Genre: Progressive Metal
I try to write reviews in somewhat of a vacuum, judging an album on its merits as opposed to the people and situations that went into an album, however this is an example of an album where that is nearly impossible. Queensryche recently went through the second seismic change of their career with the firing of lead vocalist and lyricist Geoff Tate in June of 2012. The band pushed on with new vocalist Todd La Torre, while Geoff Tate took the band’s website and several social media platforms hostage while trying to claim the name of the band for his own use. For the purposes of this review please understand that when I use the name Queensryche, it refers to the three remaining original members of the band (of which Tate is not), more recent guitarist Parker Lundgren and new singer Todd La Torre.
Once we move past the personnel changes within Queensryche, we are met with a few situational problems. Original members Eddie Jackson (Bass), Michael Wilton (Guitar), and Scott Rockenfield (Drums) had been largely absent from writing music for Queensryche for the past 15 years. Whether you believe this to be because of their own lack of initiative or Tate keeping them from the writing is truly irrelevant at this point. What is relevant now is the goal they had set for this album in interviews leading up to its release. The members of the band claimed they were trying to reclaim or revisit the sound of old Queensryche. I would say that, to a large degree, they failed. Aside from how I often forget that I’m not listening to a 1980’s Geoff Tate and an occasional guitar unison like the one seen in the first real track of the album, “Where Dreams Go to Die” and “In This Light” I’d say the album is heavier than the last several, and certainly has a more metal sound, but does not sound like anything the band did in their early days.
However a key point to make is that this isn’t a disappointment. The goal of recapturing the sound was partially a fool’s errand. Very few bands which remain active together sound the same at the beginning and end of any fifteen year period in their career. In Queensryche’s case you have men who were never the primary writing force of the band coming out of a bit of writing retirement joining forces with new members who both contributed to the writing of the album. Even though they worked with producer Jimbo Barton who played a part in forging the sound of several classic Queensryche albums, I think if they had perfectly recaptured the sound it would sound forced and contrived. What we got instead was a very solid album which is what Queensryche desperately needed in order to establish them as a credible modern act.
With the aforementioned “Where Dreams Go to Die” the band comes out swinging and delivers a clear indication of what direction they are taking the album in. Soaring vocals, some odd rhythms with the drums, and some memorable guitar work set it apart from much of what the band had done in the prior few albums. The next two tracks, “Spore” and “In This Light”, form a strong core for the album. Both feature very strong and memorable choruses that form the backbone of two of the best songs Queensryche have produced in decades. By the end of the first three songs several things have already been made clear to the listener. Firstly, new vocalist Todd La Torre can deliver a stellar performance, even if it at times borders too closely to sounding like the departed Tate – which some people may argue is a plus. I also feel the overuse of vocal effects often diminish the performance and leaves questions as to why such heavy use was deemed necessary. This issue will become even more prevalent as the album continues on. Looking at the other members, Scott Rockenfield is back with a vengeance. His playing is noticeably more lively and involved than it has been in some time. The guitars offer tones more in tune to what classic Queensryche fans expect. It’s in this regard that tapping into the old sound certainly proved smart and successful.
Next on the docket was the album’s first single “Redemption”. Though the guitar tone at the opening of the song brushes a bit too closely to the robotic overdrive that was used on Operation: Mindcrime II, the rest of the track was a great introduction to the album for the many fans that checked it out in advance. Verses were well constructed, chorus was again strong, and Michael Wilton delivered one of the best solos of the album. With the next track, “Vindication” a decline is seen in the music that continues until the final track of the album. And while “Vindication” and the three full songs that follow are strong, they left me wanting more from an album which is only slightly over thirty five minutes long.
The final track on the album, “Open Road” sees the band take their foot off the pedal a bit and dial back the full on assault they seemed to be attempting with much of the album. Acoustic guitars start the track off and soon the electric guitar plays gently alongside a violin in the background as the song slowly builds up to a wonderful solo. While stylistically this song is not all that similar to “Anybody Listening”, it reminds me of the track simply by its ability to make a big turn on the final track and still close the album perfectly.
Aside from a slightly lagging second half, the other major issue with this album is the sound. The loudness war hit this recording quite hard, leaving the album with clipping and a lack of dynamic range. In addition while Scott Rockenfield’s drums sound quite good, his cymbal work gets buried in the mix. Finally the bass throughout seems muddied, which works alright at times, but not at others, and certainly doesn’t sound good enough to be the default bass tone on the album. “Redemption” is a perfect example. During the verses and guitar solos the tone seems appropriate, but during the chorus it really takes away from the overall recording. While sonically the album might have as many, though different, issues as some of the other recent Queensryche releases, it certainly is still a jump up in quality musically and vocally.
Had this album shown the strength musically of the first half throughout the rest, and top notch sound, it would have done the nearly impossible and matched the greatness that was the early years of Queensryche. Still, it was a strong effort considering the practical hibernation the band was awakening from. And with that it shows the band has the potential moving forward to be more than a nostalgia act using their early years as a crutch. Whether they use that potential and execute on being a legitimate modern act is yet to be seen, and so we sit and watch the exciting future of Queensryche unfold.
Nick’s Grade: 8/10