Our Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
“I don’t know. We don’t really have a plan right now. Honestly, this has been a really long tour and everybody’s just kind of burnt out… It’s probably just time to get home and chill and recharge the batteries. And then we’ll start talking in a couple of months about ‘Oh, do you wanna do something?’ and we’ll see what happens.”
~ Geoff Tate’s response to me on November 12, 2011 after being asked what the near future might hold for Queensrÿche (click here for full interview)
Of course, what did happen soon after my interview with the now-ousted lead singer has now become the stuff of tabloid fodder and rock and roll infamy. The sordid details – including Tate allegedly spitting on, punching, and perhaps even wielding a knife on his former band mates – will be hashed out in a courtroom sometime later this year when Tate and company battle to see who legally has the right to carry on using the band’s moniker. Until then, there are actually two Queensrÿches: in the red corner, there’s the one comprised of Geoff Tate and a seemingly ever-changing backing band comprised of hired heavy metal heavies and, in the blue corner, there’s the one that includes the rest of the Rÿche’s instrumentalists with new front man, Todd La Torre, formerly of Crimson Glory.
Tate’s camp has already released a hastily-produced album’s worth of new material, “Frequency Unknown” – or “F.U.”, for short (subtle, eh?) – that has been lambasted by fans and critics alike for doing nothing but tarnishing the already-damaged Queensrÿche name even further.
The Todd La Torre-led band’s album sets a markedly different tone from the onset. Rather than responding to Tate’s pugnaciously-titled “Frequency Unknown” by calling it “See Tate’s Fallacy Unfold” or some such, they’ve simply emblazoned the LP’s jacket with the band’s iconic “Tri-Ryche” logo and entitled it “Queensrÿche.” It’s a perfect choice because this eponymous release finds the group musically reconnecting with its roots, rebuilding its self-identity, and – ultimately – reclaiming a legacy.
“Queensrÿche” is an amazing return to form that (gasp!) actually sounds like a Queensrÿche album – and producer James “Jimbo” Barton, the man behind the mixing desk of the band’s biggest and best albums, “Operation: Mindcrime”, “Empire”, and “Promised Land”, undoubtedly has a lot to do with that. He knows how to blend all of the amazing musicianship at his disposal into an aural atmosphere that is unique and immediately identifiable as Queensrÿche.
The album opens with the foreboding instrumental “X2”, one that harkens back to the sonic collage that led off 1994’s “Promised Land” LP. From there, the band launches into a percussive and dual-guitar driven array of songs that firmly plant themselves in the sonic splendor of QR classics like “Screaming in Digital” and “Best I Can.” There’s no question that La Torre’s dynamic pipes are a major component behind why the songs work as well as they do. Vocally, his delivery is often similar to Tate’s, ranging from low baritone whispers to blistering highs, but he’s much more than just a sound-alike. He’s often more aggressive than Tate and that seems to have brought the best out of all of the other Tri-Rychers backing him – especially drummer Scott Rockenfield. He hasn’t sounded this pumped since the days of the glorious “Empire.” Indeed, it’s been a long time since we’ve heard the ‘Rÿche fire all thrusters and blast out satisfying crunchers like these.
My only minor complaint is that, after 35 minutes, the disc spins to a halt. Luckily, the album is so good that it’s worth listening to again – something that hasn’t been true of a Queensrÿche release for the better part of a decade. Does the new album have the power or majesty of their 1988 masterpiece “Operation: Mindcrime”? No – but that’s a lot to ask of a band that’s just undergone a major line-up change and is still in the midst of the biggest rock and roll drama since the Roger Waters / David Gilmour “which one’s Pink?” debacle. But it’s damn good and – perhaps more significantly – it’s now once again possible to imagine Queensrÿche making a record as good if not better than that seminal album because, like “Mindcrime’s” protagonist, Nikki, they seem to remember how it started and are no longer dedicated to chaos.
1) X2 (1:09)
2) Where Dreams Go to Die (4:26)
3) Spore (3:25)
4) In This Light (3:24)
5) Redemption (4:16)
6) Vindication (3:26)
7) Midnight Lullaby (0:56)
8) A World Without (4:11)
9) Don’t Look Back (3:13)
10) Fallout (2:46)
11) Open Road (3:54)