Queensryche PhotoFORMED: 1981, Bellevue, WA

Although they were initially grouped in with the legions of pop/metal bands that dominated the American heavy metal scene of the '80s, Queensryche were one of the most distinctive bands of the era. Where their contemporaries built on the legacy of Van Halen, Aerosmith and Kiss, Queensryche constructed a progressive form of heavy metal that drew equally from the guitar pyrotechnics of post-Van Halen metal and '70s art-rock, most notably Pink Floyd and Queen. After releasing a handful of ignored albums, the band began to break into the mainstream with the acclaimed 1988 album, Operation: Mindcrime. Its follow-up, Empire, was the group's biggest success, selling over two million copies due to the hit single, "Silent Lucidity." Queensryche never sustained that wide-spread popularity -- like most late-'80s metal bands, their audience disappeared after the emergence of grunge. Nevetheless, they retained a large cult following well into the '90s.

Guitarists Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton formed Queensryche in 1981 in the Seattle, Washington suburb of Bellevue. Both guitarists had been playing in heavy metal cover bands and had decided to form a group which would play original material. The duo recruited their high school friends Geoff Tate (vocals) and bassist Eddie Jackson (bass), as well as drummer Scott Rockenfield. Instead of hitting the club circuit, the group rehearsed for two years, eventually recording and releasing a four-song demo tape. The cassette came to the attention of local record store owners Kim and Diana Harris, who offered to manage Queensryche. Wih the help of the Harrises, the tape circulated throughout the Northwest. In May of 1983, Queensryche released the EP Queen of the Reich on their own record label, 206 Records. Queen of the Reich sold 20, 000 copies and, in the process, earned the band major-label attention. By the end of the year, the band signed to EMI, who released an expanded version of the EP as the Queensryche LP later in the year; the record peaked at number 81.

At this stage, Queensryche sounded closer to the British heavy metal bands liks Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Over the next few years, the group continued to refine their sound, as they opened for hard rock acts as diverse as Bon Jovi and Metallica. Their next two albums -- 1984's The Warning and 1986's Rage for Order -- each sold respectably, with the latter reaching number 47 on the US charts. Rage for Order also demonstrated a flowering of progressive-rock influences, an idea which would reach its fruition with 1988's Operation: Mindcrime. Boasting orchestral arrangements from Michael Kamen, the album was Queensryche's most ambitious and focused effort to date, earning both positive reviews and strong sales. Operation: Mindcrime stayed on the American charts for a year, selling over a million copies during its chart run.

Queensryche returned in the fall of 1990 with the equally ambitious Empire. The album proved to be their commercial high watermark, peaking at number seven on the US charts and going double platinum in America; in the UK, the album also cracked the Top Ten. Empire's success was instigated by the stately art-rock ballad "Silent Lucidity," which received heavy airplay from MTV and album rock radio. All the exposure eventually sent "Silent Lucidity" to number five on the US singles charts.

Following the long Empire tour -- which included a spot on the 1991 Monsters of Rock tour -- Queensryche released the live Operation: Livecrime in the fall of 1991. Recorded on the Operation: Mindcrime tour, the album replicated the group's live performance of the rock opera that comprised their 1988 artistic breakthrough; the package also included a video and a thick book. In the three years following the release of Operation: Livecrime, the band rested and leisurely worked on the follow-up to Empire. Occasionally, they contributed a song to a soundtrack, such as "Real World" for Arnold Schwarzenegger's 1993 movie The Last Action Hero.

Queensryche finally delivered their sixth studio album, Promised Land, in 1994. Though the heavy metal audience had changed drastically since Empire, with many fairweather metal fans switching their allegiance to grunge and alternative rock, the group retained a strong following, as evidenced by Promised Land debuting at number three on the US charts. Promised Land would eventually go platinum and spawn two album rock hits, "I Am I" and "Bridge."

With 1997's Hear in the New Frontier, Queensryche stripped back their sound to the bare bones, leaving behind the prog-rock influences that made them distinctive. Although the album debuted at 19, it received mixed reviews and quickly fell down the charts. Q2K followed in 1999, as new guitarist Kelly Gray took DeGarmo's place. 2000 saw the release of Queensr˙che's first best-of set, Greatest Hits, which the band supported with an opening slot on one of the year's hottest metal concert tickets Iron Maiden's Brave New World reunion tour, which also included former Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford (upon the tour's completion, Tate, Halford, and Maiden's Bruce Dickinson formed a metal supergroup, dubbed Trinity). In 2001, the band issued the double CD and DVD Evolution Live. Former member DeGarmo is also gearing up to form a new band, said to include former Alice in Chains' drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Inez. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide