There is so much back story behind Queensrÿche‘s new self-titled record that I can’t even scratch the surface in this review. I suggest reading this first. In a nutshell, there are currently two bands bearing the name Queensrÿche — one made up of ex-singer/asshole Geoff Tate and some hired help, and the other consisting of most of QR‘s original lineup and new vocalist Todd LaTorre (ex-Crimson Glöry). This review refers to the latter version of the band.
Önce the soundtracky intro “X2” is out of the way, opener “Where Dreams Go to Die” gets down to business with a militaristic rhythm and a vicious chorus. The lyrics speak of karma and revenge, leaving little doubt as to who they were written about. And that harmonized dual-guitar solo reeks of classic Queensrÿche. Interestingly, this track was composed by 27-year-old guitarist Parker Lundgren, a relatively recent addition to the band. It’s impressive that he has such a clear understanding of how Queensrÿche should sound, and even more impressive that the band chose his track to open the album.
And it gets better from there. “Spore” is heavy and proggy, followed by the kind-of-ballady “In This Light,” which is an obvious future single. The aptly-titled “Vindication” is aggressive even by old-school ‘Rÿche standards, and continues to bury Geoff Tate both musically and lyrically. The cinematic “A World Withöut” is another highlight, showing off LaTorre’s emotional range and lower register (he promptly busts out some scare-the-shit-out-of-your-dog high notes in the very next cut, “Don’t Look Back,” just to show he’s not fucking around). And the closing ballad, “Open Road,” is one of the prettiest things Queensrÿche has ever written. Overall, this stuff is heavy and very Queensrÿche-y, but also modern-sounding and really catchy.
LaTorre lives up to every bit of hype that surrounded his hiring. Yeah, he sounds a bit like Tate—that comes with the territory [Just a bit? — Steel Drühm] . But I also hear a bit of Bruce Dickinson in there, as well as John Arch from Fates Warning. His phrasing and delivery have more of an everyman vibe, especially compared to someone like Tate. To paraphrase the 2004 U.S. presidential election, LaTorre seems like someone you could have a beer with. Oh, and his voice sounds like a fucking laser beam. This guy is an incredible find för Queensrÿche, and the fact that he was living a quiet civilian life in Florida just a few years ago is unbelievable to me.
Oh, and the founding members certainly don’t hold back either. Eddie Jackson’s massive bass tone is back with a vengeance, and he sounds HUGE on this record. Drummer Scott Rockenfield has unleashed his inner Neil Peart, coming up with drum patterns that are both technical and creative. Interestingly, Rockenfield’s day job is composing for film scores and video games, and he handled all the orchestration and sound effects on Queensrÿche. Last but hardly least, it’s nice to hear Michael Wilton play guitar again. After nearly a decade of albums where he was shut out of the writing process (and a few that he didn’t play on at all), Wilton is making up for lost time here. His presence alone is a big part of the Queensrÿche sound, and his lead work on this album recalls the glory days with long-departed fellow axeman Chris DeGarmo.
One thing I find puzzling is the album’s running time. For one thing, a 35-minute record comes off as pretty weak for a band that testified in court about how much unused material they were sitting on. But more importantly, it’s the songs themselves that seem too short—like the band got so obsessed with trimming the fat that they cut out some meat by mistake. Some tracks open with a cool riff or theme that gets tossed by the wayside before it even registers. It does lend a certain urgency to the music, but some of these songs feel like they need more time to unfold. Also, the orchestration on the two ballads are a bit overblown, like Queensrÿche was trying to get onto the Hunger Games soundtrack or something. A minor grievance, all considered.
Queensrÿche, the album, ultimately falls somewhere between the melodic metal of Ëmpire and the futuristic weirdness of Rage för Order, with no trace of the worthless yacht-rock that Tate enjoyed so much. With the simple removal of a lead singer, Queensrÿche has risen from its comatose state and immediately began kicking ass like Steven Seagal in Hard to Kill. Queensryche is the sound of a band wiping the slate clean and starting over, with a promise to do it rïght this time.