Queensryche have been in the news in the recent past, sometimes for things other than their music but this review is totally about the music. Legal and other issues I will leave to the lawyers and to be honest I really don't care about the who did what to who teenage tantrums – this is MetalTalk not Miranda's angst column.
Now that is out of the way, what of a band that have sold over 20 million albums but whose recent output hasn't been what you may expect? I never expected a second 'Operation Mindcrime' (you don't do two of those in one band's lifetime).
Guitarist Michael Wilton says of the new music. "We're rebuilding the architecture and setting it back on course. We have the energy I felt when writing 'Speak' and 'The Needle Lies' from 'Operation: Mindcrime'.
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Original bassist Eddie Jackson echoes that sentiment, "We want to bring back the sound we started with. As kids, we bonded over listening to Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Rush. That heavier element is a major part of this band. We're revisiting that, and we're having a great time doing it."
Bravado from musicians and management is hardly a new thing so a lot of the time it is taken with a pinch of salt, or in some cases a whole salt cellar. My ears make far better sense than their pens.
So should the advertising descriptions people be called in to have a look at any outrageous claims? In a word no.
From the opening instrumental intro 'X2' you just get the feeling that things have got better, a lot better. It is grandiose intriguing molten lava pouring out of your screen – enough to give Icelanders that deja vu feeling. Intros are something this lot have always done rather well and always thought about. Short they may be but they stand out on their own.
There is mention of Revolution on the next track 'Where dreams go to die'. Shades of 'Revolution calling'? Well in a way yes but this is revolution in the truest sense, they have had their share of incidents over the years but with this line up, the creativity is there once again. The Queensryche revolution has gone full circle. Drums pounding away, forceful bass line behind it, this is classic 'Ryche. Scott Rockenfield and Eddie Jackson of course know each other's playing as well as I know the inside of a bottle of JD, but they do what they do so well it is a beautiful thing. Michael Wilton is, well, Michael Wilton. Part of the glory days and you can tell immediately that his words are not just empty ones. Parker Lundgren, with the band for a few years now, never had the easiest of jobs convincing the Queensryche fans replacing possibly the most creative element in the band, Chris DeGarmo. But slowly and surely he has been fitting in, morphing into pure Queensryche along the way and with this album it is apparent he is where he belongs.
So to the man behind the voice. OK, so I lied about not mentioning the ensuing catfight, but I will only mention it only once. We don't know what will happen in court later this year between Geoff Tate and the rest of his former band mates. I also want to place on record that I love what Mr Tate, in a purely platonic way you understand, and the band produced especially before Mindcrime and of course the epic itself. But in an ironic way, events of the past year have provided the kick up the proverbial arse that maybe the band needed. Yes yes, I am getting to the current singer, be patient. Early Queensryche without Tate just would not have produced what they did, so in a way it seems a touch ludicrous to try to get back to the glory days and that sound without him. Who on earth could you replace him with? As it turns out, Todd La Torre is about as close to the answer as it gets. Yes really.
He has that feel to his voice, and that is such a huge part of the band, the feel, the emotion, the passion. There may be an argument that he is trying to sound like Mr Tate but in truth the music lends itself to him being like that, this is no stars in their eyes episode. And as those who knew him from Crimson Glory will already expect, there is so much more to his voice and that makes this album so damn good – classic Queensryche with extra protein thrown in.
As if to prove the point 'Spore' has all the ingredients of something lifted from 'Rage for order' and given a testosterone implant. Rockenfield again pounding away. It is almost military in its precision, a call to arms. La Torre's voice echoing Tate's but with a lot more to it, taking it in directions that never happened before.
'In this light' has La Torre drifting more into his own sound but it is still very Queensryche. Balladic, but still a rocker, bass lines shifting your attention, there is so much depth to this one. Twin guitars in perfect harmony, like snakes wrapped round each other, at times deceiving into one entity.
So to the single 'Redemption'. A first taster to the fans that the band meant what they said and are back. Also a vehicle to show that the voice they now have is only going to grow their sound not detract from it. Only the most bitter Tate fan can have reservations.
'Vindication' is next up and I doubt the name was intended to mean this but if there was ever any vindication for Mr and Mrs Rockenfield to buy little Scott his first drum kit, then this is it. The drummer going through all the moves but never making it seem like it is all about him. Forceful melody stampeding its way through, vocals piercing. Anything else you need?
55 second instrumental 'Midnight lullaby' is as intriguing as it is short. Personally I wouldn't recommend it as a lullaby unless you want to scare the living daylights out of your precious little cherub, but as a break on this album it is perfect. A little of the feel of Mindcrime about it, eerie, ghostly in its essence, fading back into your speakers as the calm before the storm.
'A world without' expands on the dark theme, bass and drums in sync driving you towards certain gloom and doom. But it is gloom you want to delve deeper into. Chorus almost anthemic, this is a beautifully crafted song.
'Don't look back' could well be a retrospective look at the world described in 'Mindcrime', the revolution theme again rearing its head with a vengeance. "A revolution on the brink" screams out at you, corporate greed getting a thorough slap on the naughty bits with a big pointy stick. Musically as well it could easily fit side by side with that album.
More mention of revolution follows in 'Fallout' this time apparently it is in disguise though. Another superb song powered by La Torre's vocals almost harmonising with himself in competition with the twin guitar harmony.
So to the final track, 'Open road'. Toning things down just a little, it is a song with a meaning, "Searching for a better way...a blessing in disguise right before your eyes".
It is a song full of hope, optimism and for what it's worth guys, I for one am fairly sure the search for a better way is over. Classic Queensryche riffs, rising vocal chorus, rhythm unit bludgeoning along behind the guitars, it is a perfect way to finish.
It is possible you may have detected a slight feeling that this album has me impressed; it has, immensely. Queensryche had maybe become one of those bands that I still listened to more due to past glories and a blind sense of loyalty. After all they were responsible for one of THE great Rock albums.
As much as I would have loved them to reproduce their greatness with Geoff Tate, the fact is that would never have happened had he stayed. La Torre is the man behind the mic now, get used to it as it can only get better.
To me though the glory behind this album is the sound that Wilton spoke about. It is pure Queensryche, classic Queensryche. Even better than it once was. The original members are the driving force behind this, not the new vocalist. If you want to throw hands I will but don't try to tell me this isn't the genuine article.
Down side – it is an incredibly short album, not too much more than 30 minutes. Quality not quantity.
This is the 12th studio album and perhaps strangely self-titled. But maybe not so strange after all. New York was so good they named it twice; the same goes for the lot from Seattle.
It may not be normal to give an album a maximum 5 out of 5 pints, but for one I like beer. Secondly it is worth the extra ½ for the damn big smile it put on my face.