I’m sure most people reading this will be familiar with the album’s back-story, but for those who aren’t, I’ll add a quick overview. Queensrÿche started out in the early eighties as a fairly heavy, slightly progressive Metal band from Seattle with a melodic commercial sheen. Their singer Geoff Tate was one of the most immensely talented vocalists in the genre and influenced many Power Metal and Progressive Metal singers over the years. For about a decade the band released a string of seminal records that never sounded anything like what the band had did before, save for the identifiable ‘feel’ of the musicians involved and the general attitude of being a bit clever, without being bloated or pretentious. The band were all about evolution.
In the mid-nineties and onwards the general fan reaction was that the experiments and changes weren’t as exciting, and the band released a few albums that lost them a lot of fans, especially after the brilliant Chris DeGarmo left the band. After this Geoff and his family allegedly slowly took over the band, working with outside writers and session musicians, doing things fans found distasteful and releasing a few very unpopular records, as a lot of fans no-longer approved of the bands spirit of evolution, or indeed felt that their music had become ironically generic. There were also allegations that Geoff spat at fellow band members, threatened them, possibly with a knife, and there is video documentation online of him insulting his own audience. This sort of behaviour caused a lot of fans to lose interest in Geoff and become openly hostile towards him. A lot of people had slowly forgotten about Queensrÿche after the nineties and now they were reminded of them, but in the least opportune way.
The rest of the band eventually started a side project called Rising West, passionately playing the material from Queensrÿche’s more popular first decade or so, with a new singer called Todd La Torre, who had previously been working with Crimson Glory, a band who’s early work was a bit similar to Queensrÿche’s early work. He had a voice very suited to covering Queensrÿche songs. Eventually this band just decided to call themselves Queensrÿche and so ousted Tate from the band causing a lot of fuss online and in the press. They recorded this album, which they have simply entitled Queensrÿche. It was produced by Jim Barton who had worked as Mixer and Engineer on two of the fan’s favourite Queensrÿche albums: Operation Mindcrime and Empire, as well as co-producing the superb, moody and progressive Promised Land album.
Geoff however also made an album under the name of Queensrÿche with associates, friends and contempories from the Thrash and Glam Metal scene as well as numerous guest appearances, and managed to release it first. Its bonus tracks featured re-recorded updates of songs from Operation Mindcrime and Empire that were the source of considerable criticism online. In fact the whole record received something of a critical attack. There is now a controversial and often hostile split between a vocal minority of fans of each version of Queensrÿche, and as such each of these two records are controversial, and there are people who are going to hate both of them no matter what they actually sound like. Just remember Guns N Roses’ Chinese Democracy album; people couldn’t wait to call it a disappointment due to the circumstances that surrounded its creation and release. It seems now that both versions of Queensrÿche have found themselves in that same unpleasant situation, by fans who have either “taken a side” or indeed taken a dislike of Queensrÿche altogether, and disapprove of their overhyped difficulties and very public feud.
In fact, although it is certainly very strong at the moment, this isn’t really all that new a position that the band have found themselves in; people have been queing up to hate new Queensrÿche albums ever since Chris DeGarmo left, and just because this album has a different singer, that still mightn’t affect those people from hating anything without Chris on it.
Ultimately, due to all the circumstances surrounding this controversial record, and this band with an unusually fractioned, compartmentalized and vocal fan-base it could well turn out that this record receives the same unfair treatment and blind criticism as the Geoff-version’s Frequency Unknown album or the last two decade’s worth of Queensrÿche albums along with it. Sure, reasonable people may have disliked them because they actually did dislike them, but equally it cannot be denied that some people chose to dislike them for fun, for non-musical reasons or simply because it was the thing to do.
Luckily for the version of the band with Todd La Torre, their record is actually very good. Very good indeed. Not so amazing that it makes a brilliant story of triumph over adversity and wins back every lost fan ever, but very good nonetheless. So even if a lot of people hysterically slate this album, the band can at least be proud of having made a high quality record that’s just misunderstood, and if the album gets sycophantically praised-to-death just because people dislike Geoff, at least this record has the tunes to back it up.
In summary, the good news for fans who are willing to look past all the surrounding story and just check out the record, is that the record is actually one worth having checked out. For those actually inclined to like the album as long as the music and songwriting is actually any good, this self-titled Queensrÿche album is no disappointment. The album is a succinct, and well crafted collection of enjoyable, mildly progressive, fairly heavy Hard Rock and Heavy Metal songs, that isn’t overloaded with too many ballads, or weighed down by uncomfortable lyrics, questionable themes or over-sentimentality. Its just well written, good music, with some fairly memorable choruses, melodic guitar solos, and a lot more bite and energy than on the less popular Queensrÿche albums. Basically, its given the fans what they’ve been asking for: Passionate performances and high quality music that sounds like Queensrÿche wrote it.
