Queensrÿche, Empire

It's a rare band that puts the progressive in progressive metal, though politically that wouldn't be the title track where Geoff Tate's officious voice-over bemoans the relative dearth of local law enforcement funding. Still, tracks like "Best I Can" and "Resistance" hit hard in all the right ways, and even if this album does sit right on the transition from hair metal to grunge (hear those synth hits in "The Thin Line") "Jet City Woman" and "Another Rainy Night (Without You)" mostly avoid sounding too dated. But the slower, meatier and more deliberate pieces ("Della Brown", "Hand on Heart," "One and Only") have real art and a rich sound fostered by the environmental effects throughout the album and even a cameo from an answering machine; oddly, the otherwise beguiling "Silent Lucidity" may have the most ornate prog trappings but wears the least well in authenticity, almost a cynically deliberate attempt at a metaphysical "Comfortably Numb" (Michael Kamen's presence wouldn't be a coincidence, either). Nevertheless, you could do a lot worse for hard rock, and much of the pretense of lesser art metal bands is refreshingly absent. The 2003 reissue added three ill-advised B-sides, including a disastrous cover of "Scarborough Fair," and the 20th anniversary second disc is another lazy pack-in all-live recording not sufficiently interesting to seek out on its own. Just buy the original; you can probably find it cheaper too. (Content: adult themes in "The Thin Line.")