You’ve gotta hand it to Queensyrche. It’s unique. What other band would intentionally seek out the worst groups in metal history and slavishly imitate them? Stitching together the dead limbs of early Styx, Rush, Uriah Heep, and Triumph, Queensyrche has formed some new kind of Frankenstein monster, one that, apparently, cannot be killed. Empire, the band’s latest album, stomped its way into the top 10 after just two weeks on the charts.

In a perverse way, this deserves admiration. After all, Queensyrche is single-handedly keeping an abandoned tradition alive — the art-rock wing of heavy metal. Singer Geoff Tate specializes in the mock-operatic bellow that used to be a staple of mid-’70s bands weaned on Led Zeppelin but too lame to rip them off with finesse. Included as well are such genre hallmarks as ”progressive” guitar riffs (i.e., tuneless bombast) and supposedly ”sensitive” acoustic sections (read: corny dreck). On its last release, Operation: Mindcrime, Queens-r che even dared unearth the notion of the unified ”concept album,” always a pretentious, unwieldy form. This time the group avoids anything so cohesively dumb, but the subject matter of the lyrics remains dire. The ravaged environment, gun control, and drug traffickers are all grimly assessed in these songs.

But if the band members are relentless killjoys, at least they’re sincere about it. Which, come to think of it, may just be the scariest thing about them. D