Genre: Progressive metal
Total tracks: 11
Album length: 35:04
Label: Century Media
Rating: 10 of 10
If you are a longtime metal fan, or even relatively new to the genre, no doubt you have heard the name Queensrÿche in passing, if you are not already a fan. Everyone knows their accomplishments: creating one of the greatest concept records of all time (Operation: Mindcrime), their Pink Floyd-esque ballad “Silent Lucidity" hitting the charts at a time when the changing of the guard between hair metal and grunge was inevitable, and anything resembling progressive rock or metal was the farthest thing from being considered “cool".
Suffice it to say, Queensrÿche has earned a great deal of respect over their 30 years of existence, and rightfully so. Taking to heart their moniker of “thinking man's metal", the band was never afraid to take musical risks or to challenge themselves as artists. Each album was different from the one before; for better or for worse, you knew this was not a band who was just going to sit on their laurels and churn out the same tried-and-true formula with each new release. Whether it was always a sound you liked or not, one thing was certain: you never knew what to expect, and that was part of their appeal.
Yet as time went on and certain line-up changes started to happen, the band's musical direction started to take strange turns that even fans like myself—who always enjoyed their ventures into experimentation—found it harder and harder to justify. When the sonic dud that was known as Dedicated to Chaos was released in 2011, it was becoming clear that the legacy of the “thinking man's metal" band had been reduced to a caricature of themselves. Instead of sweeping epic concept albums or elaborate thematic music videos; we now had lyrics that seemed more befitting a teenage boy just discovering his hormones, accompanied by cabaret shows with half-naked women and certain bandmembers baring more onstage than any of us wanted to see!
It appeared that all the things people once loved Queensrÿche for were no longer there, or had become buried beneath the gimmicks. Even when the band tried to resurrect those things that fans loved (such as making a sequel to the beloved Operation: Mindcrime, or trying to reunite with former bandmembers to recapture the former magic), it seemed that instead of resurrecting their glory days, fans were becoming more and more resigned to the sad fact that those days were long gone, and were never coming back. Even among the metal scene, Queensrÿche seemed to be a name that was forgotten or whose greatness was only referred to in the past tense. For each attempt to jump-start their image, it only appeared as another failed effort to convince an uninterested public that they were still relevant.
But then in the spring of 2012, the band was back in the public eye, and not necessarily for good reasons. I don't need to elaborate here about them; anyone who is a metal fan who has internet access already knows the major split between the band and their original lead vocalist, Geoff Tate. Everyone knows the sordid details behind the parting of ways, and I'm not here to further speculate on that or to further play into the ongoing debate between a fan community now split in two. If you are reading this article, you probably already know those things anyway. If you don't, feel free to use Google to find out. That's what it was made for. Don't worry, you can take your time and come back to this when you are ready. Or you can look at this video here and get a general idea of what has transpired.
So are you up to speed on all of this now? Good. On to the review!
You are likely aware that at the time of this writing, there are two versions of Queensrÿche: one featuring 3/5 of the original bandmembers, and the other version featuring former vocalist Geoff Tate and his band of hired musicians who have never been part of the original lineup in any way, shape, or form (with the exception of Kelly Gray, who played for Queensrÿche in the early '00s after replacing original guitarist Chris DeGarmo).
This review focuses solely on the version that some call “the real Queensrÿche", “Queensrÿche Official", or “the Rising West version": featuring original bandmembers Michael Wilton, Eddie Jackson, and Scott Rockenfield; along with guitarist Parker Lundgren (who has been playing with the band for quite a few years now), and new vocalist Todd LaTorre, formerly of the band Crimson Glory. When this new lineup revealed themselves in June of 2012 at a show in their hometown of Seattle under the name of “Rising West", fans stood up and took notice. For many longtime fans, it was the first time they started to feel a glimmer of hope that somehow, they were finding their way back to their progressive-metal roots. When Todd hit the stage and belted out the trademark high note from the band's classic fan favorite “Queen of the Reich", there was no doubt left to any fan listening that happy days were here again!
It was clear that not only did the fans feel this way, but the band did too; one huge indicator of their desire to revive their classic sound was bringing back legendary producer Jimbo Barton into the fold, known for his work on albums such as Empire and Promised Land. While in the middle of a lawsuit that will ultimately decide which side will claim the Queensrÿche name once and for all (to be decided in early 2014, at the time of this writing), this shared sentiment among the band and fans was clear when they announced the title of their long-awaited upcoming new album in early 2013: it would simply be called Queensrÿche, a bold statement to “anybody listening" that this was the real deal, and to accept no imitations.
