It seems like Geoff Tate has gotten rather humbled in the last couple of years. After releasing a conceptual trilogy under the questionable Operation: Mindcrime banner, the former Queensryche singer finally seems content to let somebody else take the reins. Avantasia has used Tate to fairly constructive ends on their most recent efforts and while his name is prominently featured here on Sweet Oblivion’s self-titled debut, it was actually masterminded by DGM guitarist Simone Mularoni. This may also be the band-oriented effort he’s sung on in decades.
Predictably enough, Sweet Oblivion’s style draws from the line between prog rock and classic metal that defined Queensryche circa Empire. The songs generally opt for straightforward linear structures driven by crunchy, shiny guitars and big heaps of vocal layering. There’s also a somber aura that reminds me of Evergrey or Heir Apparent’s recent outings and one can hear occasional tinges of power metal that recalls classic Pyramaze.
The musicianship is more balanced than I had anticipated. There aren’t many riffs per se, but the guitars and bass manage to put in some intricate progressions as well as decent foundations for the vocals. The keyboards play a solid supporting role, generally opting for backing textures but occasionally chiming in with some flashier playing. Even the vocals sound better than I expected; it’s pretty clear that Tate is playing it safe in terms of flexing his range, but his technique serves the material well enough.
But with all this in mind, the songwriting is a little too lethargic for its own good. Individual tracks can be tricky to distinguish due to a heavy emphasis on mid-tempo pacing and while nothing is offensively bad, the drawn-out vocal lines and rather nondescript riffing can make for tedious listening. Fortunately, “Behind Your Eyes” shows early signs of life and the second half does mix things up. I can appreciate the more atmospheric approach on “Disconnect” and the speed on “The Deceiver” is welcome, albeit potentially coming in too late for a full impact.
I’m still not sure why Sweet Oblivion went with the name of a Screaming Trees album, but their self-titled debut is a decent workmanlike offering. Some snappy hooks or extra energy boosts would’ve gone a long way in emboldening the songwriting, but the solid musicianship reinforces the potential that this project has to offer. I wouldn’t rank this above anything that Queensryche has released with Todd LaTorre, but I can see nostalgic Geoff Tate fans getting a lot out of it. Either way, Sweet Oblivion is easily the best thing he’s been a part of since the Clinton administration.
“Behind Your Eyes”