Here I am reviewing the second new Queensrÿche album in the span of less than two months. The first, as we all know, is not a Queensrÿche album. Geoff Tate and the Queenswrecks’ Frequency Unknown was an audio experience akin to someone vomiting in a toilet full of diarrhea, dipping their finger in it, giving it a nice, slow swirl, then using the shitpuke finger to give you a wet willy. However harrowing that might seem, it is still a circumstance more favorable to me than putting in my earbuds and hitting the play button for Frequency Unknown again.
Fortunately, the self-titled album by Queensrÿche, the first to feature stellar new vocalist and all around nice guy Todd La Torre and guitarist Parker Lundgren as a full time member, is the polar opposite of the vivid excrement scenario I’ve described above. Founding members Michael Wilton, Eddie Jackson, and Scott Rockenfield have returned to the quintessential Queensrÿche sound after 20 years of stumbling around and tolerating dicTate’s monarchical bullshit, musical drivel, and subpar saxophone playing.
Queensrÿche opens with the moody introduction of “X2” which demonstrates Scott Rock’s ability to craft atmospheric elements, as he has composed music for television and video games. This brief introduction beautifully sets up “Where Dreams Go To Die.” This tune is the first song to be penned by Parker Lundgren, who, despite his age, has a stranglehold on the classic Queensrÿche sound. We are treated to militant drums and something the fans have been waiting years to hear: great guitar harmonies! The song is incredibly dark and features some of the most bitter lyrics on the album. From rumblings I’ve heard on the Internet, Parker had the choice to join Tate after he was booted from the band, stick with these guys, or join another band that was trying to recruit him. It is clear he made the right decision and definitely has some animosity towards the Tate camp.
“Spore” starts with a metallic rhythm riff before kicking into more progressive territory with Todd showing the masses that he is not just a Geoff Tate clone, but someone with his own voice and his own style. I’ll have to admit, as much of a fan as I am of Todd’s incredible work with Crimson Glory (I’ve watched that highlight reel more than any other person on this planet) and what he has done live with Queensrÿche, I was still a bit apprehensive and was wondering how he would do as a full-fledged vocalist in the studio. His vocal phrasing surpasses all expectations and he has his own nuances that he throws in with each line. The way Todd says “light” in the line “take me out of darkness and into the light” sends chills through me every time and I’ve listened to this album roughly 30 times.
“In This Light” slows things down a bit, sounding like a song that could have made the cut on Empire. The phrasing in the verse is beautiful, as are the lyrics. The chorus here revisits the classic Rÿche staple of writing unforgettable hooks. A teaser from the studio was released on YouTube in the fall that featured a sample of this song with Todd belting out highs over the chorus, which have been buried a bit in the mix here to pave the way for a more somber mood. One thing I found after multiple listens is that Todd is absolutely wailing all over this album, but the vocal tracks have been mixed lower to provide some depth instead of working as a showcase for this man’s truly golden pipes. This aligns with Todd’s humble personality and the humility he has demonstrated over the past year.
“Redemption” is the song we’ve all heard the most here. The band released this song four months before the album’s release date in order to give the fans a taste of what this band was up to and that they were going to follow through with their promise to return to being a heavy metal band. This song really delivers the harmonies as the band slugs their way through the verse and Eddie Jackson’s rumbling bass. The inarguably catchy chorus serves as a nice follow-up to “In This Light.” Todd’s voice takes on some heavy Tate influence, but hey, this was his favorite band for years and he’s now in the band- what do you expect? This is absolutely not a problem, especially when his voice is married with the timeless backing vocals from Jackson that we all love about the golden era of Queensrÿche. My only complaint about “Redemption” is that it ends with the guitars ringing out that in no way make for a solid transition to the next song.