Granted, if you disapprove of any Queensrÿche record not featuring Geoff Tate (or Chris DeGarmo) then you’re never going to like it, and additionally if you disapprove of Todd La Torre having a really, really similar voice to Geoff instead of taking the band in a very different direction (like how Dio changed Black Sabbath) then you are never going to like the album.
Also, if you only like the band’s earliest sound, while this is certainly a return to that spirit, its not necessarily a wholesale return to its actual sound all the way through. No matter how much you may hope, it isn’t a rehash of old glories, so don’t expect it to sound much like Rage For Order or Warning other than in a few riffs here and there, or in how busy the drum work is. Furthermore for those who actually liked some (or a lot) of the band’s later day output, unlike what you may expect based on the band’s live setlists, this album does not completely abandon every innovation or development that the band made after 1994 either.
What this record does is mix the whole Queensrÿche back catalogue and it does it in an energetic, tight and well crafted manner. It is not boring, generic, or flabby. It sounds like a mixture of the spirit of the early days, with several of its sonic Queensrÿche signatures like the dynamic structures, dual guitar interplay and occasional trad-metal riffs, with the overall sound of the best examples of the band’s modern sound (as opposed to the filler). Its got a lot of that power, harmony and flair from the early days, in a sort of Alternative Metal influenced shell like the modern stuff. It’s a mixture that works, and they’re songs that are actually good. Imagine the best stuff from Operation Mindcrime II, with the drums from Warning, and the vocals from Empire. Stylistically, that’s a ballpark direction for this album.
I’ll admit I was probably a little predetermined to like this album anyway since I just love Queensrÿche so much, but this album was no chore to become slowly accustomed to, no poor album to pretend to like just for its story and no failure to live up to the hype, it was an instantly enjoyable affirmation of everything I liked about the band and a relief that this Todd project was not just all hype with no real substance. Realistically, it could have turned out that neither new Queensrÿche version actually had any good songs in the bag, and so then the band as a whole just collapsed under the stress of this difficult time. Thankfully, this is the album that Queensrÿche, any Queensrÿche, should be making. One that feels like they mean it.
The music is packed with neat little intricacies and memorable moments. I can’t wait to see these songs live, or hear what the next album is like. Listen to the pre-chorus in ‘Fallout,’ or the bit in ‘Where Dreams Go To Die’ where the music cuts out and Todd screams “With God As My Witness” …or the main riff in ‘Don’t Look Back.’ Just great little moments that are better than the sum of their parts. Check out the opening drums to ‘Vindication’ or just all of the slightly eastern-tinged ‘Spore’ in general. ‘Spore’ is kind of what the band tried to do on Tribe, but with that extra “umph.” Its that “umph” that makes or breaks albums, you can have a great formula but no “umph” and you still end up with a dull record. This record isn’t dull.
As long as you aren’t preprogrammed to hate it regardless of what it actually sounds like, the passion, energy and quality of this album should win you over. Sure, its not the best thing ever released under the Queensrÿche name, but it’s not just passable either, its a damn good album for Queensrÿche in 2013. Again, being realistic Parker Lundgren will never make fans forget about Chris DeGarmo, but he fits in the band better here than on the last two albums for sure. In fact even original drummer original Scott Rockenfeild plays better here than he has since the eighties. Its like the whole band just sound revitalized and “on it.” That’s all large part of why I like this album.
At the end of the day, it would have been nice if either the band had worked out their differences and made an album this good anyway, or if at least one version was called something else. Accept for example, started a revitalized career with a new singer without Udo causing any of these problems, why couldn’t Queensrÿche? Max Cavelera didn’t decide that the band which would become Soulfly was in fact also called Sepultura. Its a slight shame things couldn’t have been handled in a more gentlemanly way, but as fans of music we really shouldn’t let what is essentially office politics affect our enjoyment of the art. I would advise that you don’t blindly love or hate this record just because you’ve “taken a side.” Try it out, see if its for you, and judge it on its own musical merits. Sure, judge it against your own preferences for genre, how the vocals suit or don’t suit you, and what you usually think a good production job sounds like, but at the end of the day, do you like the songs?
I do. I like them all. I like most of them a hell of a lot. I recommend you check it out.
**Oh, and if you found this review by search engine, when you discover it again on Amazon it is me posting it. It hasn’t been copied and pasted off here by a stranger, I post my reviews on Amazon as ‘Gentlegiantprog “Kingcrimsonprog.”’ So please don’t unhelpful-vote it because you thought it was stolen from me.**