Monday, October 5, 2015

Album review: Queensrÿche—Condition Hüman (2015)

Condition Hüman album cover


Album: Condition Hüman
Artist:  Queensrÿche
Label: Century Media
Genre: Progressive metal
Tracks: 12
Total time: 53:27


The smoke has cleared, the furor has died down, and at long last, the battle for custody of the Queensrÿche legacy had a victor. Now that the band's less-than-amicable split with their former singer was officially in the past and both parties were moving on, it was time to get back to what really mattered: the music.

With the 2013 release of their eponymous album, Queensrÿche had proved that they could make it on their own without their iconic former frontman. The album was a true return to form, and showed promise of greater things to come. Clocking in at 35 minutes, the album was a success, but fans longed for more. They could hear in just that short amount of time everything they had been missing for the last decade and a half, and knew that once the band was free to create without the burden of past baggage weighing them down, that the potential of the first album with Todd LaTorre would be realized in even greater capacity the next time around.


Suffice it to say, the next album had a lot to live up to before it was even made. If people were watching the band critically before, they were looking even closer at them now. For the doubters, it was easy to chalk up the first album as being successful because the band and fans alike were still in a “honeymoon phase” with LaTorre; everything was still new and exciting, and the allure had not quite worn off yet. They had managed to make a hell of a great album and to reignite the spark, but the true test would be if they could maintain the fire they had lit. Too often, many bands fell prey to the dreaded “sophomore jinx”, and for a band like Queensrÿche, there was much more at stake because this was not the second album of their career that could be redeemed in another album or two: there was no do-over on a second chance this far into a band's lifespan. They had been given the rare opportunity to rewrite their own history. Now was the make-or-break moment as to whether their future was secured as well.

Even as far back as the 2013 album's release, the band declared that they were already working on songs for a follow-up, and hinting that the music would be in a much more progressive vein than on the previous record. If this hadn't already excited the legions of fans who were waiting on the edge of their seats to hear what Queensrÿche would do next, this sent them into an absolute frenzy. The 2013 self-titled album was proof that the band could get back to their metal roots and rock again; now the fans wanted them to expand upon that and return to the progressive style that made them stand out from all their other contemporaries in the ’80s metal scene.

It may sound like Queensrÿche fans are quite the demanding bunch; but quite simply, we have high standards because we know that the band can live up to them. The band knows this too, and are ready and willing to meet those demands because they are the type of band who wants to top themselves and do better than they did the last time. This is what fans love about them: the band listens to their audience and are completely open to constructive criticism; they aren't afraid to hear honest opinions, because they are perfectionists and therefore have probably already recognized where there is room for improvement themselves! (Not only this, but just observing from the outside as someone who frequents their Facebook page regularly, they listen to negative feedback just as much as positive reinforcement; I daresay I have a much shorter fuse when it comes to a lot of these trolls, but Queensrÿche takes it all in good stride and respectfully acknowledges their viewpoints as much as anyone else who cares to express their thoughts.)

Another note-worthy attribute that Queensrÿche fans have that seems to be lacking in many fanbases in this day and age of instant gratification and online interaction between bands and fans, is that even when certain elements come into play that they are not sure of or don't entirely agree with, many fans remain broad-minded and are not quick to criticize. The perfect example of this is when it was announced that the band would not be working with Jimbo Barton as producer again for the album-in-progress. That probably sent shockwaves throughout the Rÿchean fandom, but overall, there was little public outrage or complaints. Even when it was revealed that the album's producer was Chris “Zeuss” Harris—known more for producing artists such as Rob Zombie and bands such as Soulfly, Chimaira, and Demon Hunter—Rÿche fans remained optimistic; presenting a tolerant attitude and keeping faith that the band they loved knew what they were doing and weren't going to let them down.

