Three rock bands that have carved out notable followings in recent years - Queensryche, Cinderella and the Black Crowes - are back with new albums.

QUEENSRYCHE; "Promised Land" (EMI Records). * * *

The surrealism of the Seattle mainstream act Queensryche comes through thoughtful, haunting melodies. But since the success of the hard-edge sound of 1988's "Operation Mindcrime," the band has gone a little soft, a la "Empire" and its single "Silent Lucidity."

Still, "Promised Land" is good - lyrically and musically. While "Empire" focused on the socio-economic state of America, the new album, which is about the rebirth of the spirit, turns the camera toward the band itself.

The opening prelude, "9:28 a.m.," takes place in a hospital room where one person dies and another is born. That piece is segued into the rocking single "I Am I," a proclamation of individuality and identity.

"Bridges," an acoustic-guitar-laden autobiographical work written by guitarist Chris Degarmo, tells about the strained relationship between a child and the father who left him 20 years ago.

When the bellowing chords of the title track ring out, the gloomy arrangement takes singer Geoff Tate's flying vocals and wraps them around visions of disillusion in a "land of paradise."

The Chopin-flavored "Lady Jane" tosses out reflections of "Silent Lucidity," but instead of calming a child's nightmares, the song tells of a schizophrenic girl.

The band is taking a brave step with this release. Though the arrangements on "Promised Land" give a subtle nod to 1986's "Rage for Order," it steps away from rehashing the band's megahits, "Operation: Mindcrime" and "Empire," and expands on the Queensryche sound.

CINDERELLA; "Still Climbing" (Mercury). * * 1/2

The glam-rock band discovered in the mid-1980s by Jon Bon Jovi has regrouped after losing drummer Fred Coury to the ex-Ratt vocalist Stephen Percy project Arcade. And with the help of studio skinman Kenny Aronoff, Cinderella has released the hard-rocking blues flash album "Still Climbing."

Catchy tunes and Tom Keifer's nostalgic screech are the album's highs. The lack of ingenuity and originality are the lows.

There are too many ZZ Top riffs and too much British Invasion blues on tracks such as "Bad Attitude Shuffle," "Blood from a Stone" and the single "Hot and Bothered."

Of all the songs on the album, the title track is the best, though we've heard the style before. The song's heavy cadence is highlighted by a slide guitar rip-off of Led Zeppelin's "In My Time of Dying" and Whitesnake's "Slow and Easy." Even the obligatory ballad "Through the Rain" is dry - definitely not "Don't Know What You Got 'til It's Gone." Then again, the album is not another "Long Cold Winter."

The Black Crowes; "Amorica" (American). * * 1/2

The band that brought back the mid-'70s blues-rock with its smash debut "Shake Your Money Maker" and the follow-up "Southern Harmony and Musical Companion" has done it again.

"Amorica" is not the Black Crowes' best album, although it shows some maturity. Instead of rehashing tired riffs and stereotypical licks, the band from Atlanta, Ga., occasionally expands its sound. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

The opening cut, "Nonfiction," is OK. The slow mosey and swagger of the band are communicated through each chord. "She Gave Good Sunflower" leans more to the early albums' sound thanks to the chord strands of Eddie Harsch's Hammond B-3 organ.

Although "Amorica" as a whole is somewhat sloppy (as it's supposed to be), the album is consistent, though overall it lacks originality.

When "Ballad to Urgency" begins, Rich Robinson strums out a neo-exotic Eastern intro that bubbles into a Journey-like ballad. Robinson's lead-singing brother, Chris, is not Steve Perry, but the sound is definitive AOR. This song segues into an Eagles-like "Wiser Time."

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There are, however, a few surprises. One nice cut is the finger-snapping, honky-tonk of "Down-town Money Waster." The song's loaded with acoustic guitar and bottleneck leads.

By far the best song on the album is the last - a mellow gospel chant called "Descending." The lucid arrangement brings to mind "She Talks to Angels" but builds on that sound and takes the listener to a higher plane.

Too bad fans have to struggle through 10 mediocre songs before reaching spiritual fulfillment.

RATINGS: four stars (* * * * ), excellent; three stars (* * * ), good; two stars (* * ), fair; one star (* ), poor, with 1/2 representing a higher, intermediate grade.

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