Monday, August 26, 2013

Queensrÿche - Queensrÿche (Limited Edition)

Queensrÿche (Limited Edition)
Melodisc Ltd./Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Anyone who’s remotely familiar with Washington (U.S.) based progressive rock outfit Queensrÿche will be well aware of the drama that surrounded the band since vocalist Geoff Tate was dismissed from the group in June 2012, and the very public war of words that has ensued since (Although it has to be said that nearly all of the bad publicity has emerged from the Tate camp).
As expected, the fight was between Tate and the remaining members of the band for control of the band name, with Tate the first to get an album out with the title of ‘Frequency Unknown’ under the Queensrÿche banner (Which was released through Deadline Music/Cleopatra Records in January 2013). But while Tate emphatically claimed an early victory in his war against his former band, the reality was that fans were quite critical of the album, with many (Including myself) claiming that the album had virtually no correlation with the classic Queensrÿche sound and that his all-star backing band were merely hired to generate some interest in the release. Not helping his cause one bit was the album’s rather poor production sound, and the rather tasteless stab at the other Queensrÿche with the album’s accompanying artwork.
While some fans may have had a passing interest in what Tate had to offer with ‘Frequency Unknown’, it’s the other Queensrÿche that most have an interest in hearing new music from. With former Crimson Glory vocalist Todd La Torre taking on the front man role, and the remaining members of the band (Who comprise of guitarists Parker Lundgren and Michael Wilton, bassist/backing vocalist Eddie Jackson and drummer/orchestral arranger Scott Rockenfield) promising a return to the true Queensrÿche sound of old with their upcoming album, many were hoping that with the release of ‘Queensrÿche’ (The band’s thirteenth full-length album, excluding Tate’s most recent effort) would now see the band back on the right path after years of promises that amounted to two decades of continual disappointment.
Queensrÿche open up their new album with the short soundtrack like instrumental piece ‘X2’. Although Rockenfield’s use of cinematic sounds is interesting here, the track is a little on the short side of things (Running for a mere seventy seconds), and kind of gets forgotten a little when it eventually bleeds into the follow on track ‘Where Dreams Go To Die’.
‘Where Dreams Go To Die’ is a pretty strong effort for Queensrÿche, and showcases the strengths within the band. Written by Lundgren, it shows that even though he’s a relatively new addition to the group (He has only been in the band since 2009), his understanding of the classic Queensrÿche sound is without question. Outside of his song writing, his ability to play alongside Wilton throughout the solos is worth noting, while out front, La Torre proves he’s more than capable of filling the void left behind by Tate. Not content to simply clone Tate, La Torre adds dynamics, passion and range into Queensrÿche, which more than helps to reinvigorate the band and give them that special something that’s been lacking from the group in years.
Although ‘Spore’ may not have the hooks of the former track, it does show a greater emphasis on heavier guitar work and drumming that has been missing in a lot of Queensrÿche work of the recent past, while the mid-paced ballad/rocker ‘In This Light’ sounds reminiscent of the direction the band took on ‘Empire’ (1990) with its clean and open production (Courtesy of producer/mixer/co-engineer James Barton), tandem guitar work and La Torre’s diverse and emotive vocals.
Most will no doubt be familiar with ‘Redemption’ as it was the first single lifted from the album. And it was a good choice, as the groove based progressive heavy tune provides a sound overall feel of where the band are at these days, with the song cleverly balancing a heavier return to the band’s sound, but not at the cost of a catchy chorus that is handled with class from La Torre.
But if there’s a song that really hits hard, it’s ‘Vindication’. Rockenfield hasn’t sounded this inspired in years, and his drumming certainly guides the rest of the band in a major way. And when you combine that with some impressive guitar work, and La Torre’s memorable melodies, it’s not hard to see why the track stands out as a firm favourite amongst fans.
After another brief Rockenfield/La Torre penned instrumental piece (The minute long ‘Midnight Lullaby’), Queensrÿche take a step into darker territory with the slow burning ‘A World Without’. With lush orchestration, a guest vocal appearance Pamela Moore (Who played Sister Mary on both of Queensrÿche’s ‘Operation: Mindcrime’ albums) and some guitar solos that bring to mind what Chris DeGarmo brought to the band in their heyday, this track is undoubtedly another real stand out, and worthy enough to stand alongside the likes of ‘Real World’ and ‘Silent Lucidity’.
‘Don’t Look Back’ is a fast paced progressive/power metal tune that is solid, but lacks that special something to make it really stand out. The same however can’t be said for ‘Fallout’, which is not only infectious, but full of energy and groove that really showcases the renewed energy within the group these days.
Finishing up the standard version of the album is ‘Open Road’ – a melancholy and atmospheric power ballad that could have easily slotted on the tail end of ‘Empire’ without sounding out of place.
The limited edition of ‘Queensrÿche’ boasts a second disc containing three live tracks (‘Queen Of The Reich’, ‘En Force’ and ‘Prophecy’) recorded in Snoqualmie (Washington) on October 27th 2012. As expected, given how close La Torre’s voice is to Tate’s, he more than done the songs justice. On a performance level, Queensrÿche sound tight and in form on the recordings, which more makes the bonus tracks a worthy addition to the studio album.
In the end, I’m more than pleased with what Queensrÿche have offered up on their first post-Tate studio release. Sure, a couple of songs aren’t quite on the same level of excellence as the rest of the album, and the album is quite short at a tidy thirty-five minutes. And of course, I’d like them to push the envelope a little more than what they did this time around. But really, that’s just me grumbling about the small details.
As a whole, ‘Queensrÿche’ is easily the strongest album the band have offered since 1994 (‘Promised Land’), and hopefully just a sample of things to come from the band in the future.
Tate may have been the first to release an album under the Queensrÿche banner, but there’s no question as to which album best represents the true classic Queensrÿche sound fans have been eagerly waiting a return of all these years.

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© Justin Donnelly

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