Sweet Oblivion (Featuring Geoff Tate) – Relentless
Frontiers Music srl
Release Date: 09/04/2021
Running Time: 42:44
Review by Simon Black
Since about 1995 I’ve had an increasing sense of trepidation whenever I have seen Geoff Tate’s name attached to a recording. The man was an absolute vocal hero of mine when I discovered “Operation: Mindcrime” at the end of the 80’s – an album I must have spun a thousand times and which still sounds fresh and wonderful over thirty years later. Pretty much the same can be said about the two ‘Rÿche albums that followed it – the Progressive Metal text book that is “Empire” and the terrifyingly dark story of Tate’s own mental breakdown and recovery that is “The Promised Land”. I still remember his absolutely captivating performance on that latter album’s tour at Nottingham’s Royal Centre which is still one of my top five live gig memories ever. They seemed unstoppable and Tate’s iconic voice and showmanship unmatchable…
…Until the wheels came off of that particular tour bus with the departure of Chris DeGarmo and a series of increasingly disappointing albums trickled out. Eventually Tate split somewhat acrimoniously from Queensrÿche, who promptly recruited a younger version with almost exactly the same timbre of voice and spent the next ten years shitting on his legacy and fan base. The next time I came across Tate was a few years ago at a low key gig in the Welsh valleys, as he toured his greatest hits under the Mindcrime band moniker. Although fantastic to see him in such a small and intimate setting it seemed like a long way down from the lofty heights of yore, as a much physically larger and slightly immobile Tate struggled to hit the notes having become his own tribute act. I felt like crying.
But then Tobias Sammet worked his magic.
Having plumbed the lower depths in the last decade, Tate got on board the Avantasia train – contributing a track to 2016’s “Ghostlights”, then again for “Moonglow” and this time as part of the world tour. If you’ve not come across this man’s Avantasia project, then you may not be aware that Sammet has an absolute gift for persuading rock’s heroes to contribute a track to his increasingly successful Metal Opera projects and frequently reboots their careers. He has the knack of penning a track that totally encapsulates the essence in the fans’ minds of the greatest achievements the guest artist was known for and capturing a performance on record to go with it. If he’s really lucky, the response is so positive that he can persuade the guest to join the Avantasia road crew, where the artists will get to sing a whole bunch of songs with ten other singers in a gruelling three hour but totally sold out live show which normally includes a headline slot at Wacken, get their mojo back and get to feel like it’s the 1980’s again.
Having been suitably refocussed, enter the Sweet Oblivion project – which is one of a long line of projects initiated by Italian label Frontiers Music. It is a Geoff Tate solo album in all but name and one assumes that the moniker and branding has something to do with the complex legal minefield left in the wake of his split from Queensrÿche. I had not come across the debut in 2019 but this incarnation sees Tate bringing in musicians from his Mindcrime touring project and for the first time in a long time I hear the voice and musical tone which has been missing from his delivery for far too long. Musically this is pure “Mindcrime” / “Empire” era Tate and main collaborator Aldo Lonobile has clearly been annotating the DeGarmo / Wilton song-writing tropes to create music that is more classic Queensrÿche than the current incarnation of the band themselves (a trick he also pulled recently with Savatage). The songs have the progressive complexity of that period, but are commercially accessible as well and Tate’s performance feels right out of that wonderful three album glory period benchmark. Gone are the instrument down-tunings to support his older vocal chords and you can hear him moving through the keys in a manner lacking in recent years. Gone too are the lazy intonations and enunciations of those downward years. This latter element drove me to distraction whenever I saw anything he did live this century and it made me question whether he still had all his own teeth, but a quick check on some of the live Avantasia clips shows a Tate pulling out all the stops when he finds himself on the same stage and with equal billing with the likes of Sammet, Michael Kiske, Eric Martin, Ronnie Atkins, Jorn Lande and others who are at the top of their game. He’s had to pull his socks up, with that work ethic clearly carried forward into this project and not before time too. The highlights include ‘Let It Be’, ‘Strong Pressure’, ‘Fly Angel Fly’ and the quite wonderful ‘Aria’, complete with Tate singing lyrics in Italian.
So yes, he’s well and truly back. Let’s hope he can stay there.
‘Another Change’ (Official Video)
01. One Again One Sin
02. Strong Pressure
03. Let It Be
04. Another Change
05. Wake Up Call
06. Remember Me
07. Anybody Out There
09. I’ll Be The One
10. Fly Angel Fly
Geoff Tate – Vocals
Aldo Lonobile – Guitars
Luigi Andreone – Bass
Antonio Agate – Keys
Michele Sanna – Drums
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