Even when the band launched a PledgeMusic campaign (similar to Kickstarter and other crowdfunding projects)—something that many older music fans did not understand or see the point of, or normally saw as a shameless money grab—fans still kept an open mind and as pre-orders on the PledgeMusic site racked up, slowly but surely began to rethink their stance on these issues; because they wanted the new Queensrÿche album that much. Even the band's fans were going back to the way things used to be; their audience was once again encouraged to think outside the box and engage in open discussion about topics that people felt strongly about...even if it was something as uncontroversial as crowdfunding campaigns.

As the weeks and months went on, the process that became Condition Hüman really was like a community effort. The fans, ever-supportive, wanted to do their part to bring this album to life; and contributed in whatever way they could so that the band could carry on and let the artistic process happen with as few bumps in the road as could be managed. It only made sense: Queensrÿche were not the only ones who went through the ups and downs of the last few years; the fans had gone through it with them and wanted the best album possible not only for their own sake, but for the band's too. The fans were rooting them on to go out there, kick ass, and silence the skeptics once and for all. They wanted the album that they knew had been brewing within Queensrÿche for years, and had been waiting just as long to hear.

Although it has only been little more than 2 years since the last album's release, the wait seemed like an eternity. For those of you reading this who are not Queensrÿche fans or do not know the band's history very well...you must understand that even though on a calendar, it was only 2 years and that is really not a long time at all; for fans, it was a much longer wait than that. For years we had endured sub-par albums and getting only a fraction of the band's full capability, due to former bandmembers keeping the musical direction locked in the same place for a very long time. So it was not just 2 years that we had been waiting; we had really been waiting for more like 2 decades! Perhaps the impatience that we fans exhibited might be somewhat forgiven when the context of our restlessness is better understood when you look at it in this way!

Sure enough, when the first single, “Arrow of Time”, was released, it was everything the fans had expected, and then some. Further developing upon the hard-rockin' sensibility of the previous effort, “Arrow of Time” moved it up another notch and clearly showed the band's rapid progression in just those 2 short years.

Everything about Condition Hüman presented the standard hallmarks of classic Queensrÿche: from the music video for the second single, “Guardian” to the album artwork featuring a dark attic room where a little girl wipes the dust away from the window to leave the shape of a tri-ryche looking out on a Seattle skyline; Condition Hüman was shaping up to be exactly what everyone had hoped for and expected. Now it seemed that October 2nd would never arrive; as the days drew closer, the wait felt even longer. The shining reviews that were beginning to crop up across the internet only seemed like merciless teasing to the fans; we wanted to hear how great it was too!

If you were a PledgeMusic backer, your wait was shortened by just a few hours if you lived on the West Coast: at 9 p.m. on October 1st, your digital download available with your pre-order was waiting in your inbox! Within moments, the wait was over and I was able to hear Condition Hüman for myself.

“Arrow of Time”: The first single, it's a perfect jumpstart to the album; the twin guitars of Michael “Whip” Wilton and Parker Lundgren are perfect symbiotic assault from the get-go: that counterbalanced style of metal aggression and progressive harmony that is so unmistakably Queensrÿche. From start to finish it's a high-energy song that gets you up off your feet, ready to pound your fists and bang your head. It's also a perfect introductory song to the album because there is much about it that is reminiscent of the first album, yet clearly a step up from its predecessor.

“Guardian”: If the previous song was a fitting introduction to Condition Hüman, then this track continues to set the tempo by bringing in all the balls-out heaviness that made the previous album so good; but again, this is another track that takes all the key elements of the last album and injects them with even more power. The lyrics are even a testament to the band's new direction; playing on one of their most well-known songs, they flip the script by proclaiming what they are all about now: “evolution calling!” Todd lets loose vocally and belts out some wicked high notes that are just crazy! Think of all the heaviest songs from the 2013 album, take all the best parts of each one, and then imagine what a song featuring all those components would be like, and you've got “Guardian”.

“Hellfire”: Starting off with the melodic acoustic guitars that is just as much a Queensrÿche trademark as their heavy riffs, this song sounds as though parts of it were taken from Whip's “Hollow” demo. This is the Queensrÿche we remember that could strike a balance between harmony and heaviness without turning it into a sappy ballad.

