The last time Queensrÿche released a self-titled effort was 30 years ago, when they unleashed their dynamic four-song EP. From the opening riff of “Queen of the Reich” metal fans around the world were hooked, and their love for the band cemented.
Fast forward three decades and band founders Scott Rockenfield, Michael Wilton, and Eddie Jackson are back with the Queensrÿche‘s strongest effort in more than a decade. New guitarist Parker Lundgren has now been with the band half a decade and has settled quite nicely into his role. New vocalist, Todd La Torre (Crimson Glory) gets his first chance make his mark in the band. The eponymous album will be released June 25, on Century Media Records.
The current line-up is revitalized and more excited than they’ve been in years. That enthusiasm shines through on this record, which clearly marks a rebirth for Queensrÿche. That is why the band chose to self-title this effort. All that is old is new again. Wilton says the band is “firing on all cylinders;” a statement proven out over the 11 tracks represented on this record. Check out our recent interview with Wilton.
The goal when the quintet entered the studio was to take where they are as musicians today and marry that with the classic Queensrÿche from the first five albums, which included the seminal “Operation: Mindcrime” and “Empire” releases. To that end they tapped longtime friend James “Jimbo” Barton to co-produce. Barton worked on those essential albums as well as “Promised Land”.
Queensrÿche has faced its share of tribulations over the last two decades. The band lost one of its creative fires when guitarist Chris DeGarmo retired. Like most successful rock bands of the 80s they struggled through the altered musical landscape brought on by fellow Seattle bands with the grunge movement of the 90s. Finally, they were forced to deal with creative differences over the direction of the band with their former vocalist, Geoff Tate. In the end they embraced their roots and the wishes of their fans. The result is a new album that successfully returns to the musical signature of the band’s classic albums.
It’s important to note that this record was a unified process. All five members contributed to the song writing, and no outside writers were used. Sonically, “Queensrÿche” might have slipped into the timeline between “Rage For Order” and “Operation: Mindcrime” or between “Empire” and “Promised Land“. There are moments that speak to both these eras.
While “Queensrÿche” is not a concept record, there is a definitive theme, that of ”revolution.” It can be felt in the music and spread throughout the lyrical content. The album gets under way with the intro instrumental track, “X2″, before breaking into “Where Dreams Go To Die”. That theme of revolution begins here with the ominous and powerful intro and precision military drum work. Lyrically the song looks at betrayal and fallen idols. Draw your own conclusions there. The guitar work on this track is outstanding, with the beautiful harmonies fans have long missed. In all, this two-pronged intro sets the tone for the entire album. The best part is, “Where Dreams Go To Die” was penned by Lundgren. Parker has managed through osmosis and skill to not only craft a brilliant song, but one that could quite readily have been written by DeGarmo or Wilton 25 years ago.
“Rage For Order” fans should delight in the rhythmic progression and tasty time changes of “Spore”. La Torre stretches things out a bit here vocally, giving us some insight into his immense talents.
“In This Light” is a powerful number, melodic and moving. As close to a ballad as you’ll find on the album. The musical foundation was penned by Rockenfield before La Torre added some inspired lyrics on top. The nuances here really help bring the song to life in an understated yet remarkable manner. The chorus is as catchy as anything the band has ever recorded. The twin guitars dance a spiraling solo and on through the outro.
The album’s first single, “Redemption” set to ease many a fan’s troubled mind regarding the direction Queensrÿche might take with its first post-Tate effort. A collective sigh was heard across the Rÿche stronghold. Wilton and La Torre combined to build a beast that embraces the exceptionalism of Queensrÿche: Thoughtful lyrics conveyed through intelligent vocal delivery, underpinned by a precision rhythm section and stunning fretwork. Rockenfield keeps the march toward revolution moving with more of that troop-rallying drum work. Some nice grooving bass from Jackson here and another big hooky chorus.
“Vindication” opens with a nice build-up before leveling off in a rain of artistic drum flourishes. This song really showcases Rockenfield’s intelligent use of the kit, and masterful skills. Another infectious melody line is woven through the song, carrying the listener along.
Adding to the classic feel of the album, the band tosses in the abstract interlude, “Midnight Lullaby”. It creates a slightly eerie break at the record’s midway point, with the sound of gulls and a baby fussing among other interesting bits that add a desolate feel. The piece flows deftly into “A World Without” which Lundgren crafted lyrics for. It is easily the album’s darkest and moodiest track, and connects to the band’s “Promised Land” era.
The aforementioned military feel of the drums returns for “Don’t Look Back”. Jackson’s big rumbling bass really stands out on this track. The song chugs along with more of the classic Queensrÿche harmony guitar attack, soaring vocals, and creative drum patterns. This will be an immediate fan favorite.
The Jackson penned, “Fallout” is another incredible track, packed with shining guitar harmonies, and spectacular throat work from La Torre. Of course Eddie’s bass is another highlight, pushing the song forward with throbbing aggression. Another notable guitar solo adds to the song’s immensity.
The album’s final number, “Open Road”, showcases the lush orchestrations found throughout the record. Thematically it sees the band coming out the other side of its revolution: War torn and victorious they look ahead to better days and a return to glory. Musically it is almost an intellectual power ballad.
Lest anyone think that I can only gush, there are a couple minor points of contention with the new record; the first being its length. While 35 minute albums were the norm in the vinyl era, the digital children of excess and entitlement now expect a solid 45 to 60 minutes of music or more. These days a 30 minute album is considered an E.P. Still, whatever you wish to call this, it is more than 30 minutes of the best, heaviest, and most cohesive hard rock and metal Queensrÿche has delivered in two decades. So put that in your pipe and toke it.
The other minor oddity for me was that none of the choruses seemed to showcase the song title. This is not entirely out of the norm for any band, and ultimately no one really cares. However, it can be maddening struggling to tie the song to memory. The chorus gets stuck in your head, and you recognize the band, even the album, but you can’t remember exactly which track it was. “Queensrÿche” is full of addictive melodies and hooky choruses. I’ve woken a number of times, my brain churning with one of them stuck in my grey matter, yet unable to recall which track I was hung up on. A minor inconvenience at best, but when “Walk in the Shadows” or “Revolution Calling” get stuck in my head, at least I know which song it is instantly. But I digress…
Back to the gushing:
As impressive as “Queensrÿche” was upon first listen, it wasn’t until I found it still cycling my Jeep’s disc player weeks and repeated listens later that I realized how substantial and monumental it truly is. There is real depth here, and the subtleties resonate more loudly with each listen. This is not merely an album that recalls the majesty of Queensrÿche’s seminal and iconic works, it stands head and shoulders with its legendary brethren: A top 5 effort.
For some the frequency may be unknown, but this Queensrÿche is all dialed in: The real Rÿche hath returned.
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