“Vindication” is a peculiar tune. I love the drum work here and am not sure if this is a song that Todd lent his other talents to. The band has stated over and over that they were all open-minded and welcome to suggestions from everyone, especially Todd who is said to be a great drummer as well. The guitars stumble through the verse after what was a powerful beginning, but catch back up again in time for yet another infectious chorus with some savagely high singing. As I mentioned earlier, some high vocals are buried in the mix, this song being another example with the verses. “Vindication” features incredibly scathing lyrics towards the band’s former singer, but if you had no idea of the drama, they would fit just fine without the context.
“Midnight Lullaby” is a short interlude that honestly serves no purpose and is even annoying with the sounds of a baby whimpering. I wish this were stricken from the album because “A World Without” is definitely atmospheric enough without it. In interviews leading up to the release of Queensrÿche, the guys kept mentioning Promised Land when referring to some of the writing. It could not be more evident with “A World Without.” The album’s darkest song is a testament to Todd’s abilities as he uses his lower range remarkably before shifting gears into an emotional chorus. Rockenfield’s experience crafting music for television, short films, and video games is put to use with powerful orchestrated synths texturing the atmosphere and weight of the song.
“Don’t Look Back” is by far the most melodic song on the album and reminds me a lot of the uptempo jams on Operation: Mindcrime! Jackson’s bass will give your subwoofer a workout with its thundering clank that has been absent from Queensrÿche albums for quite some time. The band plays around with song structure here, which is something they do throughout this album. The second verse on “Don’t Look Back” is cut in half and gives a sense of urgency to the chorus. Todd gets gritty on his falsetto work at the end before the music drops out and he delivers a line in an incredibly deep voice that is exactly like the line “I remember now” that closes “Eyes Of A Stranger.” It’s a panty-dropper.
“Fallout” is the shortest song on Queensrÿche, but it packs a punch. Once again we hear those familiar guitar harmonies. Sorry, I’m just still not used to guitar harmonies on a new Queensrÿche album yet! The song has a nice power metal vibe to it and teases us with the first chorus before delivering everything the second time around. Todd’s voice is crystal fucking clear; not that it hasn’t been up to this point, but it is some of my favorite vocal work on the album.
“Open Road” rounds off the last four minutes of this 35-minute long album. This song is a bit of a power ballad, but the band has hit their stride in writing songs like this and it doesn’t feel like some contrived radio-friendly single just for the sake of it. This is made clear with the songs the band has released as their singles. Tension builds and is relieved two-thirds of the way through, making for a fitting closing sonically and thematically. The title of the song suggests that the band is now on a better path and have a lot of great opportunities in front of them, which, as fans, we will surely reap the benefits of.
Queensrÿche is more than just a return to musical form for the band. Not many bands have had their personal lives on display and in the spotlight like these guys have over the years. We’ve all heard stories of the guys and their wives going over each other’s houses for dinner and various other things. Queensrÿche has always had that family feel to it for us fans, but over the past decade especially, every new album and subsequent tour have felt like the holidays where you have to go to the side of the family that you hate. You don’t want to go, but you do it anyway. Then you show up and you see Uncle Tate hammered off red wine and annoying everyone at the party. Next year you hear that your aunt has divorced Uncle Tate and suddenly everyone is excited for family holiday parties again. You get to the party and your aunt introduces you to her new boyfriend, Todd. Everyone likes him and you start to wish that the year had more holidays.
Todd, in just one year you have renewed our faith in Queensrÿche. We can finally see all of the classic songs performed the way they were meant to be heard as well as get excited for new ones. Not only is your vocal ability beyond exceptional, but your humbleness matches it. You’ve had an incredibly tough spot to fill as far as legendary statuses of old go and you’ve exuded nothing but class and grace in handling this dramatic series of events. You take the time to thank the fans. You take the time to be interactive on your various social profiles online and not just to win points with the fans. You genuinely seem to care about all of us. The feeling is mutual. Thank you for giving us our band back and congratulations on landing your dream job. Welcome to the family.
If this is the version of Queensrÿche you support, then make sure to purchase Queensrÿche on June 24 in Europe and June 25 in the U.S on Century Media. It’s time for the fans to give back to the set of guys that have listened to our pleas and exceeded all expectations.
8.5 out of 10
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