March 26, 2020
The Story of 'Justified,' the Swan Song(?) of Queensryche's Original Lineup
By Brian Heaton
When Capitol Records released Sign of the Times: The Best of Queensryche in 2007, the crown jewel of the multi-disc career retrospective set (at least for this writer) was “Justified,” a song written by former guitarist Chris DeGarmo. The track served as the set's promotional single and was touted as a new recording by the band.
The description wasn't entirely accurate, however, as “Justified” likely goes back a few years to the Tribe sessions. For those of you unfamiliar with the song, this blog will discuss its origin and take a closer look at the tune that may ultimately close the book on the catalog of Queensryche's original lineup.
A glance at the liner notes of Sign of the Times: The Best of Queensryche reveals that “Justified” was recorded by Scott Olson at Robert Lang Studios, and mixed by Adam Kasper (apparently misspelled in the liner - see bottom-right photo) at Studio X—the personnel used by Queensryche exclusively for Tribe. The liner also shows “[a]dditional recording by DeGarmo/Tate,” and “[a]dditional mixing Terry Date.” Theoretically, while all those people could have been involved with “Justified” at the same time, I find it more likely those latter credits indicate separate work on the song, at significantly different times.
Consider that DeGarmo left the Tribe sessions abruptly in 2003, in the middle of recording the album. Bassist Eddie Jackson provided a sworn statement in the Queensryche lawsuit that DeGarmo “simply got up and left” after a disagreement he had with Tate over vocals on the record. All this points to “Justified” being partially recorded for Tribe, left unfinished, and then completed by Tate and DeGarmo (my guess would be vocals and the guitar solo) in 2007.
Unfortunately, there just isn't a lot of concrete information about “Justified.” The track hasn't (as of this writing) been played live by any version of Queensryche or by Tate's various bands. But DeGarmo briefly shared his thoughts on the song in 2007, when appearing on "In the Studio with Redbeard.”
“I think we clicked as good as we ever have on it; it feels like that to me,” DeGarmo said. “And that just demonstrates that I know what we're capable of in that arrangement, under the right conditions."
Musically, “Justified” has a lot in common with the songs on Tribe. It is driven by a mid-tempo riff and has plenty of atmosphere, just like “Open” and “The Art of Life.” It's hard to describe, but if you've been a Queensryche fan for any length of time, you instinctively know what record a song is on, just by how it sounds. “Justified” is no different, and it screams Tribe.
The bridge in “Justified” is my favorite part of the song. Letting the crunch of the verses subside, DeGarmo's clean guitar strolls along reflectively, heightening Tate's voice and the lyrical message in classic Queensryche fashion. It's the right amount of subtlety leading into an uplifting harmonized guitar solo before transitioning back to the chorus.
Lyrically, “Justified” is clearly about rebuilding a relationship that had gone south. Many fans have surmised that it is a direct plea from DeGarmo to his former bandmates to let go of past differences and embrace their friendship. I tend to believe that. But as with most Queensryche songs DeGarmo has written the words to, it's open to plenty of interpretation. That said, however, it's hard to deny the song is an olive branch to Tate, Jackson, Scott Rockenfield, and Michael Wilton.
Check out the lyrics to the first verse:
“Need to know how to get back inside your head.
And now the bridge:
“Now I'm drifting miles away
Unfortunately, it has been 13 years and counting since “Justified” was released. As we're “watching the time tick, tick away,” so are the chances for Queensryche to reunite the original lineup that delivered such inspiring music. A line in the chorus of “Justified” asks: “can't we return to forever, again?” Queensryche may not, and if “Justified” is indeed their farewell, it's a poignant reminder of how special their bond was, and what great music came from it.