Just for the record, until the issue is settled as to who rightfully owns the band's name...from this point out, whenever you hear me refer to “Queensrÿche" in the present tense, it is this version I mean and no other. You will not see a review for the "other" album on this blog, so don't bother looking. Again, you can use Google to read the many reviews out there for that. Or you can have fun with this video here if you are so inclined.
Now that I've gotten all the disclaimers out of the way...there's not much left but to turn on the music!
The first track, “X2", is little more than an intro; very reminiscent of a movie score soundtrack, which is not surprising, considering Scott Rockenfield's professed love for and ventures into film music. It's an eerie, ominous intro that hearkens to the dark vibe of Promised Land; very similar in feel to that album's intro, “9:28 a.m.". The song is just a little over the minute mark before promptly seguing into the next track.
Although “Where Dreams go to Die" is the second track, it's an appropriate kick-off to the album. Here we find the pounding drums, heavy riffs, and melodic sensibility that encompasses classic Queensrÿche. When Todd's vocals come in, he delivers all the goods that Geoff Tate once did; the high notes, the emotional delivery. And Todd really needs to bring it on this track, because lyrically, this is definitely the ultimate “middle-finger" song; lyrics written by Parker Lundgren. I would not want to make him mad at me! Forget all those pop princesses out there who supposedly write a good revenge song; they've got nothing on Parker when he has a bone to pick with you! It's really become no secret that this song is a thinly-veiled reference to Tate and the incidents that led to the split; with lyrics referencing past Queensrÿche songs (“spreading like a new disease...a revolution call..."). This track is a brilliant example of how Queensrÿche has returned to their roots both musically and lyrically; giving you something to bang your head to, while painting a picture through their words for fans to watch unfold as the song progresses.
“Spore" is a heavy tune that wastes no time in getting to the point. Need I mention that Todd's vocals shine on this track too? I may as well stop using that reference now, because every song is a stellar vocal performance from Todd. Another track that has lyrics that seem to have a deeper meaning; the chorus asking the listener to help their fellow man. The instrumental break is melodic and heavy; just the thing fans like to hear from Queensrÿche.
Track four, “In This Light", is the first of the “ballad"-type songs, although this is hardly a sloucher! Even Queensrÿche's “ballads" have a heavy feel to them, which is indicative with the opening riff. Todd's vocals are emotional as he sings about searching for something he hasn't found yet. One of the things many fans love about the band is their ability to merge harmony with heaviness, and this is a song that hearkens to earlier classics that did this so well; such as “Anybody Listening?", for example.
The fifth track, “Redemption", is the first track that the band released officially, introducing the world to Todd LaTorre, and it was a fitting introduction! If you want an example of how Todd sounds like a young Geoff Tate, look no further than this track. Yet at the same time he brings something new to the table and gives us a certain power to his voice that we haven't heard from Tate in years, and in some respects maybe never had! I read a review comparing the two voices, and it said that it felt to them like Geoff was always holding something back, and I can agree with this assessment. Todd does not sound like he's holding back at all!
“Vindication" is one of the heaviest songs on the record, which is saying a lot considering this album has not skimped on the heaviness at all so far! But the band really rocks it out here; everyone sounds like they are letting loose, yet with the same deadly-accurate precision that they have become known for. Another set of lyrics that suggest a reference to “the split", as the band proclaims their “rise to the top once again". A song like this is a perfect example of why Queensrÿche is one of my favorite bands and why I love music that manages to merge musical virtuosity with emotional delivery. So many people believe that you cannot be musically proficient and be emotional; or that all "emotional" music must sound like a jumble of dissonant sounds. Songs like this, to me, are the proof that this just isn't true.
The seventh track, “A Midnight Lullaby", is another intro-type piece; once again reminiscent of film music, we enter the eerie world of a crying baby and the winding of a music box, playing a haunting melody until it seamlessly brings us to...
