a good amount of airplay on rock radio, as the tunes were much more accessible than some of the songs on Promised Land. The uplifting “The Voice Inside” and epic closer “spOOL” were also promotional singles from Hear in the Now Frontier.

Produced by Peter Collins and mixed by Toby Wright of Alice in Chains fame, Hear in the Now Frontier featured a stripped-down, simpler approach to songwriting, according to Queensryche at the time. Instead of demoing and tweaking songs constantly and continuing to add sonic layers, the band opted for a looser approach, writing the song, demoing it, and then recording it with minimal overdubs.

The drier production and refined songwriting process was a staple of some acts of the time. Lyrically, the album had the social commentary and intelligent bent fans had come to expect from Queensryche. The band’s long-time fans had a history of swaying with Queensryche’s continual evolution over the years, but the overall musical direction was not looked upon favorably by many fans that cut their teeth on the band’s layered and dynamic sound.

With a rawer sound and no record label to help market the leaner sound and approach, album sales slowly dried up. To-date (as of 2014), Hear in the Now Frontier has shifted less than 400,000 copies in the United States, according to industry reports.

Despite the label and management difficulties, Queensryche self-financed a large part of its tour, which started in June. The stage was elaborate, featuring a giant inflatable ear as depicted on the Hear in the Now Frontier album cover. Although the band played a two-hour set, the same amphitheaters it had played in 1994 were now only half full or at times, even less. The sparse crowds were another sign that Queensryche's days headlining large outdoor venues were coming to a close.

To add injury to insult, vocalist Geoff Tate came down with a severe summer cold and blew out his voice in early July, forcing the band to cancel shows due to sickness for the first time in its career. Queensryche eventually resumed the tour and wrapped up in August, heading home to Seattle. There were no follow-up plans to tour Europe.

With no label, a short, self-financed summer tour, and an album that wasn’t received well, one final change occurred during the fall of 1997. Guitarist Chris DeGarmo, who had formed Queensryche with Michael Wilton, Eddie Jackson and Scott Rockenfield 16 years prior, announced to his bandmates that he was leaving the band.

The situation likely got even more uncomfortable later in the year when Queensryche was contractually obligated to play a few shows in South America in December 1997. The band fulfilled their commitment with DeGarmo and as of September 2014, those South American shows continue to mark the last time that Chris DeGarmo played live with Queensryche (although Chris did make a public appearance with Wilton playing an assortment of hard rock cover tunes at halftime of a Seattle Seahawks game in 2011).

DeGarmo has stayed relatively quiet about his departure from Queensryche. While officially just speculation, some well-informed sources have said Tate’s divorce and his subsequent marriage to Susan Tate significantly changed Tate’s perspective on the band and ultimately soured Chris’ working relationship with the singer, leading to DeGarmo quitting the group. DeGarmo toured with Jerry Cantrell on the guitarist's tour in support of his debut solo album, Boggy Depot in 1998. He's contributed to other artists in a songwriting and arrangement capacity over the years as well. But DeGarmo's primary job these days is as a commercial airline pilot.

Editor’s Note: Queensryche went through a commercially unsuccessful period from 1998-2001 with Kelly Gray – Tate’s former MYTH bandmate and a successful Seattle record producer – replacing DeGarmo on guitar. He was ultimately let go from the band after appearing on one studio record – Q2k – and one live album – Live Evolution. More on that later.

-- Brian Heaton

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