“Toxic Remedy”: I see this one being a fan-favorite across the board. This is another song that is not so much on the heaviness in a fast way, but more on the depth of the song's message. There is this slow heaviness to it that channels an aggression that is just as intense as any of their faster songs. Todd sounds sinister in some parts, commanding in others; setting the tone of the lyrics with his vocal delivery. It's got a Mindcrime vibe to it, but also very much a Rage for Order or Promised Land feel to it as well.

“Selfish Lives”: Personally, this is my pick for the next single. It's got all the ingredients for a perfect Rÿche song: passionate vocals from Todd, melodic dual guitars that pack a heavy punch, and lyrics that address something more than the superficial and mundane. This is another song that I feel is a homage to previous albums, but is also very modern.

“Eye9”: OK, so I fuckin' love this song! Eddie's bass is the centerpiece here, and if I had to compare it to an older Queensrÿche song, I would say to consider this the “Disconnected” or “sp00L” of Condition Hüman, in that it's different from your typical Rÿche tune, but it fits so perfectly for them and makes total sense in the grand scheme of things. It's got that dark, creepy vibe; but it's also so fierce!

“Bulletproof”: Queensrÿche officially reclaims their throne as the forefathers of symphonic metal on this song, plain and simple. It's dramatic, it's melodic, it's breathtaking...it's all those things I love about Queensrÿche. Hands-down, this is my favorite track on Condition Hüman. I think I've even fallen a little in love with it, like I did with “A World Without” from the last album. I can't help it; I have accepted that symphonic metal is the music that mirrors my soul, and that is what Queensrÿche does best. They have been making music that mirrors my soul for the last 25 years, ever since I was 11 years old; and this is another song that goes on the playlist to the soundtrack of my life.

“Hourglass”: Where the last song reconnects us with the band's symphonic tendencies, this one is more along the line of their progressive roots: the harmony and melody weaving in-between powerful riffs and energetic grooves. It's also a return to their own “progressive-pop” sensibility, as the chorus is very catchy and hooky, sticking easily in your head and pleasantly remaining there for a long time afterwards.

“Just Us”: Queensrÿche isn't just all about heavy tunes; they are also well-known for composing beautiful slower songs, like this one. Those gorgeous acoustic guitars coupled with Todd's voice makes for a lovely ballad that rivals “Silent Lucidity” or “Some People Fly” or any other similarly-crafted songs. In a strange way, even though this is a more mellow song, some of the parts remind me of the b-side “Last Time in Paris” from the Empire album. Simply dazzling.

“All There Was”: This is probably the heaviest track on the album (maybe rivaling “Guardian” for the title, anyway!); I see a lot of the old-school Rÿchers fond of The Warning and Operation: Mindcrime gravitating to this one. S-Rock's drums are absolutely monstrous on this track, and the guitars are fast and frenetic.

“The Aftermath”: A small one-minute piece, I have been reluctant to say that any of these songs are throwbacks to older albums or that they could have belonged on any of the band's past efforts, but I have to be honest here (and I mean this as a compliment): lyrically and sonically, if you were to put this on Operation: Mindcrime, I think it would have fit perfectly. There is so much to it that has that Mindcrime vibe, and the lyrics echo the theme of the album perfectly. Unlike many of their prog-metal counterparts, Queensrÿche has an uncanny knack for musical economy, and the ability to pack a lot into a short amount of time; to make songs that can be a minute long and still convey all the emotional depth of a 20-minute progressive rock epic.

“Condition Hüman”: Speaking of progressive epics, the title track clocks in at nearly 8 minutes, and it has all the makings of the band's past ventures into epic territory. It has the glorious harmony of “Anybody Listening?”, the dramatic earnestness of “Promised Land”, the bombastic intensity of “Suite Sister Mary”, and the futuristic wonder of “Roads to Madness”...all without sounding like any of these songs at all. “Condition Hüman” is a triumphant return to their rightful place as a progressive metal band; where fans have always longed for them to be, as it is the place where they best thrive. Wilton and Lundgren's intricate solos coupled with Rockenfield's complex drumming and Eddie's elaborate grooves topped with Todd's passionately versatile vocal range and their imaginative, cerebral lyrics; it is the perfect closer to a damn perfect album.

