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Queensryche - Queensryche

I don’t think I’ve ever written a review where I felt like I needed a Kevlar vest, but this is one that arises in the midst of a very odd predicament that has divided loyal Queensryche fans. I don’t think I need to go over the gory details of the ongoing Queensryche drama. As long as you’re aware that there are two bands battling for the band name, and both have new releases with the Queensryche name attached to them, you’re on the same dark voyage as the rest of us.

I became a fan of Queensryche in 1983, just after they released their 4-song self-titled EP. I remember the majesty of those songs. The cool airiness that flowed through “The Lady Wore Black” and the soaring intensity and musicianship of “Queen Of The Reich” was something to behold. I knew from those four songs alone that I was listening to the sound of perfection. When the band’s first full length album,The Warning, was finally released, things just got more spectacular. Mystical and enchanting song titles like “Child Of Fire” and “NM156” were a perfect fit for the band’s polished, yet heavy sound. THIS is the Queensryche I had come to know and love. Through the Rage For Order album and the masterpiece that just might be my favorite album of all time, Operation: Mindcrime, the band continued to present itself as a serious and high class outfit. Over the years, particularly after the release of Hear In The Now Frontier (which by no coincidence is when key songwriter and guitarist Chris DeGarmo left the band), Queensryche struggled to come up with quality songs. By the time the band released Operation: Mindcrime II and Dedicated To Chaos, they had become a pathetic mess. After hearing some shoddy live performances from Geoff Tate, whose vocal range had diminished tremendously, it became clear to me that I wasn’t ever going to get any vocally acrobatic songs like “Queen Of The Reich” or “Take Hold Of The Flame” again from a Tate-led Queensryche.

When remaining original members Scott Rockenfield, Eddie Jackson, and Michael Wilton decided to hire new vocalist Todd La Torre, it gave Queensryche options that were not available with Tate. Instead of avoiding classics like “Take Hold Of The Flame” and “Queen Of The Reich” in the live setting, the band now has a vocalist that can hit those highs, and the band has already begun to embrace material from the first four records in their current live shows. It does appear that Queensryche has been born again, and the class and artistry have returned with this aptly self-titled Queensryche album - the first of this fresh, new regime.

The opening minute of the album (“X2”) is a dark mix of sound effects that bring you back to a cross between the digital clicks of “NM156” and the ominous spirit of the Operation: Mindcrime album. This leads directly into “Where Dreams Go To Die,” which lands you right in the heyday of the band. I can see this fitting in nicely on either Empire or Operation: Mindcrime. With its steady and elegant verses that lead to the soaring Queensryche harmonies that every fan of the band will appreciate, this is a great lead off track. The band keeps up a similar pace with “Spore,” a song that features a heavier riff and a sharp staccato drum beat, courtesy of original drummer Scott Rockenfield. This song is also filled with strong harmonies and an intense pace that I found reminiscent of Rage For Order’s heavier tracks (“Surgical Strike,” “Chemical Youth (We Are Rebellion)”). 

The band continues this classy, serious and polished approach throughout the album with well written songs and production from James “Jimbo” Barton (who engineered both Operation: Mindcrime and Empire, and co-produced Promised Land) that recaptures the best era of the band.
 

With all of the drama surrounding Tate and La Torre and the constant comparisons, I have to say that I expected to hear LaTorre going out of his way to show his high voice, but that’s not the case here. La Torre never tries to rival the opening note of “Queen Of The Reich” or anything even close. Instead of forcing those notes into these songs, it sounds as if the the band let these songs write themselves. It’s a very comfortable and natural sound that suits the band well. Don’t get me wrong, I want to hear La Torre let loose and wail like a metallic banshee. But, I truly believe that the song has to call out for it, and it needs to come naturally. La Torre didn’t get that calling from any of these songs, and therefore I think he showed great restraint and patience.

Soon after Tate was fired, he released his Frequency Unknown album early in 2013, with a patchwork of guests and a revolving door of stand-in musicians that have called themselves “Queensryche.” I found the album to have some very positive moments and a decent overall sound, but I never felt like I was listening to Queensryche. Because of some shallow lyrics and an over-the-top attempt to be heavy, much of Tate’s Frequency Unknown comes across as gritty and forced. Tate may have gotten fired, but he hasn’t taken hold of the flame that made Queensryche such a powerful force early on in the history of the band.

I am a firm believer that the classic “Queensryche sound” from the band’s early material comes from a combination of Scott Rockenfield’s tight, precise drumming; the signature guitar sound of Michael Wilton; and the soaring vocal sound of Geoff Tate. But, even without Tate in the mix, all of those elements are actively at work on this Queensryche release. The move from Tate to La Torre was definitely a step in the right direction, as La Torre is a perfect fit that makes the classic “Queensryche sound” come alive once again.

One thing this release has been criticized for is its brevity. With a running time of around 35 minutes, it is pretty short. I’m sure much of the reason for this is the urgency to get their brand of Queensryche out before the courts rule on who gets the rights to the band name. Although it is a short set, especially by today’s standards, I’m just thrilled that these songs were released in time to definitely be part of the Queensryche catalog, and therefore a part of the band’s legacy. With this brand new start, we can only hope that the band name stays in this camp, where it belongs, and they can reconstruct what’s been torn down in recent years. I’ve been waiting since 1997 for a Queensryche album to move me, and this one has finally done it. It’s time to build another empire.

 
 
The official release date is June 24 in Europe, and June 25 in North America.
You can visit the Official Queensryche website and pre-order the album on CD or vinyl:  http://www.queensrycheofficial.com/


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