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April 2, 2020

Queensryche's Empire Demos Give Fascinating Listen into the Album's Development

By Brian Heaton

Before file-sharing became the norm, bands that came up in the 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s typically had cassette tapes of the songs they were writing in various stages of completion. Queensryche was certainly no exception and leaked demo tracks of their tunes have been circulating among collectors for years.

One of the most captivating sets of these demos is from Empire. With the album celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, AnybodyListening.net takes a listen back to Empire's “work in progress” recordings and how they differ from the album versions.

Instrumental Jam I: This song didn't appear on Empire and is what it says it is—an instrumental jam. For the most part, it sounds like the soundtrack to a video game, with a simple drum track, bass track, and guitar strum. But then a keyboard part comes in for dramatics, which is repeated multiple times throughout the song.

The Thin Line (demo v.1): At first, this version sounds almost identical to the album version. But then once you get to end of the intro and first verse, you notice more keyboards, and different lyrics. Getting to the chorus, that again is reminiscent of the album version. When you reach the solo though—that's entirely different. Instead of the familiar harmonized guitars, this version has a keyboard doing the main solo, with rhythm guitar underneath. A thoroughly Rage for Order-like vibe on this track.

Hand on Heart (demo v.1): Nothing seems amiss during the opening of this track, until you get to the vocals. Geoff Tate was clearly working on the lyrics, particularly in the chorus. It gets more evident as the song continues, with whole sections of words being different than the album version of the song. The vocal melody is generally the same, however. Musically, there are slight tweaks here and there, most notably, the guitar solo. It was tightened up a bit for the album, but here it's a little unstructured. The outro, which is a fade-out on the album, ends with Tate simply singing “hand on heart” in the style of the song's chorus.

Jet City Woman (demo): Chris DeGarmo's signature opening guitar line is identical to the album version of this tune. Again, it's the lyrics that are significantly different throughout the verses. In fact, the second verse and pre-chorus are mostly void of lyrics entirely, except for Tate singing “jet city woman.” The bridge and solo, musically, are the same as the album. It appears DeGarmo had this one fleshed out pretty well before recording it. Tate comes out of the solo skatting to the song's familiar vocal melody.

Instrumental Jam II: A short track that harkens back to “Instrumental Jam I.” The bass has a bit more direction in this one, but that's about it.

The Thin Line (demo v.2 w/sax): So, you thought “Promised Land” was the first Queensryche song with the saxophone? Think again! I guess technically it is the first officially released song to have it on there, but Queensryche's experimentation with the sax began with this demo track from Empire. Tate went to town on the tenor sax. This demo features a sax solo almost two minutes long!

The jazzy vibe of Tate's sax solo, however, contrasts with the rest of the song, which like the previous demo (v.1), has a distinctly Rage for Order feel to it. The opening guitar bit of v.2 always reminds me of the first 10-12 seconds of Metallica's “Fade to Black” before launching into an atmospheric, creepy sounding tune. In addition, much like v.1, the words in v.2 are different than the final cut that is on Empire. The chorus, however, is basically the same.

Anybody Listening? (demo): Musically, this demo is very similar to the album version of the song we're all familiar with, which served as the sixth(!) and final single from Empire. There are a few minor differences in the song's arrangement, but DeGarmo's emotive guitar solo is the same. Lyrically, there are some lines that have been swapped in and out. For example, the ending of “close your eyes” is still there, but it also appears earlier in the song.

Hand on Heart (demo v.2): Unlike demo v.1 of this tune, v.2 is very different musically from what's on the album. It's a little less metal, a bit slower, creepier, and looser. The chorus is structured like the one we all know from the album, however, so it's not unfamiliar. The ending of the guitar solo is closer to the album version of the song as well. The song also fades out. Lyrically, contains different words, although the chorus line is close to the final version.

Last Time in Paris (demo): Some people may not know that the creators of The Adventures of Ford Fairlane had the option of choosing “Last Time in Paris” or “The Thin Line” for the movie's soundtrack and chose the former. Had they gone the other way, “Last Time in Paris” would have been on Empire instead. Lyrically, this demo has a few alternate passages, but musically, this demo take is pretty faithful to the final version of the song, complete with DeGarmo's slide guitar work.

Unfortunately, demo versions of the remaining songs from Empire never made it into circulation. I'm hoping when the contents of the 30th Anniversary edition of Empire is announced later this year, it may contain some of the other tracks we haven't heard yet. On a personal note, I'm curious if there's a demo to “Della Brown,” Queensryche's ode to the blues, and if there's an alternate take of “Best I Can” out there.

For now, if you dig the above descriptions check YouTube. A quick search will show that the Empire demos have been uploaded by various users over the years for everyone to enjoy.

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