Overall opinion: From beginning to end, Condition Hüman is an album that truly takes you on a journey, as good Queensrÿche albums are known to do. However, when I say this, I also mean it in the literal sense that you start off in one place and end up in another place entirely. One cannot determine just by listening to “Arrow of Time” or “Guardian” alone that you are listening to an album that is going to give you something like “Eye9”, “Condition Hüman”, or even “Just Us”. Each song is like a mini-movie or novel unfolding before the listener to shape images and landscapes that is entirely in one's own imagination. And that, my dear readers, is what Queensrÿche is all about. That's what they are at their best. That's what they lacked for all those years when one person was draining away the creative life force that once made them one of the best in a genre that they helped to innovate.

This is the band who, as I described in one of my previous blog entries, constructed a world through their music that I could escape to—not an imaginary fantasy world like many progressive, power, or symphonic metal bands are apt to do—but the real world, the here and now; a world that is not out of reach and where all things are possible because their music is the proof that these things are attainable as long as you have the courage and the determination to want it. That is the Queensrÿche I have missed for so many long years; the band I thought had gone away after the first splinter in the lineup back in 1998 and that finally came back to us in 2013. The band that wrote lyrics that encouraged their listeners to live their dreams; to “take hold of the flame” and live your life to the fullest. The band that once saved my life through music.

If the self-titled album was indicative of the band's return to their signature sound, then Condition Hüman is a testament that Queensrÿche as we know them and love them is here to stay. For anyone out there who loved the last album and thought it was incredible: Condition Hüman completely blows it out of the water. If the eponymous album was just an appetizer, then Condition Hüman is the main course. Everything that the last album promised, Condition Hüman delivered. This is the album fans have been waiting for since Promised Land, and maybe in some respects even longer than that; maybe even since Operation: Mindcrime.

Vocally, Todd is showcasing more of his vocal versatility; his lower range is demonstrated more often on this album than the previous one, matching the emotional range of the lyrics. His voice goes from high and uninhibited to low and ominous, depending on the song's message. He can rock it out with insane high vocals on tunes like “Guardian”, or set an eerie mood with his lower range on tracks like “Eye9”, then turn around and be completely gentle and sweet on ballads like “Just Us”. Todd has earned the accolades he has received as Queensrÿche's frontman. Contrary to how the trolls of the world would have you believe, he didn't just mimic or imitate his predecessor—he has brought back all of the vocal theatrics that his predecessor had abandoned long ago, and puts his own spin on it.

The rest of the band has also upped the ante as well. Parker Lundgren is no longer one of the “new guys” either; he, too, has earned his place in the band and as a songwriter, knows how to pen tunes that are every bit vintage Queensrÿche as anything written by his predecessor (and that is a huge compliment, coming from me). Because of this “young blood” injected into the dynamic, the other guys are rejuvenated too, and sound as exuberant and vibrant as they did in their early days.

I can't say it enough: ever since dropping the dead weight that was dragging them down, Queensrÿche has been on a roll and they are better than ever. Condition Hüman is indicative of this momentum, and if this is where they are at already with just the second album with this lineup, then one can only imagine what they will have in store for us next time.

My Queensrÿche is back. And I'm never letting them go!!!

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Special thanks to Shelly Error-Ribe for sharing the gift of PledgeMusic!

5 comments:

  1. Great review... in complete agreement with you "C."

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    1. Thanks for reading and enjoying!

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  2. I have to say first you are a very talented writer and this has to be one of the best I have read . You nailed it from start to finish . Bravo to you and many rounds of applause !!!Thanks for sharing this to all of us !!!

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  3. p.s it says unknown its me Shelly ;)

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    1. Thanks, Shelly! I always appreciate the support. I'd love to see this review get more hits than the previous album, so feel free to share!!!

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