November 9, 2015 Queensrÿche – Condition Human (Album Review)
Drama is not a musical genre, but if it was, Queensrÿche would certainly qualify in that department. A messy, tumultuous personal and legal battle between former founding lead singer Geoff Tate and the band (comprised of Michael Wilton and Parker Lundgren on guitar, Eddie Jackson on bass guitar, and Scott Rockenfield on drums) plagued and ultimately fractured this massively influential Seattle, Washington based band. When the dust settled in 2014, the name Queensrÿche was legally awarded to Wilton/Jackson/Rockenfield/Lundgren. The prior year saw both this iteration of the band as well as the one Geoff Tate cobbled together release separately conceived albums under the same name.
Absurd and confusing as this was, fans nonetheless seemed to embrace both incarnations of the band, however, the word on the net had begun to favor the Tate-less Queensrÿche a bit more. This was more likely due to the fact that Tate’s replacement, Todd La Torre (ex-Crimson Glory) filled the erstwhile singer’s shoes so well, he pretty much blew those old shoes apart with a pair of brand new, shiny leather boots. The feeling of solidity and calm following the storm that pervaded the official Queensrÿche camp resulted in the creation of the band’s fifteenth studio album, entitled Condition Human. It was recorded in Washington under the eye of producer Chris “Zeuss” Harris. Released on October 2nd, 2015 through Century Media Records, the La Torre era of Queensrÿche has now officially, indisputably begun. So what will the results be? Is there any magic left in that classic Tri-Ryche logo?
Album opener “Arrow of Time” starts things off on a note so strong, fans will have to remind themselves it is no longer 1988. Queensrÿche struck absolute gold with Todd La Torre, whose powerful voice possesses a peerless clarity, along with a convenient similarity to Geoff Tate that is as uncanny as it is competent. It is a common trope for journalists to say a band feels recharged after a period of uncertainty, but this statement has almost never been so apparent as with “Arrow of Time.” Catchy chorus, delectable leads, and all the frills and flash of straight-ahead Power Metal, fans of old will be searching the album sleeve for evidence of Guitarist-turned-jet pilot Chris DeGarmo. Wilton and Lundgren more than make up for any losses with their stunning performances. “Guardian” and “Hellfire” are more mid-paced, wonderfully executed examples of progressive, modernized Heavy Metal that advances Queensrÿche right from the Operation Mindcrime period of 1988. Following 1990’s more straightforward, commercially viable Empire album, the wheels came off the bus for this mighty band. Attempts to revive the old feeling were never fully realized, but with La Torre, things started coming together on their 2013 eponymous album due in large part to the young, vocally dominant powerhouse. That foundation has been solidified further with Condition Human, as three songs in, the Queensrÿche fan has to be ecstatic with these inspired results.
“Toxic Remedy” is a little bit reminiscent of the Seattle sound which grew up around this band in the early ’90s, with a bit of an Alternative Rock flair. “Selfish Lives” follows on with more of the same vibe, and though both of these tracks are replete with well-done vocal harmonies and trademark guitar leads, they fall just a tad bit flat after the mastery exhibited on the first three songs. “Eye9” breaks this up with a more interesting arrangement, similar to Ozzy Osbourne with that repeating riff reminiscent of the classic song “No More Tears.”
The power ballad “Bulletproof” arrives mid-track listing, and it arrives just in time. The choral beginning gives way to a magical performance by La Torre. Warm and inviting, the song looks within to self-doubt and introspection, with a magnificent arrangement and chorus that always returns to the calm, before building back up with Arena-Rock passion and drive. Dripping with the old-school feel of Hair Metal and Glam without the gimmickry, it really is an honest song with gorgeous leads and unflinching confidence. Modern radio-rock bands should pay attention; this is how a ballad is supposed to sound.
“Hourglass” follows up with not quite the impact it should. This is the same group (minus Tate) who created “The Needle Lies” (1988 – Operation Mindcrime) and the desire for a storming track to follow up is not quite assuaged here. “Just Us” returns things to ballad territory. It is a compelling listen carried by some acoustic sounding guitar and La Torre’s infectious vocal grandeur.
“All There Was” comes in and Queensrÿche fans will be collectively sighing, “There it is!” Every bit as ballsy and bombastic as their faster numbers of old, it is a straight-ahead Heavy Metal anthem and will cause many a blown speaker. Right up there with “Arrow of Time,” La Torre is flawless around the equally precise playing of his band mates. Fantastic leads abound, juicily built around a chorus as unforgettable as anything Helloween or Blind Guardian has produced in their own lengthy careers.
“The Aftermath,” a one minute interlude with the haunting qualities of the ones on 1988’s Operation Mindcrime, gives way to the title track. At just under 8:00 in length, the beginnings flow from the speakers quite like Testament on their Ritual album from back in 1992. Silky leads dance around the storytelling balladry of La Torre. Progressive and sprawling, the song is also dark and atmospheric. Much of the feeling exhibited on songs like “Suite Sister Mary” (1988 – Operation Mindcrime) prevails here. The inspiration of old is flowing from Wilton’s and Jackson’s nimble fingers into new tunes built on that classic foundation. The remodel is magnificent in a lot of places.
Condition Human achieves much for the revamped and settled Queensrÿche of the twenty-teens. If a few of the songs do not really hit home, there is much on this record that hits home like a mortar attack. CrypticRock gives this album 4.5 out of 5 stars.