“A World Without"...I cannot say enough about this song! It is musical perfection. Up until this point we have heard Todd's impressive high notes, but here he switches it up and shows off his lower range; proving that he sounds just as stunning when he's singing deep and sultry, as when he's belting out notes that could break glass. To me, this song is a perfect fusion of my two favorite Queensrÿche albums: Rage for Order and Promised Land. It has all the gothic darkness of Rage, coupled with the symphonic drama of PL. It's like those two albums made sweet love by the fire and produced a love child of epic proportions! Or, it's like the band could hear my innermost wishes for what elements constitute the perfect Queensrÿche song, and gave me this precious gift. For me, this song is just as important in heralding the return of classic Queensrÿche as any of the heavier tunes. Maybe even more so. One distinct factor that is a nod to their earlier works: they have enlisted the services of “Suite Sister Mary" herself, Pamela Moore, to provide backing vocals on this track. I can't find any flaws or fault with this song, other than that it ends! But that's what the “repeat" option is for, right?
Song nine, “Don't Look Back", kicks back into the fast-paced goodness that has dominated throughout the album. Todd's assertive vocals match the band's aggressive playing, executing a rapid-fire sonic assault on the senses. Lyrically, this once again seems to touch upon the “classic Queensrÿche" themes of social or political awareness, which is another thing I love about them. This track is another song that I could see making the crowds react at live shows.
“Fallout", the band's current single, starts out with some nice thumping bass, which stands to reason, as this song was written by bassist Eddie Jackson. When I first heard this song, I thought that maybe it would be my least-favorite song on the album. It's not bad, but it just wasn't resonating with me at first. In fact, for the first few listens, I would forget the song no sooner than I was done listening to it (chalk it up to old age, perhaps?)! However, I find songs like that a challenge, because they often have a way of getting under your skin and into your heart. Sure enough, after several listens, the light turned on and I could hear what the other fans were raving about in regards to this jam that clocks in at less than 3 minutes, yet does not leave you feeling unfulfilled. It's got a chorus you can pump your fists to and sing along with, which is always good for live shows. You can see this for yourself by checking out the official video below.
The final track, “Open Road", is a devastatingly gorgeous ballad that is definitely “quintessential Queensrÿche": the beautiful acoustic guitars, the breathtaking harmonies, and vocals fraught with emotion. Throughout the album, we heard lyrics that hinted at the rough times that the band has experienced over this last year. This song is the silver lining; a clear message to the fans that they have closed the chapter on what has happened before, and are moving on to brighter horizons. “A blessing in disguise, right before your eyes", says the final lyric; as if to tell the fans that dawn has broken from their darkest hour. A perfect closer to a perfect album.
Overall opinion: Count me among the many fans who have proclaimed that Queensrÿche is back, and I couldn't be happier about it! It seems as though for the last 15 years, my love for this band had waned to nothing more than a memory. I still loved the older stuff, but as far as anything new, I wasn't impressed. I was one of those fans who drew a clear line at where I felt the “real" Queensrÿche ended (with the departure of Chris DeGarmo), and resigned myself to looking at those older albums as all there was that remained. It was easier to act as though Queensrÿche morphed into something else or did not exist anymore, so as to not tarnish what the older albums meant to me.
So when I saw those first live videos of the Rising West shows, my hopes were lifted. It was the first time in a very long time that I heard the band that I loved. But I was still somewhat skeptical, because after all, they were only doing songs that they had performed live for years and had down pat; the only difference was a new vocalist, and he was a longtime fan who studied the band's music and knew how to sing those songs front to back. I wanted to reserve my enthusiasm for when there was new music, because that was the true test of whether Queensrÿche had really returned, or if the fans were just prematurely setting themselves up for another disappointment.
From the opening riffs of “Redemption", and each song that the band released online up until the album came out, that skepticism dwindled away to nothingness; every song was better than the one before. My reservations were fading away and were being replaced by enthusiasm over having “my" Queensrÿche back.
Further proof of this was not just in the music, but in the lyrics too. The lyrics were back; Queensrÿche was making words matter again! To me, one of the main reasons—if not the main reason—that Queensrÿche is among my top 3 favorite bands, is because they are one of the few artists out there where the lyrics are just as important as the music; perhaps even more so in some instances. I don't think albums like Operation: Mindcrime and Empire would have experienced such success if they didn't have the intelligent lyrical themes to accompany the complex music. Over the years, as I have immersed myself more in music from overseas, I have learned to overlook certain things when it comes to song lyrics (especially listening to bands whose primary language is not English); but for me, Queensrÿche was always something special. With them, I could never accept anything less than verses that made you think by taking you to places and situations that were sometimes challenging, but always interesting. I would say that a big part of my disinterest in their music over the last 15 years came from uninspired lyrics and clichéd themes. That was not the Queensrÿche I loved.
