Against seemingly impossible odds, Queensrÿche roared back from the adult-contemporary abyss two years ago with their self-titled album. The band had parted ways acrimoniously with vocalist Geoff Tate, replacing him with newcomer Todd LaTörre (Crimson Glory) and reconnecting to their prog and metal roots. The resulting album was shockingly good, proving that the band could indeed survive without their former frontman. Now that that’s been settled, the band’s 2nd act continues with Condition Hüman.
Right from the start, it seems like the band is trying to remind the world that they are, first and foremost, a metal band. “Arrow Of Time” is not a particularly great leadoff track or even a great Queensrÿche song, but its uptempo Iron Maiden-isms and guitar harmonies show where the band’s allegiances lie. The next track, “Guardian,” continues in that vein, with classic metal riffage and a rallying chorus that LaTorre delivers with laser-guided force. “Toxic Remedy” is the type of track that only Queensrÿche could pull off, rooted in classic metal and prog while also having something unmistakably Seattle about it. “Selfish Lives” is another favorite, with LaTörre spinning some vaguely political lyrics atop an Empire-era groove, leading into a a soulful, memorable chorus and a midsection that nods to Rage For Order‘s gothic tendencies. “Eye9” starts off with a Tool-esque bass and vocal scenario, before going full-on power metal on the chorus.
The album closes with the 8-minute title track, a multi-sectioned epic that’s easily the most ambitious thing the band has done in 20-plus years. Think “Suite Sister Mary” meets “Promised Land,” with a touch of latter-day Savatage for good measure. The band has truly gone all-out on this album, making the QR 2013 record feel like a glorified demo by comparison.
Despite Condition Hüman being only the 2nd record of his career, Todd LaTörre sounds incredibly powerful and supremely confident. While he was justifiably accused of being a Geoff Tate clone previously, on Hüman he sounds like a fully-realized blend of influences, with Tate being merely one of them. He navigates a far wider range of vocal styles than he did previously (his sotto voce on the Celtic-flavored “Just Us” was a nice surprise). Founding axeman Michael Wilton seems to have formed a formidable guitar duo with relative newcomer Parker Lundgren, each adding color to the other’s rhythm playing and occasionally joining forces for some sweet harmonized leads.
New producer Chris “Zeuss” Harris (Hatebreed, Crowbar) seems to have encouraged the band’s prog tendencies, but his sonic style somewhat overwhelms that of the band. His mix sands the rough edges off of Ed Jackson’s signature bass growl, and while drummer Scott Rockenfield’s style is unmistakable, his drums themselves seem to have been replaced with the same samples that are on countless other modern metal albums. The result is certainly easier on the ears than QR 2013′s harsh mix, but it’s also disappointing to hear the band’s sound framed in such a generic way.
The songs on Condition Hüman are generally longer and more expansive than the material on QR 2013, which felt hastily put together at times. The upside to this is that the new lineup finally breaks out of the verse-chorus-verse structure they’ve grown used to, and delivers some of the most creative, progressive music they’ve made in many years. On the other hand, many of these songs take repeated listening to truly sink in, making it more of a “grower” than the immediately hooky material on the last record. And yes, there’s occasionally an ill-fitting riff or an awkward transition, and maybe a song or two that could be considered filler. Considering that present-day Queensrÿche is essentially a new band, and are still learning to write music together, that’s all part of the learning curve.
Overall, Condition Hüman is a very solid effort, and proves once and for all that Queensrÿche can come up with good material despite losing its two most prominent members. It may lack the element of surprise that QR 2013 had, but more than makes up for it with increased confidence and creativity. LaTörre is clearly a galvanizing force for Queensrÿche, despite being the new guy, and you can hear the band solidifying their writing and sound around his voice. For anyone that misses “classic” Queensrÿche, or just enjoys proggy, heavy rock music, I encourage you to give Condition Hüman a shot.