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January 29, 2020

Bring Up the Lights: The Need for Unity and a Queensryche Fan's Confession

By Brian Heaton

Geoff Tate’s exit from Queensryche in 2012 understandably fractured the band’s fan base. On one side, you had those supporting Eddie Jackson, Scott Rockenfield, and Michael Wilton in the effort to return the band to its metal roots. On the other side, there were many Tate loyalists claiming, “no Tate, no Ryche,” steadfastly refusing to support another singer fronting Queensryche. Both groups of fans constantly bickered on social media platforms, with activities extending as far as Tate band members trying to crash Queensryche’s record release party in 2013, at The Crocodile in Seattle.  

Suffice it to say, when the lawsuit between the band members was settled in 2014 and the smoke cleared, there was a clear line in the sand: you supported either Tate or Queensryche—not both. But here we are in 2020, eight years removed from the ugly incidents that fueled the band’s rupture, and fans still take every opportunity (both publicly and privately) to trash both sides. It needs to end. Now.  

No matter what offshoot or era of Queensryche you prefer, there is a place in the musical landscape for all of them. There’s no point in fans slamming Tate and his solo endeavors, nor is there any reason to rip on the Todd La Torre-fronted Queensryche because you favor the band’s original singer. All it does is hurt everyone in those respective camps, both personally and financially.  

I’m not talking about stopping constructive criticism and observation. Music and live performances of it are meant to be enjoyed and openly debated among fans and critics. Lest we forget one of the original Queensryche’s most oft-cited poignant lyrics from Tate: “Think for yourself. And feel the walls become sand beneath your feet.” Hell, this website is devoted to Queensryche’s original lineup. No, I’m talking specifically in this blog about the senseless bashing of the current and former members of the band, and the impact that likely has on all their livelihoods.  

I realize there is a trend these days of surrounding yourself only with like-minded individuals. From politics to sports, more and more people align themselves with those who agree with them, as opposed to welcoming a mix of opinion. This is particularly true in online communities. Social media creates polarizing groups, which inevitably leads to people trolling others. Such is the internet. It has been that way since the mid-1990s, and I doubt it will ever change.  

But if there is one thing that I’ve observed over the past several years, it’s that Queensryche and Geoff Tate, while they play much of the same music catalog, are distinctly different entities with their own unique strengths and attributes. And while the nature of their split naturally has people at odds, I think fans need to embrace them both and move forward in a positive manner.  

I know what you’re thinking: “How can the guy who so forcefully championed Queensryche moving on from Tate for a decade, and brought the Queensryche lawsuit documents further into the public eye, to support change in the band, be saying all this?”  

The explanation is long, but the answer is simple: I was wrong, and too blinded by the attention I received from my involvement in it all to see the third side to Queensryche’s story—the truth.  

And that truth is that what went on between the members of Queensryche, while fascinating, was their own business, and availing myself of it (and with the band’s blessing, helping to disseminate the information worldwide) was a mistake. Just because you have the facts behind the interpersonal relationships between musicians doesn’t mean you fully understand the band dynamic, and even if you do, explaining it in detail on social platforms only adds fuel to what will likely be a fire of negativity.  

I took my fledgling, yet successful discussion forum, The Breakdown Room, which was set up in 2004 so that fans could constructively comment on the band and its happenings, and aligned it with a band member/friend’s interest, turning it into the de facto news source for the new era of Queensryche. Its popularity soared. Hindsight being 20/20, I never should have gone that route of favoring one side over the other. It’s not that I didn’t believe Jackson, Rockenfield and Wilton—I certainly did, and I trusted what I heard from them and others about what had gone on behind the scenes over the years. But by choosing a side, all semblance of neutrality I had built for the forum was forever tainted.  

It was an error that I instinctively knew but ignored as I enjoyed special access to the band and the privileges that went along with that.  As the years went on, and I shuttered The Breakdown Room permanently in the months following the band’s settlement with Tate, a lot of those relationships with band members shifted—something I was warned would happen by old mutual friends in Seattle—and I found myself at odds (for various reasons) with the very “side” I supported.  

For someone who has spent every day of their life since 1988 listening to, or thinking about Queensryche’s music in some capacity, it was a weird position to be in. After some reflection, I realized that while I may not condone the actions of some band members, I was wrong to “choose a side.” I could have stayed out of the whole Queensryche v. Tate affair, and I probably should have.  

A few years ago, I reached out to Tate via email, apologizing for the impact I had on his career, and expressed my regret having been involved. He replied and accepted that apology. I went to go see him perform in 2017 during his acoustic tour reworking Queensryche classics and found myself truly enjoying the show. Sure, it’s not the same as the original five-member lineup of Queensryche, but nothing really is. But I had a nice time and have tried to catch him when he’s in town ever since.  

I repeated that apology with members of current Queensryche as well. Admittedly, due to a variety of reasons that I don't need to discuss here, that was more difficult. And like any person trying to make a change in how they do something, I mis-stepped occasionally.  

For example, in early 2019, I had early access to Queensryche's latest album, The Verdict, and did a quick first reaction post on a message board about it. The observations I made about the songs were fair.  In subsequent postings, however, because Rockenfield was no longer with them and the band was down to just two original members, I started referring to Queensryche jokingly as “Frankenryche” due to the band replacing parts. Not too long after, Wilton read what I had said and called me out on it, saying he didn't appreciate the commentary, and if I didn't like what the band was doing, to just “move on.”  

That was an eye-opening moment for me. Wilton was right, and it made me take another look at not only what I said, but how and where I said it. There was no need for me to slight the band publicly for changes they needed to make. All that did was bring negativity to the Queensryche name. The post should have only been my constructive thoughts and balanced opinion on the music I had listened to. Period.  

I say all this as context for my main point—people slagging on Tate or on Queensryche need to let go of their biases, reconsider their negativity, and move forward. It's a lesson I unfortunately learned way too late, costing me years of enjoying the music and performances from the band I'm most passionate about. Like me, you may favor a certain era. There’s nothing wrong with that. But there's room enough for both Queensryche and Tate's musical entities to co-exist. Wasting time on social media trolling one side or another (and fellow fans) is ultimately self-defeating, and further tarnishes Queensryche's legacy.

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