For me, the lyrics are a huge factor in what makes their music great; so to have that back again is just as great a pleasure as the music coming full circle. To hear words again—words that evoke imagery, scenery, and powerful emotion—as a writer, of course I am influenced by the written word, but music lyrics are a huge influence for me as a writer. A good lyric within a song has the ability to transport you to another place in the same way that a good book can do; yet only a handful of artists have this rare talent, especially in music today. What I always loved about Queensrÿche was their ability to take you on a journey through not only their music, but through the story they wove through the words they composed.
So to see lyrics like, “Adapting model state, symmetry property possessed in varying degrees"; “Arrogate through media, instigate acedia"; “Mass regimentation, a phenomenon of industrialization...Reaction against control, striving to attain a common goal"; “Magnetize what you conceptualize because your thoughts become things" (and these are just to name a few!)...it just excites me to see the imaginative lyrics have made a comeback, as well as the heavy yet complex music that fans have missed. But there are so many reviews out there already praising the return of the trademark Queensrÿche sound. Far too few of them are celebrating another hallmark of their iconic legacy: the social/economic/political commentary in their songs; words that delve deep beneath the surface and give greater power to their musical strength. In other words, their ability to walk the walk and talk the talk!
But I should probably not end this review without mentioning the music, because that is what it all comes down to! The band promised that they were making a return to the sound that encompassed their first 5-6 albums, which many fans agreed were among their finest pieces of work and what constituted the “Queensrÿche sound". While they delivered on their promise by bringing back the heavy riffs, the twin-guitar attack, the beautiful harmonies and the powerful vocals; this is not to say that the new album is a copycat of any previous album. So if you are expecting a Warning 2 or a Return to Mindcrime, you should probably throw that notion out the window right now. The fundamentals of the old sound have returned, but it has been given a much-needed update and is exactly what it promises: it's a modern version of the Queensrÿche we all know and love. It's just what we would expect as a natural progression from albums like Empire or Promised Land. It's an evolution from the classic sound, not a repeat or rehash of those sounds.
However, if you wanted to compare this to their older works, this almost could have been the album either released between Operation: Mindcrime and Empire, or the one released after Promised Land. While it sounds very much like old-school Queensrÿche, they have also brought in a very current sound that keeps things fresh and exciting. Nothing here sounds dated, yet at the same time, it feels as if though it belongs right there among those classics. It's as if with one fell swoop, this album completely wiped out the last 15 years of the band's back catalog. It's like Q2K and Dedicated to Chaos never happened and were just a horrible nightmare!
It goes without saying that Todd has been a great addition to the band, but I feel inclined to give props to Parker as well! Although he is technically not a "new" member, he is not an original bandmember either. However, he infuses “young blood" into the dynamic; he is only in his late '20s, but it's clear he's done his homework and knows what the fans want, considering his contribution to the songwriting with “Where Dreams go to Die". Much as I would love to see Chris DeGarmo make a guest appearance or some sort of return to the band and will never stop hoping for it, I also would not like to see Parker go anywhere either, and certainly would not mind if someday Queensrÿche emulated Iron Maiden in that they find a way to incorporate 3 guitarists into the fold!
With an album that has so many positive attributes, aren't there any downsides to it at all? Well, if we want to nit-pick, perhaps this is a good time to point out that this album is only 35 minutes long, and two of those songs are just within the 1-minute mark. You could call those intro songs “throwaways" or “filler" tracks, and the album could stand alone without them. But they provide an ambiance that readies the listener for the musical trip they are about to go on, so one could say they are just as important as any other song. And to be quite honest, if the worst we can say about this album is that it's only 35 minutes, that should tell you how good it is! Too many bands nowadays feel the need to fill the CD to the last nanosecond, and as a result, we oftentimes get an hour's worth of filler and about 15 minutes of good music. It's also easy to forget that many legendary albums barely surpassed the half-hour mark! I would rather have a solid 35 minutes of killer songs than to have an hour and a half of ho-hum material any day! The good news is that as of this writing, the band has announced that they are already working hard on new material for their next album, and definitely plan to have some longer songs in the mix!
So I think we've covered all the bases here; this is a comeback story so epic that it's worthy of a Queensrÿche album! All that's left to say is: welcome back, Queensrÿche! We've missed you!